Emotion and Meaning in Music


How does music communicate and arouse emotion? Does it have meaning and, if so, what does it mean? These questions have been hotly debated for centuries. Stravinsky famously remarked that “music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all” and, indeed, how could mere vibrations in the air be capable of stirring us to joy, sadness or other feelings? It clearly lacks any semantic meaning, so how could it be said to convey any sort of meaning? 

This day school will survey the recent research that is starting to shed light on this fascinating subject, discussing experimental techniques and comparing the various theories that have been proposed to account for this powerful effect that music has on us.

This event will close for enrolment at 23:59 BST on 11 October 2023

Programme details

Registration at Rewley House reception (in-person attendees only)

Is music (like) a language?

Tea/coffee break

Musical meaning and the auditory environment


Music and emotion

Tea/coffee break

Reaching an audience: emotion and meaning in performance

Course disperses


Description Costs
Course Fee - in-person attendance (includes tea/coffee) £99.00
Course Fee - virtual attendance £90.00
Baguette lunch £6.50
Hot lunch (three courses) £17.60


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit or are a full-time student in the UK you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

Concessionary fees for short courses


Prof Eric Clarke


Eric Clarke is Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of Oxford, an Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College, and is a member of Academia Europaea and a Fellow of the British Academy. He has published on various topics in the psychology of music, musical meaning, music and consciousness, and musical creativity. His books include Ways of Listening (Oxford University Press, 2005), Music and Mind in Everyday Life (OUP, 2010), Music and Consciousness 1 & 2 (OUP, 2011, 2019), and Remixing Music Studies (Routledge, 2021). 

Mr Jonathan Darnborough


Jonathan Darnborough is Director of Studies in Music and Departmental Lecturer in Music at Oxford University Department for Continuing Education.  He is a composer and pianist and has worked in continuing education throughout his career. He was a prize-winner in the 1992 Franco-Italian Piano Competition in Paris and he has performed throughout Britain, as well as in Europe, the USA and Indonesia.


Please use the 'Book' button on this page. Alternatively, please contact us to obtain an application form.


Accommodation is not included in the price, but if you wish to stay with us the night before the course, then please contact our Residential Centre.

Accommodation in Rewley House - all bedrooms are modern, comfortably furnished and each room has tea and coffee making facilities, Freeview television, and Free WiFi and private bath or shower rooms.  Please contact our Residential Centre on +44 (0) 1865 270362 or email res-ctr@conted.ox.ac.uk for details of availability and discounted prices.

IT requirements

For those joining us online

We will be using Zoom for the livestreaming of this course. If you’re attending online, you’ll be able to see and hear the speakers, and to submit questions via the Zoom interface. Joining instructions will be sent out prior to the start date. We recommend that you join the session at least 10-15 minutes prior to the start time – just as you might arrive a bit early at our lecture theatre for an in-person event.

Please note that this course will not be recorded.