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Analogy of Colour and Music


IT appears to me that in the discussion raised by Mr. Barrett's letter in your columns, too little attention has been paid to differences between harmony in music and harmony in colour, which are sufficiently great to show that the coincidences pointed out cannot be regarded as more than numerical. Your correspondents have hitherto regarded the subject rather from an optical than a musical point of view. I propose, with your permission, to make a few remarks from the latter stand-point. It is well known that to get a good concord, exact tuning is requisite—i.e., that a slight deviation from the right pitch is sufficient to make a concord into a discord. Moreover, the better the concord, the more intolerable is any appreciable variation of its pitch. Thus unisons, fifths, and octaves are the most sensitive to defective tuning, while the intervals adjacent to them, such as minor seconds, sharp fourths, and sevenths are the harshest discords in the scale. The degree to which this holds will be seen at once by the following diagram, roughly copied from Helmholtz's “Ton-empfindungen.” The ordinates of the curve represent the amount of “roughness”—i.e., discordancy corresponding to the intervals marked on the line of abscissæ. The quality of tone selected is that of the violin.

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TAYLOR, S. Analogy of Colour and Music. Nature 1, 430–431 (1870).

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