Lightning Talk Panel: Emerging Work in Global Histories of Music Theory

Telling Taxonomies: Colonial Organology in Safavid Persia
Zoe Weiss

A number of European travelers wrote about the music and instruments they experienced during their visits to Safavid Persia. Their observations were colored not only by the sonic cultural expectations they brought with them but also by organological ones. Such “scientific” attempts to describe and categorize instruments parallel the collection of taxonomical data about plants and animals that European travelers often documented. The mismatch between European and Persian organological ideas sheds light on both conceptual systems.

Formation of music theory and translation of musical concepts in medieval Baghdad
Sadegh Ansari

Scholarship on the musical theoretical treatises of the Islamicate world traditionally divides the existing corpus into two categories: those with Pythagorean/Neo-Platonism’s speculative music theory and those with Aristotelian/Aristoxenian’s practical theory.  Yet few efforts have been made to demonstrate which parts of these treatises directly correspond to the existing Greek music theoretical corpus which were available to philosophers of the Islamicate world during the early medieval period. In this presentation, I examine a set of musical terms, concepts, and definitions presented in the works of Ṣafī al-Dīn al-Urmawī, a music theorist active in the thirteenth century Baghdad. I will trace back his definitions to earlier Islamicate philosophers and music theorists and from there to Greek musical writings.

The “Miraculous European Art”: Jesuits and Western Music Theory in Late Imperial China
Qingfan Jiang

Lülü Zuanyao, or Elements of Music, written by the Portuguese Jesuit missionary Thomas Pereira (1646–1708), was widely considered the treatise that not only introduced Western music theory to China but also exemplified the superiority of European, i.e. Jesuit, science over its Chinese counterpart. This view was first propagated by Pereira’s Jesuit colleague, Ferdinand Verbiest, who also served the Chinese emperor, and upheld by many Western authors of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries who wrote about musical encounters between Europe and China. In the eyes of the Qing scholars, however, Pereira’s treatise and Jesuit science as a whole amounted merely to a foreign source proving the validity of Chinese classics. Such discrepancy of views stemmed both from the different agendas that the Jesuits and Qing intellectuals held and from the changing status of the Jesuits from Ming to Qing. As the Jesuits increasingly sought patronage from the court and loosened their ties with literati converts, they were not able to retain their unquestionable authority as Western scholars but had to assume the role of technical experts. Ultimately, this shift of position influenced how their science was evaluated by the Qing scholars and helped to erase any trace of superiority it once had.

Todos Juntos: Cross-cultural keyboard networks and identity politics in Late Medieval and Early Modern Spain
Carlos Ramirez

My current project explores the intersection of organology, politics and print culture in Spain through the lens of Luis Venegas de Henestrosa’s Libro de cifra nueva (Book of the New Cipher, 1557). As the first book of intabulations for keyboard printed in Spain, the Libro is a valuable source of information about keyboard practice, and highlights the strong connection between theory, practice, and organology. Historical sources reflect that during the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, Spain had a robust network of keyboard builders; among these builders, Mahoma Moférriz—known as  “the moor of Zaragoza”—is singled out as an innovator for having built a claviorgan for the Bishop of Plasencia in 1497. That the instrument was a claviorgan (a composite of harpsichord, organ, and harp) is remarkable, because little is known of this hybrid instrument before 1550; that the commission was to a Moor from a Catholic bishop adds another layer of complexity. Further, the contract between the Bishop and Moférriz refers to other claviorgans commissioned to be given as gifts, including one given to the son of Isabela the Catholic. Through an appraisal of instrument-building contracts, legal ordinances, and the contents of Venegas’s Libro, my presentation introduces three interrelated lines of inquiry: organological innovation in Spain; the issues of identity that can be surmised from the particular cultural and contractual dyad between the morisco instrument-builders and the Catholic court; and how innovation, diplomatic gift-giving, and printing reflect the keyboard culture of 16th century Spain.

Tuning, Notation, and Theory in Turkish Classical Music
Dr. Mahir Cetiz

What is now referred as Turkish Classical Music or Turkish Art Music is the present phase of a centuries long evolution of the musical tradition of Turkey, which primarily took place in two institutions: Ottoman Court and Mevlevi temples. Theoretical writings on music from the Ottoman period provides evidence to the shift in the conception and methods of transmission of musical information. Until the 16th century, mostly the treatises in Persian and Arabic provide a theoretical basis to the music making in the Ottoman court. From 17th-century onwards, a more distinctive musical style flourished in the Ottoman culture, which is later documented by many musical authors. Among them, Dimitri Cantemir invented a notation system, which also served to his description of the melodic progressions. 18th and 19th century theories brought some other notational systems (e.g. Harutin, Osman Dede, Hamparsum) before the adoption of the Western musical notation (e.g. Yekta), which since has been used with various adjustments for the purpose of presenting the microtonal pitch space.


