Max Weber and the Sociology of Music

Author: Konoval, Brandon

Publication details: The Oxford Handbook of Max Weber, edited by Edith Hanke, Lawrence Scaff, and Sam Whimster. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.


Abstract: No art form drew closer or more sustained attention from Max Weber than music. A lifelong personal passion, music became the subject of a singularly ambitious study in the final decade of his life, resulting in an unfinished monograph, Zur Musiksoziologie (The Rational and Social Foundations of Music [1958]), begun in 1912–1913 and published posthumously in 1921, raising key issues to which Weber returned in other writings. As with his earlier study of capitalism, Weber sought to trace the origins and development of a distinctive cultural product, occidental harmony, that revealed a complex interaction between rational processes both internal to the art and in counterpoint with varied social and historical contexts. Correspondingly, the music study avidly pursued cross-cultural perspectives, a prominent concern for Weber in the aftermath of critical reception to The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and for which music had become a touchstone in contemporary scholarly and scientific domains. Engaged with diverse contexts and disciplinary perspectives that informed a frequently technical yet cosmopolitan account of Western music and its signal developments, Weber’s music study explored how a sociology of music could be productively founded and what it might aspire to become.