Musik und die Ordnung der Welt

Lübeck, 13.-15.10.2022.

Von Marten Noorduin, Lübeck - 21.10.2022 | This international conference, which was organised by philosophers Mor Segev (University of South Florida, Tampa) and Christine Blättler (Christian-Albrechts-Universität, Kiel) and musicologist Christiane Tewinkel (Musikhochschule, Lübeck) brought together more than two dozen scholars of philosophy, musicology, performance studies, philology, and other disciplines. These came from countries all over Europe and the United States and gathered at the Musikhochschule Lübeck for three days to discuss the topic of “Music and the Order of the World” from antiquity to the nineteenth century. German and English were the official languages of the event, with the latter being somewhat more common on account of the conference’s internationally oriented participants.

The conference started with an opening concert on October 13th moderated by Christiane Tewinkel, with a programme that demonstrated the themes of the conference. It began with movements from Jean-Féry Rebel’s symphony Les Élémens (1737) which famously opens with a tone cluster representing “chaos”. This was followed by Johann Sebastian Bach’s brief Canon Trias Harmonica BWV 1072 for eight voices. This part of the programme was performed by an ensemble of the host institution, led by Pieter-Jan Belder.

Two soloists closed the programme with pieces that each explored the themes of order and disorder. Hyerin Hwang played the Etude op. 42 no. 2 by Alexander Scriabin and György Ligeti’s Étude Désordre. Finally, Johannes Fischer performed a piece by Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf, which explored the interplay of an exceedingly precise and orderly score being interpreted by a percussionist wielding power tools, which inevitably implied a certain degree of disorder, against the backdrop of a recorded and therefore supposedly orderly series of disorderly noises that sounded like they had been recorded at a construction site.

The next day opened with the keynote lecture by Marietta Auer (Frankfurt/Gießen) who, in a virtuoso performance that really demonstrated the interdisciplinary nature of this conference, explained how the domains of law and music have borrowed notions from each other since antiquity to communicate concepts of order and chaos. After a repeat of Hyerin Hwang’s performance from the night before, no less than four papers followed which covered aspects of music and order in texts from antiquity: Manuel Figueroa (San Juan) examined the role of music in Plato’s Republic as a means of building a sound moral education; Mor Segev showed how the emotional effect of religious music as conceptualized by the Greek philosopher Strabo in his Geography x.3; Camille Mouflier (Lyon) explained how Plotinus argued that music did not only show the order of the world, but also implied that the world had been ordered by an intelligible cause; and Enrico Piergiacomi (Erfurt) demonstrated that Augustine’s De Musica constituted a paradigm shift in the way that both music and the wider world were conceptualized.

The final papers of the first day brought together scholars connecting texts from antiquity to later time periods. Sebastian Moro Tornese (Oviedo) explored how late eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century composers were influenced not only by directly engaging with texts from the antiquity, but also by Neoplatonic views on the order of the world that had trickled down to them through contemporaries such as Goethe, Schelling, and Schopenhauer. Geneviève de Montalembert (Paris) and Philippe Debroise (Reims) discussed how Boethius’ De Institutione Musica, a late antiquity synthesis of ancient Greek musical theory, contrasted with Nicole Oresme’s musical astronomy of the fourteenth century. Lastly, Flavio Bevacqua (Padua) discussed the links between music and chemistry found in an underexplored medieval Byzantine treatise that draws on ancient Greek conceptions of both.

Marie Winkelmüller-Urechia (Tübingen) opened the second day with the first of three papers further exploring the theme of music and culture in medieval Europe. Her paper considered how Old Roman mass chant used various musical means to interact with themes of order and disorder in a liturgical context between the seventh and the thirteenth century. This was followed by Martin Link (Münster), who discussed how developments in judicial philosophy related to choral reforms by the Cistercians. The third paper was by Ralf Lützelschwab (Berlin) and presented the different ways in which medieval church organs were conceptualized in respect to the idea of a perfect order.

All remaining papers covered topics from the modern era. This started with the presentation by Karsten Mackensen (Flensburg) on Francesco Giorgio’s treatise De harmonia mundi totius (1525) and its author’s conceptualization of music as a means for optimizing social cohesion. The contribution by Leendert van der Miesen (Rome) largely focussed on the writings of Marin Mersenne, a French seventeenth-century monk whose writings connect music theory, mathematics, and diplomacy, as well as a variety of topics related to order in the world. After that, Markus Stachon (Mainz) discussed how in the last 500 years various composers have navigated possible collisions between metered poems and metrical layers in music, ultimately giving an example of a song composed by himself in which neither musical nor linguistic stresses were compromised.

In between the final sessions, two younger scholars held poster presentations. Norman Marquardt (Kiel) explored the relationship between Vitruvius’s architectural theory of proportions and the Neoplatonic idea of cosmic harmony and order. Jannick Piskorski (Lübeck) demonstrated how Schumann’s Album für die Jugend contributed to the creation of a very specific view of the world to its audience of young musicians. The latter poster also drew extensively on the collection of Schumann’s first editions in the Brahms-Institut at the Musikhochschule Lübeck.

The papers in the final session covered topics in the long nineteenth century. Julian Caskel (Essen) discussed how nineteenth-century opera depicted situations of extreme disorder, such as volcanic eruptions and other meteorological events. Monja Reinhart (Paderborn) explored the connection between Eduard Hanslick’s theories of musical formalism and the very orderly discipline of mathematics, with which it is sometimes associated. Finally, Arabella Pare (Karlsruhe) investigated the interplay between order and disorder in interpretations of the Etude Op. 42 no. 2 by Scriabin heard at the start of the conference, thereby bringing the event full circle.