A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Ellis, Alexander John

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ELLIS (formerly Sharpe), Alexander John, born at Hoxton in 1814, educated at Shrewsbury, Eton, and Cambridge; Scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge, 1835; B.A. and 6th Wrangler 1837; F.R.S. 1864; F.S.A. 1870; President of the Philological Society 1873–4, and again 1880–1. Mr. Ellis has turned his attention to Phonetics from 1843; his chief work on Early English Pronunciation, begun in 1865, is still (1887) in progress. He studied music under Professor Donaldson of Edinburgh. After vainly endeavouring to get a satisfactory account of the musical scale and nature of chords from Chladni, Gottfried Weber, and other writers, Mr. Ellis, following a suggestion of Professor Max Müller, began in 1863 to study Helmholtz's 'Tonempfindungen,' with special bearing on the physiology of vowels. In that work he found the explanation of his musical difficulties, and became ultimately the English translator of the 3rd German ed. 1870, under the title of 'On the Sensations of Tone, as a physiological basis for the Theory of Music' (London 1875). To Helmholtz's work, with the author's consent, Mr. Ellis added many explanatory notes and a new appendix, in which were rearranged four papers published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, 'On the Conditions, Extent and Realisation of a Perfect Musical Scale on Instruments with Fixed Tones' (read Jan. 21, 1864); '0n the Physical Constitution and Relations of Musical Chords' and 'On the Temperament of Instruments with Fixed Tones' (June 16, 1864); and 'On Musical Duodenes, or the Theory of Constructing Instruments with Fixed Tones in Just or Practically Just Intonation' (Nov. 19, 1874); also several new theories, tables, etc. Mr. Ellis has since published, in the Proceedings of the Musical Association, 1876–7, pp. 1–32, a paper 'On the sensitiveness of the ear to pitch and change of pitch in Music,' being an exposition and re-arrangement of the interesting experiments of Professor Preyer of Jena; and some original works, 'The Basis of Music,' 1877; 'Pronunciation for Singers,' 1877; and 'Speech in Song,' 1878. Mr. Ellis's devotion to the scientific aspect of music has led him into searching enquiries concerning the history of Musical Pitch, the varieties and uncertainty of which are so productive in the present day of disturbance of the musical ear and vexation to musical instrument makers. The results of those enquiries have been read before the Society of Arts, May 23, 1877, and March 3, 1880, and printed in their journals May 25, 1877, March 5, 1880, with subsequent appendix and corrections (ibid. April 2, 1880; Jan. 7, 1881) also reprinted by the author for private issue. Silver medals were awarded by the Society of Arts for each paper: the second essay may be appropriately described as exhaustive. Mr. Ellis subsequently turned his attention to the determination of extra-European musical scales. His method was by means of a series of tuning-forks of accurately determined pitches, and with the assistance of the present writer, to determine the pitch of the actual notes produced on native instruments, and then to calculate the intervals between those notes in terms of hundredths of an equal semitone. The results are given in his paper on 'Tonometrical Observations on some existing non-harmonic scales' (Proceedings of Royal Society for Nov. 20, 1884), and more at length, in his paper 'On the Musical Scales of Various Nations,' read before the Society of Arts, Mar. 25, 1885, and printed with an Appendix in their Journals for Mar. 27 and Oct. 30, 1885. For this paper a silver medal was awarded. A full abstract of his History of Musical Pitch and Musical Scales is given in his Appendix to the 2nd enlarged and corrected ed. of his Translation of Helmholtz (1885), which also contains his latest views upon most of the subjects which form the scientific basis of Music. [Pitch; Scheibler.]

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