Research Stream


Frederic Kiernan
The University of Melbourne

Jane Davidson
The University of Melbourne

The Figure of Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679–1745) in the History of Emotions

This project explores the role of emotion in the reception of the music of Dresden-based Bohemian composer Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679–1745), in a series of snapshots from eighteenth-century Dresden to present-day Melbourne.

Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679–1745) at his desk, as illustrated in the children’s novelette O starých českých muzikantech (‘Old Czech Musicians’) by Zdeněk Gintl (Prague: Šeba, 1946)

The music of Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679–1745) was not well known until the late twentieth century. In academic and public discourse alike, Zelenka has often been described as having led a miserable life, as a melancholic, hypochondriac misanthrope. While the accuracy of these claims has sometimes been questioned, no scholar has undertaken a genealogy of this construction of Zelenka. This thesis offers such a genealogy, arguing that the influence of stereotypes from Zelenka’s biography has accrued over time, while demonstrating that eighteenth-century source materials shed little light on Zelenka’s personality.

The thesis also explores the question of why understanding who Zelenka was "as a person" has become such a point of concern in modern Zelenka reception. The thesis takes the figure of the composer-as-a-person as one part of a bipartite construction, the other being the metonymical composer-as-creative-unity (represented by a body of compositions), and it shows how these two parts have mutated and shifted in relation to one another since the eighteenth century, and have thus constituted a changing historical figure of Zelenka. However, this thesis constructs this history on a theoretical apparatus situated within the overlap of reception study and the history of emotions, an overlap which emphasises the close relationship between histories of interpretation and histories of feeling. This helps to explain how emotions have played a role in the historical development of the figure of Zelenka, and also how this inter-subjective entity has become part of the emotional conditions in which Zelenka’s music has been received.

This thesis draws on extensive archival research, statistical approaches from music psychology, semi-structured interviews with scholars and musicians (or scholar/musicians), and it also proposes an innovative historical application of the BRECVEMAC model from music psychology to analyse reviews of recordings. This mixed-methodological approach helps to demonstrate that historical constructions of Zelenka-as-a-person influence the emotions of scholars, musicians and listeners in the present day, while also providing new ways of studying responses to music from within the history of emotions. By doing this, the thesis refreshes our historical view of Zelenka, and shows how “figures” of composers from the past can exert a coercive emotional influence over present-day musical, pedagogical and historiographical practices.



Kiernan, F., A. E Krause and J. W. Davidson. ‘The impact of biographical information about a composer on emotional responses to their music’. Musicae Scientiae. First published online 4 March 2021.

Kiernan, F. The Figure of Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679–1745) in the History of Emotions. (PhD diss., Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, 2019).

Kiernan, F. 'Zdeněk Gintl’s O starých českých muzikantech (1946) and the Reconstruction of Jan Dismas Zelenka's Identity in Early Twentieth-Century Prague'. Musicology Australia 41.2 (2019): 226–35. doi: 10.1080/08145857.2019.1696165

Murphy, K., F. Kiernan, F. and A. Frampton, eds. 'Zelenka, Bach and the Eighteenth-Century German Baroque: Essays in Honour of Janice B. Stockigt', special issue of Musicology Australia 41.2 (2019). Taylor & Francis.

Kiernan, F. 'Wolfgang Horn and Zelenka'. Clavibus unitis 8.1 (2019): 101–106. Retrieved from

Kiernan, F., ed. Jan Dismas Zelenka: Six Settings of 'Ave Regina Coelorum' (ZMW 128). Wisconsin: AR-Editions, 2018.

Stockigt, J., A. Frampton, and F. Kiernan. Zelenka, Jan (Lukas Ignatius) Dismas (2 ed.). Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online 2018 doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.30907

Kiernan, F. 'Zelenka Reception since the Eighteenth Century: The Role of Emotions'. Context: Journal of Music Research, 42 (2017), 99–103. Retrieved from

Kiernan, F. 'Zelenka Reception in the Nineteenth Century: Some New Sources’. Clavibus unitis 4 (2015): 91–96. Retrieved from

Kiernan, F.. 'Zelenka’s Ave regina coelorum settings (ZWV 128) of 1737: A Case Study in the Transmission of Viennese Liturgico-musical Practices to Dresden.' Context: A Journal of Music Research 37 (2012): 55–76.


The Fredly Digest (A blog of my Endeavour Research Fellowship, 2015):

Image: Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679–1745) at his desk, as illustrated in the children’s novelette O starých českých muzikantech (‘Old Czech Musicians’) by Zdeněk Gintl (Prague: Šeba, 1946)