Beginning with the origins of harmony in Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy, I discuss the fundamental characteristics of the term and why it has come to be such a versatile concept. I discuss the influence of Platonic and Pythagorean notions of harmony and proportion on medieval aesthetic theories of beauty in both the East and the West. I then proceed to explore the implications of harmony the fields of architecture, music, and ceramics through two essays and a musical performance.
Although I begin by discussing harmony in the historical contexts of ancient Greece and the medieval East and West, my emphasis throughout this work is on harmony as a trans-historical and trans-geographical concept that can give rise to numerous particular incarnations and interpretations. I have aimed in sections of this work to consider particular understandings of harmony as they existed in specific locations and points in time: for example, Alberti’s conception of harmony that grew out of the Humanist movement of the Italian Renaissance, or the understanding of harmony in the medieval Islamic milieu of geometric symbolism and classical notions of proportion. At the same time, throughout this work I have aimed to abstract the concept of harmony, dissociating it from the particular Pythagorean ratios with which was originally associated, to consider the nature of the concept as a broader phenomenon that can be relevant to any whole made of parts. In this sense I offer the beginnings of an aesthetic theory of harmony based on the sensible dimensions and subjective experience of pleasing proportion.
Both the church of San Sebastiano and the Üç Şerefeli Cami offer unique examples of harmony in built space. While they both grew out of a common milieu of geometric symbolism and classical philosophy, they each represent those concepts quite differently in built space. Yet their physical forms and approaches to spatial organization are similar in many respects as well—both centralized spaces, with an emphasis on the cogency of geometric symbolism, they reflect a common desire to place the inhabitant in a meaningful web of existential order. Through pleasing proportion, variety in unity, the use of beautiful materials, geometric symbolism, and most of all, harmony between the parts and the whole, these buildings seek to create joy in the soul of the inhabitant and uplift their mind to the contemplation of a higher order.
This concert explores the notion of harmony as it may be manifested in the medium of music. I have sought, with the 13 pieces on this program, these 11 performers, and the audience, to create a whole that both symbolically represents what I have come to understand harmony to mean, and that sets up conditions as best as possible to allow for an experience of harmony for both the members of the audience and the performers. The performance is intended to communicate what an experience of harmony is for me, and to welcome others into that experience. My hope is that at least some aspect of the performance may be able to create harmony in the experience of the audience members and performers, and in doing so, theperformance may also impart a sense of what harmony can mean. Ultimately, whatever harmony the performance is able to achieve will be co-.‐created by the performers and the audience members, the space and the music we create within it.
The inspiration for my plan was a combination of two initially separate things: one was getting sucked in to the study of sacred geometry (through Islamic architecture and mysticism), and the other was a slow realization that harmony—as I had experienced it in a musical sense—was what I looked for in all of my interactions. When I discovered that the concept of harmony had roots in ancient Greek philosophy and branches in both music and architecture, among other fields, I thought to myself, ‘Aha! Now this is a project I could be happy to sink my teeth into for a couple years.’
One thing I remember most is my experience conducting fieldwork in Italy and Turkey with my primary Plan sponsor, Felicity Ratté. The richness of being able to spend time in the places I was studying—and in the company of such an experienced and delightful architectural historian—exceeds any gift that came from working on my Plan in Marlboro. That trip became the meat of my study, adding both confusion and clarity, and providing a substantial well of thought and experience to draw from and translate into my writing. Perhaps even more than my travels, though, I remember the seemingly endless hours of poring over my thoughts and resources, trying to nudge them into some coherent and meaningful shape after the trip—a feat that I was not always convinced I was up to. On the other end of the project, I both wish I’d chosen something a bit more manageable, and know I wouldn’t have settled for any less. Thus despite many days of insufficient sleep or socializing, I feel grateful for the opportunity to have explored something with so much focus, and to have come to know myself and my needs better in the process. It wouldn’t have hurt, though, to receive more back massages, home-made baked goods, and miraculous bouts of brilliance and productivity.
The most interesting part of my plan for me is the way it pulls together many fields under one conceptual umbrella. Academia is very fond of the lines that keep one subject distinguished from another, and this is all well and good; but for those of us who have always loved the study of many things, I experienced great pleasure in finding a common thread that allowed me to both explore multiple fields at once, and to produce a product that had conceptual integrity while still having its hands in multiple pies.