- Fine-Tuning Philology: Helmholtz’s Investigation into Ancient Greek and Persian Scales
- History of Humanities
- Volume | Issue number
- 2 | 2
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Humanities (FGw)
- Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA)
This article discusses how Hermann von Helmholtz’s inquiry into Ancient Greek and Persian musical scales contributed to musicological methodology and the formation of new musicological subfields and how his auditory physiology spurred an interest into the harmonium as an instrument for exploring tuning systems. In so doing he shifted the description of intervals from “just” to “pure.” Calling an interval “just” was a judgment that was based on testing whether its sound corresponded to its antecedent mathematical definition. The criteria for calling it “pure,” in contrast, depended in the first instance on hearing. This shift corresponds to a tendency in nineteenth-century experimental life sciences to replace hypothesis-driven with exploratory experimentation. Helmholtz projected this back to the Persian use of lutes, which he claimed to allow for such exploration. Although failing to acknowledge the filiation of textual sources, he thereby introduced a new approach to the study of remote musical cultures.
- go to publisher's site
- In Forum: Just Intonation, Japan, and the Origins of Musical Disciplines.
© 2017 by Society for the History of the Humanities
Fine-Tuning Philology (Embargo up to and including 24 December 2018)
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