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The Metronomic Performance Practice: A History of Rhythm, Metronomes, and the Mechanization of Musicality
Bonus, Alexander Evan

2010, Doctor of Philosophy, Case Western Reserve University, Musicology.

Through the analyses of treatises, scores, letters, and technologies spanning four centuries, this multidisciplinary history of rhythm charts the various, shifting meanings in musical time and movement as pedagogies and performance practices became increasingly influenced by clockwork machines—-and Johann Maelzel’s metronome most conspicuously—-over the course of the modern age. Depicting how “musical time” constitutes an ever-changing belief system in what “time” means, this study charts the ascendance of a new musical-temporal ontology brought about by Western performance-culture’s increasing reliance on metronomes.

This history explains how scientific methodologies and machines—-promoting metronomic time above all else—-were first actively applied to musicians and their performances in the latter decades of the nineteenth century. The influential work of modern scientists, pedagogues, and only later composers—-with their precision-oriented beliefs in metronomic time and rhythm—-eventually helped to create a new performance-practice tradition, a new musical culture in which mechanical objectivity became a prevailing aesthetic in the twentieth century. Highlighting the writings of philosophers such as Mersenne, Diderot, and Rousseau; musicians such as Quantz, Beethoven, and Stravinsky; scientists such as Wundt, Scripture, and Seashore; and pedagogues such as A. B. Marx, Christiani, and Jaques-Dalcroze, the narrative explicates how and why this temporal revision occurred, and what outcomes followed when scientific modes of metronomic action were imposed upon past, subjective musical practices.


As this history of musical time, metronomes, and musicality uncovers, the very meanings and cultural values underlying “rhythm” and “tempo” have palpably changed since the twentieth century due to a heretofore-unacknowledged paradigm shift: a metronomic turn in which the once-innate musical “beat” became both conceptually and audibly mechanized.


Mary Davis, PhD (Committee Chair)
Daniel Goldmark, PhD (Committee Member)
Peter Bennett, D.Phil (Committee Member)
Martha Woodmansee, PhD (Committee Member)
597 p.

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Bonus, A. (2010). The Metronomic Performance Practice: A History of Rhythm, Metronomes, and the Mechanization of Musicality. (Electronic Thesis or Dissertation). Retrieved from https://etd.ohiolink.edu/

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Bonus, Alexander. "The Metronomic Performance Practice: A History of Rhythm, Metronomes, and the Mechanization of Musicality." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Case Western Reserve University, 2010. OhioLINK Electronic Theses and Dissertations Center. 25 May 2015.

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Bonus, Alexander "The Metronomic Performance Practice: A History of Rhythm, Metronomes, and the Mechanization of Musicality." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Case Western Reserve University, 2010. https://etd.ohiolink.edu/

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