Printer Friendly

"The Temple of Music" by Robert Fludd.

"The Temple of Music" by Robert Fludd. By Peter Hauge. (Music Theory in Britain, 1500-1700: Critical Editions.) Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011. [XVI, 315 p. ISBN 9780754655107. $124.95.] Music examples, illustrations, bibliography, index.

The history of music theory as a discipline encompasses many genres of historical writing. On the broadest level, the sources divide into practical and speculative treatises. The practical treatises have been the mainstay of efforts to come to grips with how earlier musicians went about composing, performing, and teaching music as a performative practice. The pragmatic: culture of the Carolingian period witnessed an explosion of such treatises and they. along with their many successors from later eras, reveal insights into musics that ve continue to love even though (perhaps partly because) they are veiled by the shroud of historical distance.

Speculative treatises offer a different experience and present a quite different set of challenges. The speculative treatise traditionally attempts to get at the reality behind music's sounding surface. 'lire impetus behind this can be traced back to Pythagoras's mythical observations in the blacksmith's shop. By discerning that the consonances arose from specific ratios, Pythagoras took the intellectual leap to the assumption that the cosmos was ordered in a rational, mathematical manner. Music, in this sense, is not concerned with the perfor mauve as such but rather with the ontology of musical sound insofar as it participates in ontology perse, as well as with music as an epistemological study. How is it that the parts of the universe cohere? Of what does the Being of those parts consist? How is it that we are able to recognize the reality behind appearances?

Music in the latter, speculative, sense is, of course, music as a liberal art. As such it was categorized, by Boethius and his many followers, as part of the quadrivium--arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. The interest in music as a liberal art encouraged many authors who were riot themselves musicians to write about music as part of larger intellectual projects. The origins of such writings can be traced at least back to the late Roman period, with the most celebrated example being Boethius's De institutione musica. However, whereas Boethius's text is remarkably consistent (with some notable exceptions) and limits itself to two models (Nichomachus and Ptolemy), many other authors present a compendium of thoughts about music culled from numerous previous sources without having fully synthesized that information.

This subset of speculative writers, including such early figures as Macrobius and Martianus Capella from the early fifth century, often brings together ideas concerning music that are mutually contradictory or that their authors simply misunderstood. One might think that such an assessment would consign these texts to the dustbin of historical curiosity, but that is hardly the case. In fact, one might assert that these texts provide the modern scholar with the most important information regarding the history of music theory qua history of ideas. After all, many of these treatises were wildly popular and widely read and disseminated. These were the books that well-educated nonrnusicians would have read regarding music. They were the "popular science" books of their day. As confused and inconsistent as their depiction of musical science might have been, these treatises represent the inconsistent and catch-all quality of musical knowledge held by the educated readers of their eras. This makes them fascinating, if obscure, objects of study.

The music section, "The Temple of Music," of Robert Fludd's massive Utriusque cosmi ... historia (Oppenheim, 1617-18) is a key example of this genre from the early seventeenth century. The larger treatise has long intrigued historians of science, but it has garnered less attention from music scholars. This situation will doubtless change owing to Peter Hauge's fine translation, appearing as an integral part of the "Music Theory in Britain, 1500-1700" from A.shgate. This publication opens with an introduction by Hauge that anticipates the contents of the treatise, places it briefly in historical context, and discusses its publication history as well as translation issues. The main body of the book contains the emended Latin text on facing pages with Hauge's translation. This is followed by endnotes that seek to clarify some of the problematic passages in Fludel's text while tracing his various sources. Throughout the treatise, Hauge provides plates that reproduce Fludd's celebrated illustrations--the central illustration being, of course, the Temple of Music itself. The temple, presided over by Apollo (the god of rational music) and Thalia (the joyous muse), contains within its structure representations of the various aspects of musical knowledge--a clock representing the durations of musical time, a monochord tower signifying the proper divisions, a lower vestibule showing Pythagoras and the smithy, graffiti on the walls presenting musical notation, two entryways representing the portals of the ears, and a spiral near the top signifying air set in motion by sound. The temple serves as a mnemonic device to structure both the treatise and one's comprehension of music. As the treatise proceeds, Fludd examines the temple in detail with illustrations of enlarged portions of We structure serving to guide his discussion.

