Sound Objects: Musical Instruments as Sonic Symbols in the Nineteenth Century

The starting point of this project is the question of the associations of the sound of musical instruments with specific historical contexts. The thesis is that the material and substance of the instruments presumably played an important role. For example, the bright sound of brass instruments was used in a variety of contexts, very often for music in military contexts and in war to coordinate the troops via signals and to reinforce corresponding emotions or, in clerical and royal houses, to to intensify the atmosphere of representation. In contrast, woodwind instruments, for example, were described to produce a soft sound, for example, to give the impression of a peaceful arcadia. But beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century, some experiments are known which used metal for woodwind instruments, like flutes and saxophones. What reasons can we find in historical publications for these experiments? Which requirements were published and was there a close connection to the changing associations of sounds at this time?

The project focuses on musical instruments as sonic objects and symbols during the nineteenth century. Musical instruments represent social circumstances. Their use and development in close connection with spaces of music, e.g. concert halls and music making in the home, may be embodied in the materials of the instruments. The research will be based on the metaphoric qualities of these materials and substances. How can we understand the material as sign for a cultural history of music? Is it a medium which produces central forms of memory and what do we know about the historical expectations of the sounds? Concerning the science of acoustics around 1800 and later, the project analyzes the invention and development of musical instruments as acoustic experiments. Focusing on experiments with new or extraordinary materials may give further insight about instrument builders and their knowledge of music and acoustics.