Giuseppe Severini

Giuseppe Severini

Giovedì, 08 Febbraio 2018 18:10

Congrés du CTHS, Paris 23-27 avril 2018


“Livres en pierre” c’est une denomination donnée de très longtemps aux portails des églises romanes et gothiques. La doctrine catholique était très clairement exposée à travers la présentation des scènes bibliques, voilà donc une effective transmission de connaissances théologiques. Mais d’autres savoirs pouvaient etre tout aussi transmis: histoire, astronomie, musique. Parfois , au moyen d’un language codé, on exposait des connaissances secrètes.

Nous avons étudié trois exemples excéllentes: les portails des cathédrales de Chartres, Arles et Saint Jacques de Compostelle, en mettant en évidence une transmission de connaissances de musique et d’astronomie. On voit que les sculpteurs ont représenté avec le plus grand souci les instruments de musique, leur tenue, les détails de fabrication, les decorations et meme les figures des musiciens, des chanteurs, des anges, leur expression, leur attitude. Le nombre, la position des sujets, les endroits occupés dans la composition, les relations entre les personnages, tous ces eléments donnent indications et suggestions au regard des études de théorie musicale conduits à l’époque (1143-1188): intervalles de l’exachorde et Musique des Sphères à Arles, gammes chromatiques à Chartres et à Saint Jacques de Compostelle des références à la cosmologie platonicienne et à l’astronomie, dans tous les trois monuments la présence du Tritonus ou “Diabolus in musica”.


La transmission des savoirs musicales à travers les sculptures des portails des églises était importante, car la Musique (des Sphères), liée à l’Astronomie, était considerée comme un moyen de communication avec Dieu. Quelques détails pouvaient etre compris uniquement par un public savant. Avant tout, la réponse dépende de la question qu’on pose.


AAVV, El mensaje simbòlico del imaginario romànico. Aguilar de Campoo, Fundacion santa Maria la Real, 2012

Elena Ferrari Barassi, Testimonianze organologiche nelle fonti teoriche dei secoli X-XIV. Cremona, Fondazione Claudio Monteverdi, 1983

Boethius Severinus Manlius Torquatus, De institutione musice.

Bruce Eastwood, Ordering the Heavens. Brill, 2007

Dieu Lionel, La Musique dans la sculpture romane en France, Centre de Développement en Art et Culture Médiévale, 2006


We joined THE ROAD TO THE STARS Congress, organized by INSAP, OXFORD and SEAC




Santiago de Compostela Organistrum: an astronomical approach
Giuseppe Severini
Istituto di Archeoastronomia Siciliana, Italy
Associazione Culturale Secoli Bui, Italy
Andrea Orlando
Istituto di Archeoastronomia Siciliana, Italy
Laboratori Nazionali del Sud (INFN), Italy

The famous Gate of Glory in Santiago de Compostela Cathedral (Galicia), dedicated to
St. James (Unceta, 2004), recently  examined in an interesting archaeoastronomical perspective
(Vilas Estevéz and Gonzalez-Garcia, 2016) too, has been built following an iconographic project
inspired by St. John’s book of Apocalypse (Moralejo, 1988). At the top of main arch, in the middle
of the 24 venerable men’s row around Christ’s throne, there is a peculiar musical instrument (Fig.
1) -equipped with a wheel- played by two of them (Luengo, 1988). The particular position, the
extremely accurate details and the peculiarity of the instrument underline the importance of an
object whose origins, symbolism and actual musical role (Lopez-Calo, 1988) have never been
completely explained.
The most intriguing features are: a) 12 intervals division of the octave; b) wheel used to produce
sound; c) general shape and decorations. In this article we introduce a possible interpretation of
Organistrum as a sampler of cosmological and astronomical knowledge typical of European culture
from IX to XII century (Eastwood, 1997; McCluskey, 1998). Close relationship between astronomy
and music in platonic-pythagorean doctrines (Albertazzi, 2010) is confirmed through detailed
analysis of astronomical texts in manuscripts copied in Benedictine scriptoria from Carolingian
Renaissance onwards (Eastwood, 2007).
Beyond general reference to Plato’s Timaeus, through Macrobius and Calcidius commentaries
(Martello, 2011), main suggestions to our study come from interesting diagrams (Eastwood and
Grasshoff, 2004) found in these manuscripts (e.g.: clm 14436, f.61r, Munich Bayerische
Staatsbibliothek). Organistrum could be considered a representation of Cosmos, a sort of acoustic
planetary, the Christian answer to Oud’s astronomical interpretation proposed by Arabic school
(Severini, 2015), that by the ninth century had moved from Baghdad to Cordoba (Godwin, 1993;
Lindberg, 1992).

