Historical listening has long been a topic of interest for musicologists. Yet, little attention has been given to the systematic study of historical listening practices before the common practice era (c. 1700–present). In the first study of its kind, this research compared a model of medieval perceptions of “sweetness” based on writings of medieval music theorists with modern day listeners’ aesthetic responses. Responses were collected through two experiments. In an implicit associations experiment, participants were primed with a more or less consonant musical excerpt, then presented with a sweet or bitter target word, or a non-word, on which to make lexical decisions. In the explicit associations experiment, participants were asked to rate on a three-point Likert scale perceived sweetness of short musical excerpts that varied in consonance and sound quality (male, female, organ). The results from these experiments were compared to predictions from a medieval perception model to investigate whether early and modern listeners have similar aesthetic responses. Results from the implicit association test were not consistent with the predictions of the model, however, results from the explicit associations experiment were. These findings indicate the metaphor of sweetness may be useful for comparing the aesthetic responses of medieval and modern listeners.

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