- A third note: Helmholtz, Palestrina, and the Early History of Musicology
- Volume | Issue number
- 106 | 2
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Humanities (FGw)
- Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA)
This contribution focuses on Hermann von Helmholtz’s work on Renaissance composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Helmholtz used his scientific concept of distortion to analyze this music and, reversely, to find corroboration for the concept in his musical analyses. In this, his work interlocked with nineteenth-century aesthetic and scholarly ideals. His eagerness to use the latest products of historical scholarship in early music reveals a specific view of music history. Historical documents of music provide the opportunity for the discovery of new experimental research topics and thereby also reveal insights into hearing under different conditions. The essay argues that this work occupies a peculiar position in the history of musicology; it falls under the header of "systematic musicology," which eventually emerged as a discipline of musicology at the end of the nineteenth century. That this discipline has a history at all is easily overlooked, as many of its contributors were scientists with an interest in music. A history of musicology therefore must consider at least the following two caveats: parts of it take place outside the institutionalized field of musicology, and any history of musicology must, in the last instance, be embedded in a history of music.
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