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'Music Theory in Public: The Case of Hermann von Helmholtz'

Author / Artist: Benjamin Steege Publication Date:January 2010 Read the full article

The musical writings of Hermann von Helmholtz are often read as the epitome of a high level of technical sophistication that was made possible by intensive investments in German experimental science after 1850. But one overlooked, contradicting aspect of the historical meaning of these texts should be recognized: namely, their intended status as popular science. Helmholtz's attempt to justify modern harmonic practice in empirical 'tone feelings' was probably the first (and possibly the last) work of such ambitious scope, which was expressly aimed not only at an elitist music community but also at a broader audience. This article examines the implications of a historical popular science agenda for music theory and suggests that the popularization of music theory has effectively changed its very purpose.

Article Faculty of Historical Musicology

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