University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Cabinet of Natural History > The logarithmic ear: Pietro Mengoli, music, mathematics and anatomy in the late seventeenth century

The logarithmic ear: Pietro Mengoli, music, mathematics and anatomy in the late seventeenth century

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Francis Lucian Reid.

All are welcome - feel free to bring your lunch

In 1670 the Bolognese mathematician Pietro Mengoli published his Speculationi di musica, a highly original work attempting to found the mathematical study of music on the anatomy of the ear. His anatomy was idiosyncratic and his mathematics complex beyond belief, leading him to assert for example that the soul computes a definite integral every time a sound is heard. He analysed in detail the supposed behaviour of the ear’s internal aura, and the patterns of strokes made on the eardrum by simultaneous sounds, and divided the musical octave into a continuous set of regions which he colour-coded to show their physiological effects.

The handful of scholars in and around the Royal Society who eagerly awaited its first appearance seem to have found the Speculationi baffling, as do its few modern readers. In the light of my Ph.D. research on mathematical music theories of the period I will attempt to illuminate some of the work’s obscurities and explain why I find it both fascinating and important.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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