The perception and experience of emotions in response to music listening are subject of a growing body of empirical research across the humanities and social sciences. While we are now able to investigate music perception in different parts of the world, insights into historical music perception remain elusive, mainly because the direct interrogation of music listeners of the past is no longer possible. Here, we present an approach to the retroactive exploration of historical music perception using semantic network analysis of historical text documents. To illustrate this approach, we analyzed written accounts of 19th-century perception of music that is described as “uncanny” (unheimlich). The high centrality values of “eerie” (gespenstisch) indicate that music termed as such should be highly similar to “uncanny” (unheimlich) music. We thus also analyzed written accounts of 19th-century perception of music described as “eerie” (gespenstisch). Using semantic network analyses on other expressive qualities as well as compositional features, we were then able to highlight in which way “uncanny” (unheimlich) and “eerie” (gespenstisch) music are similar and how they might be distinguished. Semantic network analysis may thus be a valuable tool in describing what compositional features were associated with particular expressive qualities by listeners of the past.

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