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Frozen Music: Music and Architecture in Vitruvius’ De Architectura

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image of Greek and Roman Musical Studies

AbstractThis paper explores the convergence of musical and architectural theory in Vitruvius’ De Architectura. Section 1 describes Vitruvius’ architectural lexicon, borrowed from Aristoxenus (I.2), and explores his description of the laws of harmony, modeled on Elementa Harmonica (V.4). Section 2 explores how Vitruvius proposes using music theory in practical architectural design, including construction of columns using architectural orders analogous to Aristoxenian genera (I.2.6; IV.1); acoustical designs for theatres (V.5); and the development of machines, including siege engines ‘tuned’ like musical instruments (X.12) and water-organs [hydrauli] constructed to execute all the different varieties of tuning (X.8). Section 3 reflects on Vitruvius’ use of analogies with a musical instrument, the sambuca, to explain his understanding of cosmic harmony and architectural form, and his possible sources (VI.1). Finally, Section 4 discusses Vitruvius’ ideas about the importance of a liberal arts education that includes study of music theory. The best architects, Vitruvius explains, can discover in music the secrets to forms they both encounter in nature and create themselves.

Affiliations: 1: Harvard UniversityDepartment of MusicCambridge MA,


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