An Evening with the Monochord: Global Perspectives in Music, Math, and History

New Findings on Non-mathematical Methods of Constructing the 12-Lülü Chromatic Scale with the Monochord in Ancient China
Dr. Guangming Li

Guoyu, a book of historical records already circulating during the Warring States period (475 BCE-221 BCE), recounts a complete set of and systemically organized 12 disyllabic Chinese pitch names of the chromatic scale and a numerological procedure of the scale construction presented at the court of Zhou in the 6th century BCE. In this account, the establishment of the pitch system was attributed to an ancient shengu (“divinely-blind music master”) and derived as a reflection of the annual twelve-month cycle in nature. However, neither Guoyu nor later pertinent writings provide sufficient information on the apparatus and methods by which the chromatic scale was produced at that time. After a meticulous examination of a plankzither found in the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng (433 BCE) in the late 1980s, scholars concluded that the tuning apparatus must be a five-string zither because an instrument of fewer strings would not facilitate enough harmonic nodes needed to construct a complete chromatic scale. Yet, a closer examination of the “a-third-removing-extending” classical mathematical theory for constructing a pentatonic scale detailed in Guanzi (a book that may have originated in the 7th century BCE) suggests that the theory could be more readily derived from on a single-string rather than multi-stringed zither. Further, an understanding of the physical behavior of the string through performing practice can lead to realizing musically intuitive methods for constructing scales. Such a method does not require any mathematical calculation or use of measuring tools. This paper offers new findings on the applicability of the methods that could have easily enable master musicians—with or without the aid of sight—to create the chromatic scale in the remote past, and even allow them to develop a more sophisticated pitch system inscribed on bell-chimes in the late 5th century BCE.


Pitch-Pipes and Monochord: Technological Influence in the East Asian and Western Conceptualizations of Musical Pitches
Dr. Joon Park

This paper investigates the relationship between the pitch-generating tools and the conceptualizations of musical pitches by examining two notational systems, Jeonganbo (정간보, 井間譜) and Daseian notation, and each system’s associated instrument for generating musical pitches, the pitch-pipes and the monochord. Jeonganbo, developed by the King Sejong of Joseon-dynasty Korea (세종, 世宗) in 1447, follows a long tradition of generating musical pitches by dividing a bamboo stem into three equal parts and alternately add and subtract the one-third division until the twelve pitch-pipes are created. In Jeonganbo, each unit of musical time is arranged like a grid, and each square of the grid can be filled with note names or left blank to signify a rest. Daseian notation, developed by the writers of Musica Enchiriadis in the ninth-century Carolingian period, is situated in the long history of the Pythagorean-Platonic harmonics, which generates musical notes by shifting the bridge of a monochord based on proper ratios. Daseian notation spatially represents pitch differences where the location of the symbol shows the intended pitch.

I argue that, despite using similar numerical ratios for generating pitches, the physical characteristic of the pitch-pipes and the monochord each led to the different conceptualizations of musical pitches. The pitch-pipe method ends with twelve different pipes, each representing different standard pitches, whereas the monochord method generates all the standard pitches from a single stretched string. In the pitch-pipe method, the change of pitch occurs between two different substances (i.e., one pitch-pipe to another) while, in the monochord method, the change occurs between two purely noetic number relations outside of the possibility of perception, following the Platonic ontology of number. With the material backing, the syllables used to represent pitches in Jeonganbo are substantive with each note name correlates to not only the numerical relations but also the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac among other things. The syllables that represent pitches in Daseian notation (e.g., Noanoeane and Noeagis), on the other hand, are “not considered to be words with meaning” by the writers. The meaning of the pitch comes from the location of the syllable, rather than the written symbols themselves. As a precursor to the modern Western music notation, the influence of the monochord in Daseian notation, in comparison to the pitch-pipes in Jeonganbo, elucidates the role of technology in the modern Western understanding of musical conceptualization.

Dr.  David Cohen, “One Indivisible? Pythagorean Rationality in Division of a Monochord, Proposition 3″