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HARMONIC THINKING TODAY

BY  WERNER SCHULZE

The idea that the universe originated in sounds, or consists of sounds, was widely believed in ancient civilisations. At first this belief was outlined in myths and symbols. But when the Greeks evolved “from mythology to philosophy”, this concept was still accepted, and it was reflected by the Pythagoreans. Harmonic Thinking was based on numbers (arithmós, a, b), proportions (lógos, a:b), means (mesótes, a:m:b), and analogies (analogía, a:b = A:B anà lógon x:y) – especially analogies between nature, man and music, which we may call the “Golden Triangle” of Harmonic Thinking. Numbers and proportions (proportionality) rule the tone duration (rhythms) and intervals in music, but at the same time they are understood as universal laws, which correspond to psychic and intellectual dispositions of man as well as to the arts (téchne) and to ethical and political laws of the state (pólis).

This theory did not emerge all at once, since the school founded by PYTHAGORAS in

the 6th century B.C. did not leave any written documents. One century later fragmentary

writings came into light, and closer connections can we find in PLATONs dialogues

Phaidon, Timaios, and Politeia. 500-600 years later, in the first centuries A.D., Pythagorean

doctrines appeared again, in documents which have been proven to be authentic, so that

it must be assumed that there was an active tradition at that time and during the centuries

before. NICOMACHOS of Gerasa, IAMBLICHOS of Chalkis and THEON of Smyrna

are the main representatives of this “New-Pythagoreanism”, and from them some ideas

survived into the Middle Ages. But apart from the theory of music, there is no consistent

tradition of harmonic ideas in other disciplines.

The rediscovery of Harmonic Thinking, which we owe to the humanists, takes place

in the Renaissance period. To scholars well into the Baroque epoch, the concept of a

world harmony based on musical laws is very familiar. One of the great scientists at the

beginning of the modern age makes it his life’s mission to write about this world harmony:

JOHANNES KEPLER (1571-1630), the famous astronomer and mathematician, who

book 5 of his Harmonices mundi libri V (Five Books of World Harmony, Linz/Austria

1619) compares the orbits of the planets with musical intervals. (Even in his first work,

the Mysterium Cosmographicum, which he writes at the age of 23, KEPLER set out

some thoughts on a geometrically based world harmony.) But in his time KEPLER was

misunderstood, and at the end of the Baroque epoch the Pythagorean theory of world

harmony sank into oblivion.

During the 19th century this situation changed when the German scientist ALBERT

VON THIMUS (1806-1878) picked up the old ideas again and rediscovered the ancient

harmonic tradition. He wrote a two-volume book entitled Die harmonikale Symbolik

des Alterthums (The Harmonic Symbolism in Antiquity), and he brought to light many

interesting ideas; he mixed them, however, with his own speculations inspired by

ancient symbolism. His life-work would hardly have had a noteworthy success, if not

the German-Swiss scholar HANS KAYSER (1891-1964) took up the investigations

of THIMUS and correlated them with other scientific achievements. This so-called

“Kaysersche Harmonik” was a synthesis of the Pythagorean tradition, overlaid with his

own highly speculative metaphysics. We owe a lot to KAYSER and to his successor

RUDOLF HAASE (* 1920), but with clear limits on speculation and with a far-reachig

fundation on the principles of the arts.

Through the interdisciplinary dialogue among the sciences and arts Harmonic Research

discovers analogies between nature, man and music. In that way relationships are

established which could not have come to light through the individual sciences.

 

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