"The First Book Published in Europe Devoted Entirely to Acoustics" –Merrill

Kircher, Athanasius (1602-1680)

Phonurgia Nova sive Conjugium mechanico-physicum artis & naturae paranympha phonosophia concinnatum. quâ universa sonorum natura, proprietas, vires effectuúm[que] prodigiosorum causæ, novâ & multiplici experimentorum exhibitione enucleantur : instrumentorum acusticorum, machinarúm[que] ad naturæ prototypon adaptandarum, tum ad sonos ad remotissima spatia propagandos, tum in abditis domorum recessibus per occultioris ingenii machinamenta clam palámue sermocinandi modus & ratio traditur, tum denique in bellorum tumultibus singurlaris hujusmodi organorum usus, & praxis per nouam phonologiam describitur.

Kempten: Per Rudolphum Dreherr, 1673


Folio: 30.2 x 20 cm. [41], [1, blank], 229, [1, blank], [16] pp. Collation: π4, a-c4, d1, (*)2, (**)2, (***)2, A-Z4, Aa-Hh4 (with final blank). With 2 added plates at p. 114 and p. 132. The engraved title page and the portrait are integral to the collation.

Bound in contemporary pigskin over wooden boards, with intact clasps. An extremely fine copy, bright and crisp throughout with the most minor of faults: engraved t.p. very slightly shaved at outer edge, occ. very light marginal dampstains, a few marginal spots on leaf C4. Truly excellent.

The “Phonurgia” is illustrated with an added engraved allegorical title by G. And. Wolfgang after Felix Cheurier, an engraved title vignette, an engraved portrait of Emperor Leopold I by G. And. Wolfgang after Franz Herman, two engraved plates, seventeen engravings and numerous woodcut diagrams and illustrations in the text, musical notation, ornamental woodcut head- and tail-pieces, and decorative initials.

Among the illustrations are Michele Todini's "claviorganum" (one of the most technologically advanced keyboards of Kircher's time), Kircher's own musical invention, the "Aeolian Harp", and the invention that inspired the book, Kircher's "Speaking Trumpet" (the megaphone), shown at the shrine of St. Eustace in Monterella. Various chambers with peculiar acoustical properties are also depicted, such as a Vitruvian amphitheater, the courtyard at the Villa Simonetta in Milan and the "ears" of the Tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse. There is also a depiction of one of Kircher's "talking statues", his 17th century intercom.

"The 'Phonurgia Nova' is, in part, Kircher’s response to Sir Samuel Morland (1625-95), a fellow of the Royal Society of London, who claimed...to have invented the megaphone. Numerous testimonies from Kircher’s admirers, such as James Alban Gibbs and Gaspar Schott, are appended to the work defending Kircher’s claim as the inventor of the tuba stentorophonica, as Morland called it. Kircher had indeed written extensively on the device in his 'Musurgia' and had been using the ‘speaking trumpet’ for years at the shrine of Mentorella to call people to services... The 'Phonurgia' treats the science and applications of sound amplification and echoes. It was the first book published in Europe devoted entirely to acoustics." (Merrill).

"The importance that the Jesuits placed on sensory experience as part of worship had a significant impact on Kircher's treatment of music. Within the devotional framework, music was valued precisely because of its capacity to move the passions, to produce strong emotional effects that under properly controlled conditions were designed to ravish the soul and lead the faithful closer to the divine. Indeed, Kircher declared that the goal of all music was to move the affections, and this belief goes a long way toward explaining his interest in classifying all the various emotional or affective states that music can imitate. Kircher's was the first systematic account of the 'doctrine of affections' which underpinned early opera and oratorio, and was one of the fundamental assumptions of later Baroque composers such as Bach and Handel."(Penelope Gouk, "Making Music, Making Knowledge: The Harmonious Universe of Athanasius Kircher")

De Backer-Sommervogel IV, col. 1068; Merrill 25; Caillet 5789; Graesse IV, p. 22.