The Origins of the Orchestra Machine

Dolan, Emily Iuliano

The eager listener described above is none other than Immanuel Kant, affectionately
chronicled by philosopher and theologian Ehregott Wasianski.
This colorful description of Kant's fascination with loud military music is
suggestive on many levels. Most obviously, it tells us something of his listening
habits, inviting us to smile at the great metaphysician's somewhat
unsophisticated musical taste. We could use Wasianski's sketch to begin
deconstructing Kant's own musical upbringing and shed light on the infamously
negative valuation of music in his third Critique. This passage, however,
also encourages us to consider the surrounding context and examine
what Wasianski implies about contemporary musical aesthetics. First, he
distinguishes between an intellectual mode of listening-the kind that appreciates
daring modulations and the nuances of Haydn's compositional
style-and a more immediate mode that takes pleasure in the sheer noise
generated by military music. Second, Wasianski makes casual reference to a
"bogenflugel;' one with various stops. Given the variety of musical instruments
invented during the eighteenth century, and the fact that so many of
them are lost to us, we might ask exactly what he used to entertain Kant and
von Hippel in 1795. Last, we can examine what it means for Wasianski simply
to be able describe an instrument as imitating an orchestra, confident
that his readership would know what he means.



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Columbia University
Published Here
November 5, 2014