Buying Time, Marking Space: Algorism, Algebraic Objects and the Emergence of Mensural Notations
Giulia Accornero is a doctoral candidate in Music Theory at Harvard University, with degrees in Economics (BA, 2010), Musicology (BA, 2013), and Discipline Storiche Critiche e Analitiche della Musica (MA, 2016). Her dissertation situates the developments in measured music witnessed in Italy and France in the late Middle Ages within the broader history of mathematics. Her secondary research area focuses on the technology and aesthetics of sound amplification in ASMR and contemporary music. Her articles have been published by Pisa University Press (forthcoming) and Edizioni ETS. In 2018, she founded the GEM Lab, a workshop in which Harvard GSAS students meet regularly to sing and study early musical notations.
Giulia’s dissertation situates the developments in measured music, i.e. the incorporation of time-measurement in musical notation, that Italy and France witnessed throughout the fourteenth century, within the broader history and philosophy of arithmetic and geometry. Her dissertation asks which cultural techniques are required in measuring and writing musical sound, and how such techniques determined and controlled sound in its discrete and continuous dimensions. Her aim is to discard the historiographical illusion that notation is a transparent medium, which has had the effect of sealing the tale of Western (written) music off from other histories. She shows how the translation and dissemination of Arabic mathematical treatises, in particular al-Khwarizmi’s “The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing” and Abu Kamil’s “The Book of Algebra,” played a central role in these developments by both recovering part of the Ancient Greek mathematics and introducing Hindu-Arabic numerals, algebra and algorisms.