The Disenchanted Flute? Music, Max Weber, and Early Modern Science

Author: Konoval, Brandon

Publication details: Presented at the Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, 28 May 2017


Abstract: With Absolute Music and the Construction of Meaning (1999), among other writings, the musicologist Daniel K. L. Chua proposed a theory of “rationalization” to account for key developments in western music that corresponded with Foucauldian epistemes. Chua derived this theory from Max Weber ’s incomplete, posthumous work on the history and enthnology of music, The Rational and Sociological Foundations of Music (1911/1921), anachronistically characterized by Chua as promoting Weber ’s concept of Entzauberung/de-enchantment. On Chua’s account, a Weberian “rationalization” demonstrated by the history of occidental music theory and musical practice is held to correspond with developments in the history of science; above all, with the “disenchantment” of a “Pythagorean” worldview in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, through the application of calculations of temperament to traditional, untempered ratios of tuning.

Careful examination of early modern sources—including texts on music by Vincenzo Galilei, Marin Mersenne, and Johannes Kepler—reveals an epistemic terrain that robustly resists such convenient demarcation, whether conceptually or chronologically, and whether in the domain of music or of science. Furthermore, Weber ’s account of distinctive rationalization in music—a domain conflicting rationalizations, rather than of uniform “disenchantment”—provides a model more attuned to the challenges confronted by early modern science in its engagement with mathematical empiricism and music.