Instruments And Order: In Search Of “Nature Music”

What is nature’s voice? Does it understand harmony or know melody? Can nature sing? During the early 19th century, many inventors and acousticians were fascinated by the idea of harnessing natural tones. Musicologist Dr. Emily Dolan will explore these early attempts to control the voice of nature in Instruments and Order: In Search of “Nature Music,” an illustrated presentation at the Wagner Free Institute of Science.

The idea that music and nature are closely bound is an ancient one that stretches back to the Harmony of the Spheres. The “nature music” of the early 19th century, however, was understood not as silent mathematical proportions, but rather as actual sound: beautiful, ethereal tones that were thought to linger from a prelapsarian time. Dr. Dolan Emily will look at the new and often fantastical, instruments developed in the early 19th century to capture “Nature Music.”

Emily I. Dolan is Associate Professor of Music at the University of Pennsylvania. She specializes in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century musical culture; in particular she is interested in the intersections between the histories of music, science, and technology. Her first book, The Orchestral Revolution: Haydn and the Technologies of Timbre (Cambridge University Press) was published last year.

To register for this free program, visit:

Wagner’s National Historic Landmark building & collections will be open for exploration before the program.

Information about the Wagner Free Institute of Science

Founded in 1855, the Wagner Free Institute of Science is dedicated to providing free public education in science. Its programs include free courses and lectures, field trips and lessons for children and museum tours for all ages. The evening science courses are in their 158th year, making them the oldest program devoted to free adult education in the United States. The Institute also has a strong commitment to children’s science education and offers a range of programs for school groups and through partnerships with neighboring schools and community groups.

The Institute’s Museum houses more than 100,000 natural history specimens, a collection begun by founder William Wagner in the early nineteenth century and expanded by the pre-eminent scientist Joseph Leidy in the 1880s. Completed in 1865, the Institute’s National Historic Landmark building is essentially unchanged since the late-nineteenth century and includes a Victorian Exhibition Hall filled with fossils, shells, minerals and mounted animal skeletons and skins displayed in original wood and glass cabinets. The Museum is open to visitors Tuesdays – Fridays, 9 AM to 4 PM, year-round. Evening and weekend programs are offered during the fall, winter and spring.

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