The Arca Musurgica
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The Arca Musurgica
The "Arca Musurgica", designed in 1650 is a unique device with which a musician or a non-musician can compose music in both contrapuntal and homophonic settings using prearranged musical fragments inscribed on inserts and arranged in columns inside the box. Each type of insert corresponds to a particular metrical unit and on each section there were examples of counterpoint on one side and more simple note settings on the other. There are a few of these devices still in existence.
The Arca Musurgica was described in a publication Musurgia Universalis by Jesuit Father Athanasius Kircher, published in two volumes in Rome in 1650. The book is one of the seminal works of musicology and was hugely influential in the development of Western music – in particular on J.S.Bach (1685-1750) and Beethoven (1770-1827).
Father Kircher lived and worked at the Collegio Romano in Rome for most of his life and his position at the hub of a huge international organization – the 40,000 or so strong Society of Jesus - had two very important effects: first of all he received thousands of letters from Jesuits and others in places as far apart and little-known as China and Mexico, giving him access to unparalleled sources of knowledge mostly unknown to the western world. It was by facilitating a wide diffusion of knowledge, by stimulating thought and discussion by his vast collections of scientific information, that Kircher earned a place among the fathers of modern science and the titles of "universal genius" and "master of a hundred arts".
You can see images and listen to music related to the Arca Musurgica at:
If you are interested in working with these unique pieces, you can download the multi-part music notation for all 4 pieces, 4 "MIDI" files (for those of you who have notation programs or audio software that import MIDI), all 4 MP3s, and both a set of keyboard and
guitar transcriptions (including guitar tablature)