So did you botch the listening quiz like I did? (answer b is correct for all the questions). How much did it matter if you've played/seen the scores to the pieces in question? For me, the Brahms excerpts go in and out, often depending on how actively and engagedly I'm listening (see below). But I can't hear Hilary Hahn's Bach "correctly" no matter how hard I try (though I can play the correct auditory image afterward in my head). Ditto with the Schumann.
So maybe the composer's really botched it? Or the performers? Or is it us listeners?
Or is it just me.
For today, two basic questions to consider about meter: how does a listener "decide" what the meter of a piece is, and, delving deeper into the realm of the unexplored and unexplained, what's the role of the performer or the composer in deciding what the "right" meter is, or making sure the audience "gets it"?
Short answer to question #1, which has received a fair amount of research. There are some basic things that signal to us as listeners where the beats are in music, most of which you could probably guess on your own: longer notes, louder notes, and lower notes are all more likely to be found on strong beats, and are taken as cues to those beats by listeners. Articulation and phrasing matter too; we hear phrases starting on stronger beats more easily.
But that can all get pretty boring. Music is at its most rhythmically vibrant (maybe?) when various aspects send us in different metrical directions and leave our final perception on the fence.
That being said, what a composer writes on the page isn't necessarily what we hear, nor is it sometimes even possible to hear it the way it was written. Quick thought experiment: if we scanned a Beethoven symphony into Sibelius and then added a quarter rest at the beginning, therefore shifting every single beat throughout the whole thing, and then played the thing, would it sound any different? Of course not! The score just wouldn't match our perception anymore.
What are we to do when such mismatches arise in real life? First of all, there are different degrees of mismatch between score and perception. Sometimes a remedy may be desirable, and sometimes it may not. But these are the types of questions I rarely hear anyone raise, even when playing Brahms, where these types of mismatches are so common. Is that section of the 3rd symphony, 1st movement "better" if the listener understands that the beginning of the phrases are actually on the 3rd and 6th beats of each bar, not the 1st and 4th? Not sure. How hard should the conductor try to make the audience understand this fact, or should he or she play it as "counter-metrically" as possible (which is more or less how it's written)?
I'm not sure. And incidentally, just "knowing" where the beat is usually isn't enough to change our perception. Even seeing isn't believing (as in a conductor giving a downbeat). But this you can probably figure out introspectively. In order to change one's metric perception, atually moving your head (link forthcoming...too lazy at moment) turns out to be really important, which, incidentally, makes it really easy for the performers to get it right in their minds, but not the audience.
I'm also fascinated as to the extent of these perceptual mismatches, especially in Brahms. 'Cause it really does change how you hear the music to put the beats in different places. It's pretty fundamental. But he makes it so damn confusing.