Hearing Things: Music and Sounds the Traveller Heard and Didn’t Hear on the Grand Tour

Vanessa Agnew

Abstract

For Charles Burney, as for other Enlightenment scholars engaged in historicising music, the problem was not only how to reconstruct a history of something as ephemeral as music, but the more intractable one of cultural boundaries. Non-European music could be excluded from a general history on the grounds that it was so much noise and no music. The music of Egypt and classical antiquity, on the other hand, were likely ancestors of European music and clearly had to be accorded a place within the general history. But before that place could be determined, Burney and his contemporaries were faced with a stunning silence. What was Egyptian music? What were its instruments? What its sound? The paper examines the work of scholars like Burney and James Bruce and their efforts to reconstruct past music by traveling to exotic places. Travel and a form of historical reenactment emerge as central not only to eighteenth-century historical method, but central, too, to the reconstruction of past sonic worlds. This essay argues that this method remains available to contemporary scholars as well.

Keywords

Goethe, grand tour, sound, Burney, musical travel

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