Research project: “Emotion and Music reception as indicators of change within societies. Germany and Great Britain from 1950 to 1970”

The 1950s and 60s brought significant change to the popular musical landscape. Outbursts of violence at Rock ‘n’ Roll concerts, the liberating bodily movements of twist in the early 60s, the screaming fans at Beatles concerts, and the rise of club culture: when Rock ‘n’ Roll and Beat music surged into the realm of public attention, they were much more than simply new forms of entertainment. Bands and Artists like Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones helped to reshape the musical world.

New technologies made music more accessible, and the emergence of media like music magazines, radio and TV distributed knowledge regarding latest trends amongst readers, listeners and viewers of a growing mass market. Young fans in particular had more money to participate in this market-sector and more free time at their disposal.  These factors helped to establish a new youth culture that questioned the paradigms of social order associated with their parent generation. Surprisingly my findings also reveal that seemingly conservative music genres like the German “Schlager” were incorporated in this culture. Accordingly, new ways of expressing and coping with emotions for both fans and bands alike were developed, creating new musical communities in the process while established practices coexisted without resulting in contradictions in youth identity-constructions.

These new youth cultures became increasingly influential; their emergence and development coincided with various forms of social change during these times – this is hardly coincidental. My key assumption is that – despite the temporal and cultural duality of new and established emotional and musical practices in the realm of Beat and youth culture – the emergence of Beat or Rock ‘n’ Roll based communities with mixed sets of common and new practices pushed the boundaries of what could be nonetheless said, done and felt. These practices shaped emotional styles that were an important part of these communities and fostered new forms of identity construction.

The project aims at the identification of these emotional styles in musical communities in Germany and Great Britain. But, sources also show that the new musical styles were subject to change themselves. They were picked up by other artists and fans, challenged by conservatives, integrated into the musical mainstream, thus influencing the very same social formations by which they were coined and influenced themselves. These communities enacted Emotions like joy, passion, “feeling alive”, but also anger in specific ways. This played a vital role in changing processes and thus this project examines emotions  as relevant indicators of social change, showing how they were connected to the specific style of musical communities: Rock ‘n’ Roll made “the whole mixed up world [seem] to be put right, alive and new” [NME 1956] as one fan claimed.

Regarding its analytical framework, this project draws heavily on the methodological concept of emotional styles that are influenced by and allocated in cultural spaces. Findings indicate that these emotional styles are used by fans and bands to express their identity and social distinction. Thus they became an important part of community-building, enabling the creation of “felt communities”. Emotional styles manifest themselves in various forms in the sources examined for this project: They can be found in interviews, recordings, lyrics and concerts, but also in newspapers, magazines and TV shows about musical phenomena. The analysis of these sources does not only grant insight into the emotional practices of bands and listeners, but also into how they were developed and distributed.

Emotional styles as analytic categories are particularly useful in the context of this project, because they help to acquire a new perspective upon the youth cultures of the 1950s and 60s, which explains the social conflicts and changes of the period without disregarding or ignoring the coexistence of new and established emotional and social practices in the same cultural space and timeframe. The juxtaposition of German and English cultural phenomena and sources allows on the one hand for a broader image of the 1950s and 60s youth culture, outlining to which extent the English and the German varieties of youth culture shared common features, but on the other hand also enable the project to highlight and reveal national complexities and differences – especially with regards to the German “Schlager” music for which the English music market lacked a fitting counterpart.

The project is part of the research group “Felt Communities? Emotions in European Music Performances” at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin.


Tim Biermann

Tim Biermann studied history and philosophy at the University of Bielefeld. He is currently a member of the Max Plank Research Group “Felt Communities? Emotions in European Music Performances” at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, working on his PhD “Emotion and Musicreception as indicators of change within societies. Germany and England from the 1950s to the 1970s.”

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About Tim Biermann

Tim Biermann studied history and philosophy at the University of Bielefeld. He is currently a member of the Max Plank Research Group “Felt Communities? Emotions in European Music Performances” at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, working on his PhD “Emotion and Musicreception as indicators of change within societies. Germany and England from the 1950s to the 1970s.”

One thought on “Research project: “Emotion and Music reception as indicators of change within societies. Germany and Great Britain from 1950 to 1970”

  1. Your project sounds very exciting. Reading the statement of the music fan that “the whole mixed up world [seem] to be put right, alive and new” I immediately thought of music functioning as utopia. As a kind of parallel world to the harsh reality. Do you think that in this regard pop music might have a similar function as Romantic (classical) music in the 19th century? If this is partly the case, I wonder how the relationship between pop music and social reality can be conceived. Do you plan to employ certain theoretical (philosophical, sociological) concepts in order to analyse the interactions between music reception and social change?

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