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Music and the Making of Modern Science$
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Peter Pesic

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780262027274

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262027274.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM MIT PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.mitpress.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright The MIT Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in MITSO for personal use.date: 04 July 2022

Planck’s Cosmic Harmonium

Planck’s Cosmic Harmonium

(p.255) 17 Planck’s Cosmic Harmonium
Music and the Making of Modern Science

Peter Pesic

The MIT Press

Max Planck (a skilled pianist and conductor) experimented with the Eitz harmonium, which divided the octave into 104 steps. Planck then investigated whether skilled choruses would move toward “natural” (Pythagorean) or “tempered” tunings (using irrational numbers). Planck devised musical compositions for choruses to test the issue; to his surprise, convention and habit proved more powerful than “nature.” In the process, Planck had to confront established authorities (especially his mentor Hermann von Helmholtz) and, through by disposition conservative, was forced to question received opinion. The death of Helmholtz and several other colleagues required that Planck turn to investigating the spectrum of blackbody radiation, which involved his treating the atoms of the blackbody as a “chorus” of resonators. As the Eitz harmonium had divided the octave according to a new unit, Planck discovered that his atomic “harmonium” was “tuned” to a new fundamental interval regulated by a quantum whose universality he thought the most important aspect of his new theory. Throughout the book where various sound examples are referenced, please see http://mitpress.mit.edu/musicandmodernscience (please note that the sound examples should be viewed in Chrome or Safari Web browsers).

Keywords:   Max Planck, Blackbody radiation, Natural tuning, Tempered tuning, Eitz harmonium, Resonators, Quantum theory

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