"Arca Musurgica", designed in 1650 is a unique
device with which a musician or a non-musician can compose music in both
contrapuntal and homophonic settings using prearranged musical fragments
inscribed on inserts and arranged in columns inside the box. Each type
of insert corresponds to a particular metrical unit and on each section
there were examples of counterpoint on one side and more simple note settings
on the other. There are a few of these devices still in existence.
Arca Musurgica was described in a publication Musurgia
Universalis by Jesuit Father Athanasius Kircher, published
in two volumes in Rome in 1650. The book is one of the seminal works of
musicology and was hugely influential in the development of Western music
– in particular on J.S.Bach (1685-1750) and Beethoven (1770-1827).
Father Kircher lived
and worked at the Collegio Romano in Rome for most of his life and his
position at the hub of a huge international organization – the 40,000
or so strong Society of Jesus - had two very important effects: first
of all he received thousands of letters from Jesuits and others in places
as far apart and little-known as China and Mexico, giving him access to
unparalleled sources of knowledge mostly unknown to the western world.
It was by facilitating a wide diffusion of knowledge, by stimulating thought
and discussion by his vast collections of scientific information, that
Kircher earned a place among the fathers of modern science and the titles
of "universal genius" and "master of a hundred arts".
Musurgia Universalis was at the time a famous publication and has
been since it appeared in 1650. Its most famous image is probably that
of the birds with their songs written out in musical notation beside their
pictures. Rameau and Beethoven may well have been influenced by this picture
which still appears in musical textbooks used in the United Kingdom for
following MIDI transcriptions were transcribed
from Musurgia Universalia.
(Note - MIDI files are not full audio, and will sound different on different systems. But, MIDI files can be opened in most music notation software for varoius uses.)
pieces were intended as as programming examples for those who where interested
in learning how to program the automatic organs that Kircher described
in the book. The program was written on paper and then transferred to
a metal cylinder, called cylindrus phonotacticus, that controlled
controlled the instrument. The music was also intended as a demonstration
of the capabilities of automatic instruments, with syncopations and short
note-values. Many historian believe that these pieces may have been composed
with the Arca Musurgica.
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