Metronome - Oxford Handbooks
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date: 01 May 2016

Abstract and Keywords

This intellectual-social history of Maelzel’s technology challenges current views that automatic metronomes are, and have always been, universally accepted indicators of an absolute a priori musical beat. Rather than focusing upon the exactitude of historical tempo technologies, this study seeks to answer the larger reasons why ticking machines became the prevailing indicators of musical movement in western educational, compositional, and performance practice traditions. Primary source evidence uncovers that historical attitudes toward metronomes were unlike those of modern-age pedagogues and performers. By contrasting accounts from Maelzel’s and Beethoven’s age with those of modernist musicians, it is shown how a new cultural trend emerged in which automatic metronomes transitioned from limited musical pulse references to essential regulators of a scientifically objective, mathematically reproducible tempo. Ultimately, this survey reveals a cultural paradigm shift, a metronomic turn in the way automatic tempo technologies have come to inform and influence the values underling musical temporality and musicianship itself.

Keywords: metronome, rhythm, meter, tempo, time, technology, movement, pulse, performance, regulation, modernity, automatic, Maelzel, Beethoven, pedagogy, education, mechanical, precision, objective

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