Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

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| Editors: Marco Sgarbi

Harmony, Renaissance Conceptions of

  • Jacomien PrinsEmail author
Living reference work entry

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_228-2


In music, “harmony” usually refers to two or more notes that simultaneously produce a pleasing sound. In ancient Greek music, however, from which the concept and term originate, “harmony” stands for a specific combination or juxtaposition of dissimilar or contrasting elements, for example, a higher and a lower note. By combining these disparate or conflicting elements, a unity or harmony arises (discordia concors, i.e., harmonious discord). In a narrower sense, the Greek science of harmonics refers to an extensively developed system of rules that governs relations between musical elements. These rules were intended to control consonance and dissonance, which are fundamental aspects of harmony. In a broader sense, “harmony” was used to explain unity and relationships in all kinds of natural and cultural phenomena by analogy with musical consonances and their proportions. These explanations together constitute the various theories of world harmony that were based on the Pythagorean-Platonic belief in a universe ordered by the same numerical proportions that produce musical consonances, or harmonies. The most powerful statement of this doctrine was found in the realm of cosmology, where the notion of the harmony of the spheres was used to designate the harmonious relationships between the planets governed by the proportionate speeds of their orbits or by their mutual distances. In the history of Western thought it was not so much the meaning of the term “harmony” that changed, but the material to which it was applied, resulting in ever-changing explanations of the concept in different cultural contexts.

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Primary Literature

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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for the Study of the Renaissance/Institute of Advanced StudyUniversity of Warwick, IAS, Millburn HouseCoventryUK

Section editors and affiliations

  • Jill Kraye
    • 1