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Curious and Modern Inventions

Instrumental Music as Discovery in Galileo’s Italy

Early seventeenth-century Italy saw a revolution in instrumental music. Large, varied, and experimental, the new instrumental repertoire was crucial for the Western tradition—but until now, the impulses that gave rise to it had yet to be fully explored. Curious and Modern Inventions offers fresh insight into the motivating forces behind this music, tracing it to a new conception of instruments of all sorts—whether musical, artistic, or scientific—as vehicles of discovery.

Rebecca Cypess shows that early modern thinkers were fascinated with instrumental technologies. The telescope, the clock, the pen, the lute—these were vital instruments for leading thinkers of the age, from Galileo Galilei to Giambattista Marino. No longer used merely to remake an object or repeat a process already known, instruments were increasingly seen as tools for open-ended inquiry that would lead to new knowledge. Engaging with themes from the history of science, literature, and the visual arts, this study reveals the intimate connections between instrumental music and the scientific and artisanal tools that served to mediate between individuals and the world around them.

320 pages | 4 color plates, 17 halftones, 72 line drawings, 4 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2016

History: European History, History of Ideas, History of Technology

History of Science

Music: General Music


“This is an excellent book. Cypess’s understanding of seventeenth-century cultural nuances is remarkable, and I very much admire how she grounds so many of her historical-cultural insights in specific musical analyses. Elegant and readable by both specialists and nonspecialists, Curious and Modern Inventions will be considered groundbreaking by enthusiasts of early modern music and of broader early modern culture alike.”

Andrew Dell’Antonio, University of Texas at Austin

Curious and Modern Inventions is a highly original contextual study of the repertoire of solo and ensemble music for strings that was ‘invented’ in seventeenth-century Italy. Cypess’s thorough bibliographic investigation and spirited musical analysis raise—and answer—some critical questions regarding the reception of these extraordinary works, which she convincingly relates to contemporary scientific discoveries and concerns. This book exemplifies the rich rewards of interdisciplinary thinking.”

Ellen Rosand, Yale University

"Rebecca Cypess’s study of seventeenth-century instrumental music makes a distinctive contribution to the field by avoiding the standard historical narrative of instrumental styles derived from vocal music, instead exploring ways in which specifically instrumental idioms emerged from the cultural environment of early modern Italy."

Renaissance Quarterly

"Rebecca Cypess proposes a multivalent argument about the rise of idiomatic instrumental music as a form of new knowledge capable of influencing, reflecting on and potentially shaping early
modern social and scientific discovery."

British Journal of the History of Science

"This elegant book offers a model for interdisciplinary research, one that reveals the deep connections between instrumental practices associated with particular systems of knowledge in the early modern era. . . . Curious and Modern Inventions should become essential reading for anyone interested in early modern Italian science and the emergence of experimental philosophy more generally."


“Cypess clearly spells out what she perceives as one and the same instrumental tradition between music and the sciences. . . . Compelling and valuable . . . . I strongly recommend this book to all historians of science and technology who desire to expand their outlook and investigation of early modern material culture studies.”


"Starting out precisely from instrumental music’s apparent Achilles heel, its artisanal origins, Rebecca Cypess’s Curious and Modern Inventions takes readers on a wide-ranging journey through early seventeenth-century culture, musical and otherwise. This is a highly rewarding adventure: along the way, works by Biagio Marini, Carlo Farina, Girolamo Frescobaldi, and Dario Castello are repositioned as manifestations of important contemporary developments in painting, science, collectorship, and philosophy. . . . Curious and Modern Inventions will surely become standard reading for anyone interested in seventeenth-century instrumental music and the prodigiously fertile and turbulent intellectual and artistic climate in which it arose."

Journal of the American Musicological Society

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