Article ID: CBB139335148

Lavoisier and Music: An Analysis of Notes sur la Musique (1778) within Its Cultural Context (2018)


Notes sur la Musique are a set of notes devoted by the French chemist Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743–1794) to music theory and in particular to the rules for correct composition. Given its subject matter, Notes constitutes a unicum in Lavoisier’s corpus that has been little studied and never published. This essay will present the initial results of an in-depth analysis of this manuscript, followed by a transcription of the text. It will be argued that a large part of the Notes were derived from the writings of Alexandre Théophile Vandermonde (1735–1796), a mathematician who collaborated with Lavoisier on his scientific experiments, but who also developed his own system of harmony. After a brief examination of Vandermonde’s contributions to music theory, various passages from Lavoisier’s Notes will be evaluated in order to show the link between the two scientists’ perspectives on music. Some of Vandermonde’s unpublished papers will also be taken into consideration. On the basis of this analysis, hypotheses will be advanced regarding the circumstances that could have led Lavoisier to take an interest in music theory. Overall, this paper will shed light on a little-known side of Lavoisier’s cultural interests and activities and provide elements that could contribute to a better understanding of his Notes sur la Musique.

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Authors & Contributors
Nordman, Daniel
Hecht, Jacqueline
Goupil, Michelle
Horeau, Alain
Israel, Giorgio
Jorland, Gérard
Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century
La Vie des Sciences: Comptes Rendus de l'Académie des Sciences
Transactions of the International Congress on the Enlightenment
French Historical Studies
Archive for History of Exact Sciences
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Comité des Travaux Historiques et Scientifiques
J. Vrin
University of Rochester Press
Oxford University Press
Harmony (music theory)
Science and culture
Lavoisier, Antoine Laurent
Vandermonde, Alexandre Théophile
Mentelle, Edmé
Buache, Jean Nicolas
Volney, Constantin François de Chasseboeuf de
Steuart, James
United States
18th century
19th century
13th century
14th century
École Normale Supérieure, Paris
Académie Royale des Sciences (France)

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