29 de octubre de 2011

Athanasius Kircher - Musurgia universalis - 1650

The title page is a compendium of philosophical conceptions linked to the theme of the harmony of the universe. Kircher adds acoustical physics and heavenly music to mundane, human and instrumental music. In one of the illustrations in the work, Kircher portrays the universe as an organ.
Athanasius Kircher was a German Jesuit scholar who published around 40 works on a wide variety of subjects including Egyptology, geology, music theory, oriental studies, geology and medicine. Sometimes referred to as "the last Renaissance man" the wide range of Kircher’s interests typifies an era predating the strict boundaries maintained between different disciplines today. In particular, Kircher is noted for being ahead of his time in proposing that the plague was caused by an infectious microorganism and in suggesting effective measures to prevent the spread of the disease.
In his musical encyclopedia Musurgia Universalis (1650) Kircher produced not only one of the most important musical texts of the 17 th century, but a testament to wider philosophies indicative of how the world was understood in his day. Not a musician himself, Kircher held the essentially medieval view that the cosmos was revealed in musical ratios and that musical harmony mirrored God’s harmony. In this approach Kircher drew upon scholasticism of ancients such as Pythagoras albeit in accordance with Catholic orthodoxy. In Musurgia Universalis Kircher’s learning is conveyed with the assistance of a sophisticated utilisation of diagrams, tables, allegorical engravings and other visual material. In Reading’s copy a number of the illustrations have been coloured by a former owner.
In this frontispiece Kircher presents a cosmic scheme embodying Catholic doctrine and revealing his philosophical standpoint. The triangle at the top represents the Trinity. It is surrounded by nine choirs of angels, each choir singing in four parts. Together they are singing a complex canon (or part song) in a total of 36 parts (shown in more detail later in this work). It was thought that through the art of singing in parts (known as polyphony) man had imitated cosmic harmony. Such polyphony manifested the relationships between the six planetary ratios and the six basic intervals in music. In the bottom left hand corner of the page sits Pythagoras, who according to legend discovered the secret of the mathematical basis of harmony after comparing the pitches made by hammers on a blacksmith’s forge (see bottom centre). This same secret was believed to underpin the very workings of the entire Universe.

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