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Dialogo ... della musica antica, et della moderna - GALILEI, Vincenzo - 1581. 
Folio (328 x 215 mm). Contemporary limp vellum. Housed in a brown quarter morocco solander box with chemise made by the Chelsea Bindery. First edition, first issue of Vincenzo Galilei's main work, very scarce on the market. "Vincenzo Galilei, father of Galileo Galilei, the astronomer who disenchanted the universe, was among the first to cut the ancient monochord in a series of experiments conducted in the 1580s, by subjecting instrumental sound to the instrumental reason of empirical science. Indeed, Stillman Drake suggests that Galilei's experiments with sound 'may have led to the origin of experimental physics', inspiring his son to interrogate the world to verify the laws of nature as empirical fact. Galilei wanted to 'demonstrate real things', he said, in the spirit of Aristotle and not the numerical abstractions of Pythagorean mysticism. He collapsed music into 'reality' as an audible fact divorced from celestial values.Galilei in these experiments exercised an instrumental reality in two ways. First, he objectified music as a neutralised matter for experimentation. Numbers were not sonorous in themselves, he claimed, but had to be 'applied to some sonorous body'. Music does not exist as some perfect numerological system out there in the celestial realms as Pythagoras and indeed Galilei's teacher, Zarlino, believed; rather sounds are emitted from bodies whose different components colour the aural perception of their harmonic ratios. Why believe in the ancient ratio 2:1, for example, if, as Galilei demonstrates, the diapason can variously be obtained between strings whose length is in duple proportion, or weights in quadruple proportion? Empirical reality simply did not match up with the ancient integers that were to organise the universe ...Secondly, having demythologised music with an empirical rationality, he subjects it with an instrumental efficiency that re-tunes music for modern ears. If, as his experiments proved, sounds were necessarily imperfect and unrelated to simple numbers, then there was no reason why the irrational tuning of Aristoxenus, that is equal temperament, should not be imposed upon music played on or accompanied by instruments. Indeed, the chromatic and enharmonic nature of modern music demanded it, and just to underline the point, Galilei composes 'a song' which if sung with perfect intonation would be out of tune with reality: the chromatic and enharmonic clashes of modern harmony can only be eradicated if played on instruments tuned to equal temperament" (Daniel K.L. Chua, Absolute Music and the Construction of Meaning pp. 18-19)."We may recognize in Vincenzo Galilei's insistence both on the complexity and on the discoverable regularities of auditory experience something of Galileo's approach to natural science, and certainly a family likeness in the polemical aggressiveness to be made famous by his son. Vincenzo was skilled lutenist, a mathematician, and musical preceptor to the Florentine musical Academy of the Camerata. Among the manuscripts inherited by Galileo he left a translation of Aristoxenus into Italian, and he explicitly followed the example of Aristoxenus in trying to build musical science up from auditory sensation, instead of imposing on it a rigid mathematical scheme in the style of the Platonists. One of his discoveries, described in his last published work and last manuscripts, was that the traditional ratio 2 : 1, said to have been shown by Pythagoras to produce the octave, did so only with lengths of strings in that ratio: for the tension of strings the octave ratio was 4 : 1. His ratio for organ pipes was less happy. He poured scorn on the universal harmonies attributed to nature by the Platonists. Even when we knew the mathematical ratios, he pointed out that we could not always determine the quality of our sensations. This was an observation to be developed by Descartes in distinguishing within the 'perfection' or 'douceur' of consonances between objective mathematical simplicity and subjective pleasure, between 'ce qui les rend plus simple et accordantes, et ce qui les rend plus agréables à l'oreille'. It was precisely when Vincenzo was doing this work that Galileo made his retreat from Pisa in 1585 and lived mainly in his father's house in Florence, before returning to Pisa as lecturer in mathematics in 1589. He reported what were evidently Vincenzo's results in his Discourses on Two New Sciences (1638), before giving his own proof that the musical intervals were ratios of frequencies and his own physical explanation of resonance, consonance, and dissonance" (A.C. Crombie, Science, Optics and Music in Medieval and Early Modern Thought pp. 367-368).
[Bookseller: Peter Harrington]
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