Music and the Natural Sciences in 1800

Sometimes musical sources are well hidden. Or would your normally expect an imprint entitled Discourse Introductory to a Course of Lectures on the Science of Nature to have an appendix containing three vocal pieces?

The Discourse is actually interesting in several regards. The author of the book itself is Charles W. Peale (1741-1827), who was known as a landscape and portrait painter. Peale was also interested in the natural sciences and his Discourse can also be understood as a plea for the establishment of museums. The year in which this item was printed, 1800, tells us that we are still quite a ways from a Darwinian understanding of nature, and consequently Peale's idea of a museum cannot be compared to modern ones: animal preparations are part of the collections alongside paintings and other works of art.

This world view, in which a theological view of nature and the natural sciences is closely interwoven with the fortune of humankind, is also evident in the three songs:

  • Ode on the death of Titian Peale,” with the opening text “His early loss let science mourn,” a reference to Peale's son who died in 1798 at the age of 18

The words to these songs are by Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860), another son of the book's author. The music is by John Isaac Hawkins (1772-1854), and English engineer and inventor who made a name for himself as a piano builder.


Image: John Isaac Hawkins "Ode on the death of Titan Peale", GB-Lbl B.328.(3.) (RISM ID no. 1001034803)


Category: Library collections

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