A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Musurgia Universalis

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MUSURGIA UNIVERSALIS. The name of a voluminous work, published at Rome in the year 1650, by the Jesuit Father, Athanasius Kircher, and translated into German, by Andreas Hirsch, of Hall, in Suabia, in 1662.

The ten Books into which the treatise is divided contain much useful matter, interrupted, unfortunately, by a host of irrelevant disquisitions, and an inordinate amount of empty speculation.

In the First Book, the author describes the Construction of the Ear, the Comparative Anatomy of the Vocal Organs, and the sounds emitted by Beasts, Birds, Reptiles, and Insects, including the Death-Song of the Swan.—The Second Book treats of the Music of the Hebrews, and the Greeks.—In the Third, are contained discussions on the Theory of Harmonics, Proportion, the Ratios of Intervals, the Greek Scales, the Scale of Guido d'Arezzo, the system of Boëthius, and the Antient Greek Modes.—The Fourth Book is devoted to a description of the Monochord, and its minute divisions.—The Fifth Book treats of Notation, Counterpoint, and other branches of Composition; and contains a Canon which may be sung by twelve million two hundred thousand voices. [See Nodus Salomonis.]—The Sixth Book—founded chiefly on the Harmonicorum libri XII of Mersennus contains a long dissertation upon Instrumental Music.—The Seventh Book describes the difference between Antient and Modern Music.—The Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Books are filled with discussions of a very transcendental character; and, dealing largely in 'the Marvellous,' treat of the Bite of the Tarantula and its musical cure, the Harmony of the Spheres, and of the Four Elements, the Principles of Harmony as exemplified in the Proportions of the Human Body and the Affections of the Mind, and other subjects equally visionary and recondite, some compensation for the absurdity of which will be found in a really practical description of the Æolian Harp, of which Father Kircher claims to be the inventor.

A careful perusal of this curious work will be found neither useless nor uninteresting, provided its statements be received cum grano salis. Remembering that its author was rather a well-read Scholar than a practical Musician, we can scarcely wonder at the errors it contains. Its merits are the result of laborious research. Its faults arise from Father Kircher's inability to form a correct judgment on points, which, to a more experienced Artist, would have presented but little difficulty. And, the like may be said of the same writer's Phonurgia nova—a work on the Nature and Properties of Sound—which appeared in 1673.

[ W. S. R. ]