Thesis ID: CBB001567278

Prodigious Sounds: Music and Learning in the World of Athanasius Kircher (2011)


Bianchi, Eric (Author)

Rosand, Ellen
Yale University

Publication Date: 2011
Edition Details: Advisor: Rosand, Ellen.
Physical Details: 297 pp.
Language: English

This study examines the musical writings of the Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher [1601/2-1680], in particular his Musurgia universalis [1650]. Because Kircher covered the broadest range of musical topics and because he gained a worldwide readership, his work is especially useful in assessing learned inquiry into music during the seventeenth century. Clerics and courtiers like Kircher dominated the field, and their interests often diverged from those of composers and performers. In Kircher's time, learned musical researches were pursued in conjunction with others into mathematical and antiquarian matters. The nature and depth of Kircher's religious and institutional commitments were an important factor in distinguishing his musical studies from those of his contemporaries. The first chapter places Kircher in context and examines the genesis and early reception of Musurgia . Three subsequent chapters explore historical, theological, and scientific themes within his work. Kircher's researches into music history addressed contemporary debates over the merits of older music. In contrast to the humanist historiographical models adopted by most contemporary writers, Kircher traced music history according to the outlines of sacred history. Although his conclusions are now considered unreliable, they were widely discussed and debated as late as the 1770s. As with his historical views. Kircher's aesthetic theories were influenced by Jesuit liturgical and devotional practices. His music-technical language united theological and physical concepts that were themselves increasingly subject to scientific scrutiny. Kircher's researches into musical science rested upon the traditional understanding of music as a form of abstract mathematical knowledge, closely related to astronomy. Nevertheless, he attended to actual musical practice more closely than had earlier Jesuit mathematicians, and his treatment of musica mundana can be seen as having influenced the gradual separation of music from the quantitative disciplines of the quadrivium. Kircher's scientific practice, which emphasized wonders, prodigies, and spectacle, offers insight into seventeenth-century musical connoisseurship. The final chapter traces the fate of Musurgia , which remained a central work in its field for over a century. Patterns of readership changed as music came increasingly to be regarded as more an art than a science--a development to which Kircher himself contributed.


Description Cited in Dissertation Abstracts International-A 72/10, Apr 2012. Proquest Document ID: 884260435.

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Authors & Contributors
Bellissima, Fabio
Zanovello, Giovanni
Jensen, Amanda
Furrer, Frederik
Asmussen, Tina
Burkart, Lucas
Bollettino di Storia delle Scienze Matematiche
Journal of the Acoustical Society of America
Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte
Journal of Jesuit Studies
Nuncius: Annali di Storia della Scienza
Galilæana: Journal of Galilean Studies
Oxford University Press
Leuven University Press
Harrassowitz Verlag
Indiana University
Music theory
Science and religion
Science and music
Kircher, Athanasius
Tolomei, Giovanni Battista
Zarlino, Gioseffo
Stumpf, Carl
Reinzer, Franz
Time Periods
17th century
16th century
19th century
5th century
United States
Rome (Italy)
Jesuits (Society of Jesus)

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