History of Listening

Emmy Noether Research Group

Dr. Nikolaus Bacht

Research Group Director


I am a philosopher and historian of ideas focusing on music in the widest sense. The problems that attract me tend to be of a fundamental nature; in my attempts to solve these, I construct historiographic models with a solid theoretical underpinning. For instance, my doctoral dissertation entitled “Music and Time in Theodor W. Adorno” (University of London, 2002), deals with a concern central to all serious reasoning about music: the “descriptive gap”, i.e. the impossibility of fully capturing in words what constitutes music and our experience thereof. Close reading established that Adorno generated a wealth of concepts with special affinity to time – the material of music – to reduce the empty space between us and the musical phenomenon. To verify this hypothesis, I subjected Adorno’s entire output, published and unpublished, to an analysis tracing the effect of temporal concepts in his specific version of materialist dialectics, the so-called negative dialectics.

My postdoctoral work as Visiting Scholar at Harvard and, subsequently, as Research Fellow at King’s College Cambridge (2002-2008), was of a more historical nature. One major project was the edition of “Music, Theatre and Politics in Germany from 1848 to the Third Reich”, a volume that charts the prescriptive content in descriptions of operas from the most volatile phase in German political history. At that time, I also began the large-scale project which I am now elaborating with my Emmy Noether Group.

Teaching is highly important to me and I maintain wide-ranging pedagogical activities. During the years at Cambridge, these were particularly committing: every winter term whilst in residence there, I taught an MPhil class on the history of the philosophy of music from Antiquity to Adorno and (slightly) beyond. I also contributed lectures to an undergraduate course on the history of opera and engaged in the individual supervision and examination of course work as well as BA and MPhil dissertations at King’s College, in the Music Faculty and, occasionally, in the History and English Faculties. I also guest lectured at my alma mater, King’s College London; the themes there were Cage, Beethoven and Hegel.

Awards and honours include several scholarships for my studies and doctoral work, a DAAD postdoctoral scholarship, an MA awarded by the University of Cambridge in recognition of my service as Research Fellow, and a first prize in the all-Germany competition of “Jugend Musiziert” at some point in the distant past when I was an aspiring guitarist.

The guitar is, in fact, the origin of my interest in music. For quite a while I favoured the electrical guitar, which I used to play in rock bands. Later, at music college, I dedicated myself more to the classical guitar. My main focus here was twentieth-century chamber music, but I also very much liked to accompany singers. Unfortunately, my career as a guitarist ended with chronical tendonitis.

Privately, I enjoy mountain sports, woodwork, cooking – and music.

Selected publications

Nikolaus Bacht (Editor/s), Music, Theatre and Politics in Germany from 1848 to the Third Reich, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006.

Nikolaus Bacht (Editor/s), Listening: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Special issue of the Journal of the Royal Musical Association, London: Routledge, 2010.

Nikolaus Bacht, “Jean Paul’s Listeners”, Eighteenth-Century Music 3/2 (September 2006)

Nikolaus Bacht, “Adorno and the Don”, The Don Giovanni Moment, ed. Lydia Goehr and Daniel Herwitz (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006)

Nikolaus Bacht, “Jean-Francois Lyotard’s Adaptation of John Cage’s Aesthetics”, Perspectives of New Music 41/2 (summer 2003)

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