Sunday, May 22, 2016

Buxtehude is not "a fictitious composer"

I'm preparing a longer post on bad reporting of scientific studies involving music, but I came across this in my Facebook feed and couldn't let it go by without a brief comment:

In his book You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice, Tom Vanderbilt writes,
In one study, people liked the same piece of music more when it was described as being by Bach versus a fictitious composer named Buxtehude.

Buxtehude is not a name made up for the sake of this study. Dieterich Buxtehude (1637?-1707) was a superstar in his day. In fact, when Johann Sebastian Bach was about twenty years old, he walked from Arnstadt to Lübeck—280 miles each way!—just to hear Buxtehude play.

You can read more about Buxtehude on the website of the International Dieterich Buxtehude Society. Or you can look him up on Wikipedia. You can listen to his music on YouTube—like Bach, he wrote works for organ, harpsichord, chamber ensemble, and chorus, so choose according to your preferences.

Please enjoy the music of this totally real, non-fictitious composer who did indeed exist, and remember that pop science writers are not experts in everything they write about.

Thank you to Robert Fink for posting the link to this quote!

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