Helmholtz, Hermann (Ludwig Ferdinand) von

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Helmholtz, Hermann (Ludwig Ferdinand) von

Helmholtz, Hermann (Ludwig Ferdinand) von, celebrated German scientist and acoustician; b. Potsdam, Aug. 31, 1821; d. Berlin, Sept. 8, 1894. He studied medicine at the Friedrich Wilhelm Medical Inst, in Berlin (M.D., 1843) and also learned to play the piano. He was an assistant at Berlin’s Anatomical Museum and prof, extraordinary at the Academy of Fine Arts (1848–49), asst. prof, and director of Königsberg- Physiological Inst. (1849–55), and prof, of anatomy and physiology at the Univ. of Bonn (1855–58) and the Univ. of Heidelberg (1858–71). He became prof, of physics at the Univ. of Berlin in 1871, and from 1888 served as the 1st director of the Physico-Technical Inst. in Berlin. He was ennobled in 1882. His most important work for those interested in music was his Lehre von den Tonempfindungen als physiologische Grundlage für die Theorie der Musik (Braunschweig, 1863; Eng. tr. by A. Ellis as On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music, London, 1875; new ed., N.Y., 1948), in which he established a sure physical foundation for the phenomena manifested by musical tones, either single or combined. He supplemented and amplified the theories of Rameau, Tartini, Wheatstone, Corti, and others, furnishing impregnable formulae for all classes of consonant and dissonant tone effects, and proving with scientific precision what Hauptmann and his school sought to establish by laborious dialectic processes. His labors resulted primarily in instituting the laws governing the differences in quality of tone (tone color) in different instruments and voices, covering the whole field of harmonic, differential, and summational tones, and those governing the nature and limits of music perception by the human ear.


S. Epstein, H. v.H. als Mensch und Gelehrter (Stuttgart, 1896); L. Konigsberger, H. v.H. (3 vols., Braunschweig, 1902-03; 1 vol., 1911); E. Waetzman, Zur H.schen Resonanztheorie (Breslau, 1907); H. Ebert, H. v.H. (Stuttgart, 1949).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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Helmholtz, Hermann (Ludwig Ferdinand) von

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