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Title: The Order of Pitches: Music Theory, Science, and Western Learning in 17th-Century China
Authors: Chow, Sheryl Man-Ying
Advisors: Heller, Wendy W
Contributors: Music Department
Keywords: equal temperament
fourteen-tone temperament
Lülü zhengyi
Qing court music
theory of consoance
Thomas Pereira
Subjects: Music history
Music theory
Issue Date: 2023
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This project examines the relationship between music theory, science, and Western knowledge in seventeenth-century China. At the center of the project is a music treatise entitled Lülü zhengyi (The Correct Principles of Music), which was commissioned by the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1661-1722) in 1713. An analysis of the treatise and its sources reveals the ways in which pre-existing Chinese writings on music, Western mathematics and music theory, and empirical observations served as incoherent sources for music reformers to reconstruct an orthodox musical system for the Qing court that was supposedly lost in antiquity. The reconstruction, which features a mixture of documented facts and imagined details, resulted in a musical system that divides the octave into fourteen pitches, often condemned by scholars of Chinese music as chaotic and unscientific. A comparison of the treatise with Western texts written during the European scientific revolution shows that traditional Chinese music theory is not scientifically backward. Correlative thinking, a feature often deemed unscientific by Chinese musicologists and historians of Chinese science, can also be found in seventeenth-century European writings. By studying the role of Western knowledge in the treatise and the treatise’s circulation, the project refutes the understanding of early modern Chinese as metaphysically unequipped to appreciate Western knowledge. Instead, the fourteen-tone system stemmed from the authors’ unique conceptualization of pitch. A reconstruction of the scales and music under the fourteen-tone temperament reveals that the tuning system, while having limitations in transposition, is not entirely non-functional. Rather than simply characterizing it as disorderly, the system is analyzed as an epistemological product of the study of sound.
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Music

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