Johann Hasler

Departamento de Música, Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia

Johann F.W. Hasler holds a PhD in music (double study composition & musicology) from Newcastle University. He has been a composer for over twenty years, and has researched the history of speculative music – the esoteric aspects of music theory – since 2004. He currently teaches theoretical, historical and composition subjects at the Department of Music of the Universidad de Antioquia in his native Colombia, as well as the first ever course in history of esotericism in the country, Cultural History of Western Esotericism, in the History Department of the same university. He researches the history of esotericism and its relation to the history of religion, ideas, arts and science in the research groups “Religión, Cultura y Sociedad” (Religion, Culture and Society) and “Artes y Modelos de Pensamiento” (Arts and Models of Thought). 


The sounding zodiacs in Western musical theory: an overview of proposals for musical interpretation of astrological data from Ptolemy to the late 20th century

Throughout history, astrology has influenced many aspects of Western culture, including music. Indeed, through the Renaissance doctrine of correspondences and its forerunner the neo-Platonic via positiva of analogical and symbolic thinking, music and astrology have been linked since the time of Ptolemy by means of sets of tables of correspondences and equivalences based on different logics of analogy, comparison and similarity. These range from neo-Pythagorean geometry and ratio theory to Theosophical eschatology, passing through scientificist extrapolations of Kepler’s theories and even statistical approaches to the quantification of appearances of musical keys in canonical classical music repertoires.

This paper wishes to show several instances of these correspondences between basic astrological data (zodiac signs, planets, houses and aspects) and musical parameters related to pitch (pitch class, mode and key), and illustrate the logic of attribution that underlies each one of them. The cases discussed range from Ptolemy (1st. century) to the last quarter of the 20th century, and exemplify the changing logics of attribution and modes of translation and analogical thinking of each of their periods and epistemologies, but they also show how some core ideas and figures of authority are kept, referred to and transmitted – even misread – throughout nineteen centuries of transmission and reconfiguration of theories of musical attributions of astrology.

The transmission of these ideas in the erudite West is not the story of a linear conveyance of the same underlying understanding (a direct transmission through what has been referred to almost mythically as the “Philosophia perennis” or “The Golden Thread”), but the history of references, interpretations and ruptures of one epoch regarding the proposals of previous ones on the same issue. It thus illustrates the transmission of one aspect of astrology (its musical possibilities) within the same culture (the erudite and esoteric West) throughout a long period of time (nineteen centuries).