Architecture and Music

3 Architecture as Frozen Music

Criticism of the Pythagorean theory of harmony can to some extent already be discovered in Gothic architecture. The aesthetic premise that beauty or harmony is based on abstract and thus unalterable numeric proportions was increasingly called into question in the architecture-theoretical discourses of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries – exemplary for this was Claude Perrault’s debate with the neo – Platonist Jacques – François Blondel. The objective basis of the Pythagorean theory of harmony was eventually invalidated in the Romantic period by the notion that aesthetics – as explicated in Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment – is a theory of subjective taste and that musical-harmonic proportions are only subject to a subjective interpretation or personal perception.

The Romantic thesis – variations of which can be found in Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – that architecture is to be regarded as petrified, solidified, or frozen music, must be viewed in this context. The concept of a harmonia mundi and the notion of musical and architectural analogies, for example in Schelling’s Philosophy of Art, was certainly not completely invalidated, but the relationship between music and architecture shifted in a special way. On this view, because of its non – objective nature, music – alongside poetry – ranks highest in the canon of arts, whereas architecture ranks far below it due to its coarse materiality. This metaphysical foundation in the arts, which pits non-objectivity and objectivity against one another, becomes clearer if one compares two art – philosophical theses. Those concerned here are the rationalistic thesis put forth by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz – quite in the tenor of Pythagoreanism – according to which music is a secret arithmetical exercise of the counting mind, and Arthur Schopenhauer’s parody of this thesis, according to which music is more a secret metaphysical exercise of the philosophizing mind. In summary, however, it can be established that for centuries the Pythagorean theory of harmony in music and architecture – either with enhancements or modifications or in latent form – was the normative foundation of composition and construction.