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A question on memory and music listening

How long can a listener remember a musical theme, such as a melodic phrase
or a rhythm pattern, in the course of listening to a musical composition? 
I would like to find out more about the timing and mechanisms by which a
listener can hear a musical theme and recall it, wither in detail or even
just in a general way, as a theme that occurred earlier in the piece.  I
would like to know about whether (and how) a listener can keep track of
simutaneous trains of thought in a musical composition, e.g. how the
listener knows that now the music is based on the first theme and at
another time the music is based on the second theme.  The terms "first
theme" and "second theme" belong to the symphony, but I am also referring
to the presence of different themes in music that is not in sonata form.
Any information and literature references are appreciated.  I am referring
to atonal music as well as tonal music.

Linda Seltzer