Fludd divides his treatise into an introduction and seven books. The introduction describes the temple briefly. The first book introduces the subject of music with definitions and etymologies. This book introduces the quasi Porphyrian trees that serve to structure much of the information Fludd presents (this compendious method of presentation was employed earlier by Artusi in his summary of Zarlino's work). The second book briefly discusses the hexachords arid the third addresses the ratios of the intervals via the monochord. The fourth book deals with rhythmic concerns; the fifth provides an introduction to composition; the sixth addresses organology; and the seventh presents an automaton for music making of the author's invention (thus tying this book into the seventeenth century craze for automata).

The quality and readability of Finder's Latin varies greatly over the course of the treatise. As Hauge points out, this may support the notion that. Flucid began the book while a student at Oxford and continued 1 0 acid to it. over the course of several years (p. 26). Thus Hauge's very approachable translation, which manages to be simultaneously easy to comprehend and faithful to the original, is itself quite an achievement. Occasionally an odd translation choice appears--generally when flange seems reticent to emend the text, even when he clearly acknowledges that it requires emendation. For instance, Hauge mentions in an endnote that a certain "argument appears to contradict. itself when 'co quod' is translated as 'because' " (p. 261). Yet that is preeisely how he translates it. If that translation is misleading (which it. is, as Hauge recognizes), then why not provide a better one?

Hauge is equally successful in tracing Fludd's various sources, the most valuable contribution of the endnotes. Where he comes op a bit short is in certain interpretive elements and in placing Fludd's treatise within the larger context. of the history of music theory. Two brief examples will suffice here. At the beginning of the third book, Hauge translates Fludd as writing The whole tone is the perfect interval between two pitches, containing two unequal semitone's; or the whole tone is a percussion of air unresolved all the way to the sense of hearing" (p. 73). In both cases, I lauge translates the Latin 'tonus' as 'whole tone.' However, it is clear front the context that while the first instance of the word is indeed to be translated as 'whole tone,' insofar as we are dealing with an interval, the second instance should simply be 'tone.' It makes no sense to describe the whole tone (and it. alone) as a percussion of air that reaches the hearing. That. is the traditional definition Of tone qua pitched sound. The immediate _jump from whole tone (tonus) as interval to tone (tonus) as pitched sound is confusing but. not at all atypical of treatises of this type. While the .juxtaposition may be awkward insofar as Fludd simply brings together a hodgepodge of information seemingly at random in an attempt to .synthesize his sources--the mistake in undcrstanding is not, strictly speaking, Fuldd's. There are several other inconsistencies between the translation and the commentary.

With respect to Hauge's attempt. to place the treatise within the larger context of the history of music theory, the issue is a bit more complicated. For the most part. Hauge limits himself to the context of English theory. This makes perfect sense given the series of which this book is a part. However, the fifth book, as Hauge acknowledges, is the portion that is likely to intrigue most readers (p. 17) because here Fludd not only presents a method for creating good harmony, he does so by promoting the fundamental nature of the bass. flange then compares Fludd's emphasis on the bass with Zarlino and Glarean'.s recognition that "the lowest voice was also the fundament" (p. 17). This is a misunderstanding of Zarlino and Glarean, and it serves to obscure just. how fascinating Rudd's handling of the bass is. Zarlino claims that the bass is "like the earth" and thus supports the entire harmony. However, compositional motion in Zarlino is still largely judged through the tenor's relationship U) the cantos. Not so in Hudd. Here we find rides that are shockingly similar to those we will find (in clearer form, of course) a hundred years later in the writings of Rameau.

These issues do little to mar the value of this book. Careful readers will easily avoid the pitfalls in what is otherwise a very gracious translation. Moreover the accessibility of the book as a whole will doubtless inspire scholars to dig more deeply into this intriguing, if bewildering, genre of music theoretical writing.

CHADWICK JENKINS City University of Arno York
COPYRIGHT 2012 Music Library Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Jenkins, Chadwick
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 22, 2012
Previous Article:Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, and Musicals.
Next Article:Tonality and Transformation.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters