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Music Program and Dean of the College Present

Monday, April 22, 2019
The Stylus Phantasticus and the 17th-Century North German Organ as Cabinets of Curiosities 
Blum N217
5:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Lecture by Paula Maust
During the early modern era, a new fascination with collection resulted in a series of inimitable Wunderkammern. These cabinets of curiosities appeared throughout Europe and contained all manner of objects, including souvenirs from distant lands, artworks, musical instruments, trinkets, scientific instruments, inventions, and items from the natural world. Not only a repository of objects, the Wunderkammer was also a system of organizing knowledge about the universe and for demonstrating the collector’s mastery of nature. Curiosity, wonder, and invention are prevalent themes that emerge across numerous 17th-century disciplines, and as a result, these cabinets have been widely discussed in literature about the early modern period.

Less commented on, however, is the fact that these same orientations toward the world can also be seen in the realms of music composition and instrument design. For instance, in his monumental 1650 Musurgia Universalis the inventor, collector, and music surveyor Athanasius Kircher defined all the musical styles known to him. Across hundreds of pages, the Musurgia Universalis captures the wonder and curiosity with which early moderns engaged with music. It also points to more concrete connections between the Wunderkammern and the 17th-century North German keyboard works than scholars have thus far described. Kircher described the Stylus Phantasticus as “the most free and unrestrained method of composing,” and works written in the style embody the spirit of invention manifested in the Wunderkammern. The same inclination toward wonder that was the impetus for the Wunderkammern is also present in the architectural design and innovative technologies of the 17th-century North German organ, particularly the independent pedal division. Just as the Wunderkammern provided a means for the collector to blend and master elements of art and nature, works written in the Stylus Phantasticus showcase the composer’s ability to harness the cosmic qualities of music and combine them with cutting-edge instrument design to inspire wonder in the listener. Ultimately, I argue pieces written in the Stylus Phantasticus as well as the instruments that were used to bring them to life are best understood as themselves cabinets of curiosities; to approach them as such is to reclaim the spirit with which these instruments and their music were created.

For more information, call 845-758-7250, or e-mail

Time: 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm

Location: Blum N217