The Monochord as a Model of the World
Robert Fludd (1574-1637)
Format 4 : 5 (Major Third)
This image symbolizes an idea fundamental for harmonics: that the entire structure of the universe is musical, and that this structure can be expressed on the monochord. This idea, in Western culture, began around 500 b.c. with Pythagoras, who introduced the monochord as a musical measuring instrument.
The image shows the assignment of tones on the monochord, first to the traditional four elements, then to the seven planetary spheres, then to the heavenly domains. Significant here is the implication that the Creator (in the sense of the Greek Demiurge), who tunes the monochord from above, knows the ratios of the monochord as they were established before all creation, and transfers them into the domain of hearing by adjusting the string-thus making them perceptible in the realm of material creation.
But at the same time, the image symbolizes the end of an era of harmonic thought: from the time of Pythagoras up to the Renaissance, the concepts of the universal harmonic order and the harmony of the spheres were current for all thinkers, but hardly anyone questioned how these ideas were realized in empirical nature. Robert Fludd was a hermetic philosopher of the old school; he drew his ideas above all from tradition, and when people today attempt to reconstruct the conditions depicted in these images, they appear relatively arbitrary and interchangeable.
Robert Fludd's contemporary, the great harmonist and astronomer Johannes Kepler, was the first to forge the path now followed by modern harmonics: starting with the ancient idea of the harmony of the spheres, he sought to discover, in the movements of the planets, the places in empirical nature where this harmony was realized. In his Harmonices Mundi he presents the results of his studies, and concludes by contrasting his methods of observation with those of Fludd, of whom he says:
“One can see that he is satisfied with incomprehensible picture-puzzles of reality, whereas I begin by bringing things of nature, shrouded in darkness, right out into the bright light of knowledge...”