Albertazzi, M. (ed.), Philosophia. Lavìs. La Finestra editrice, 2010.
Eastwood, B., Ordering the Heavens. Roman Astronomy and Cosmology in the Carolingian Renaissance. Brill, 2007.
Eastwood, B. and G. Grasshoff, Planetary Diagrams For Roman Astronomy In Medieval Europe, ca. 800-1500,
Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 94, No. 3, 2004.
Godwin, J. (ed.), The Harmony of the Spheres: A Sourcebook of the Pythagorean Tradition, in Music, Inner Traditions
International, Rochester, Vermont, 1993.
Lindberg, D.C., The Beginnings of Western Science: the European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious and
Institutional Context, Prehistory to A.D. 1450. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
Lopez-Calo, La musica en la Catedral de Santiago, A.D.1188, in El Portico de la Gloria. Musica, Arte y pensamento.
“Cuadernos de Musica en Compostela II”, Santiago de Compostela, 1988.
Luengo, F., Los instrumentos del portico, in El portico de la Gloria. Musica, Arte y pensamento, “Cuadernos de Musica
en Compostela II”, Santiago de Compostela, 1988.
Martello, C., Platone a Chartres. Palermo: Officina di Studi Medievali, 2011.
McCluskey, S.C., Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe. Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Moraeljo, S., Marco historico y contexto liturgico en la obra del Portico de la Gloria, in El Portico de la Gloria.
Musica, Arte y pensamento, “Cuadernos de Musica en Compostela II”, Santiago de Compostela, 1988.
Severini, G., La reconstitution des Rebabs d'après les peintures du XII siècle de la Chapelle Palatine à Palerme, in
L'instrumentarium du Moyen Age. La restitution du son. Paris: l'Harmattan, 2015.
Vilas Estévez, B. and C. González-García, Illuminating effects at the cathedral of Saint James (Galicia): first results,
Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry, Vol. 16, No. 4, pp. 465-471, 2016.




Martedì, 20 Dicembre 2016 09:01

"Organistrum"- full article.

by Giuseppe Severini

Gate of glory extrados statues represent the 24 elders of Apocalypse. They can also be symbols of Time (they are 24), Music (they bear musical instruments) and Divine harmony (they are heavenly creatures).

The two performers at the top are very close to Christ’s head, position as usual occupied by angels. If we compare them to the other musicians we observe they look to be the only two actually playing. The idea that a deeper symbolic significance could be discovered in this scene is strengthened by closer observation of the instrument features. A turning object, the wheel, creates the sound from strings stretched over a sound box made of two equal circles, to which an unusual keyboard is added, equipped with 11 keys, so that the octave is divided into 12 parts.
All this is strange enough and absolutely unique, in XII century at least !, and we need referring to any kind of theological, philosophical, mathematical and musical theory of the age to give a reasonable interpretation of it. Medieval Latin Platonism, for example, mainly related to Chartres cathedral school, well connected with Paris and Santiago, brings to us interesting suggestions.
Platonists thought that at the beginning of creation, making the World Soul, Demiurgos mixed three abstract elements: Being, Sameness and Difference. Having divided this compound into the right proportions of a Pythagorean diatonic scale he finally gave the World Soul the shape of two circles one inside the other and put them into the material World, thus creating both the Sphere of fixed stars and the plane of planetary orbits. Circular motions of planets and stars were thus connected in perfect harmony, like the strings of a well tuned Lyre or the pipes of a well cut Pan flute .
This set-up is reflected by our instrument.
A circular sound box, the Circle of Sameness, contains the wheel , symbol of planetary motion: the Circle of Difference. This is the origin: the invisible World Soul. Then another circle is added, the visible world, Cosmos, with its charming beauty. At last we find the keyboard, with 11 keys dividing the octave in parts, the symbol of human mind, which divides and measures in order to understand Natural phenomena. The vibrating string-length (rectilinear thought) is equal to the circumference of each circle of the sound box (Nature and abstract world).
Further suggestions come from the analysis of decorations.
A. A long line of DOTS runs all around the outline of the instrument. They are symbols of the stars. From left to right: first circle, the idea of the stars in the abstract world; second circle, the visible stars; keyboard, our knowledge of the stars (straightened).
B. The large ROSETTE in the middle represents the Visible World, a circular figure divided in four equal sections by two perpendicular axes. Each section is occupied by a five lobes leaf and twigs (these leaves are similar to those sculpted all around the 24 Elders). The division in four sections may refer to the four elements of material world.
This figure recalls diagrams of the seasons frequently drawn in glosses of IX-XII centuries astronomical manuscripts or even more elaborated drawings .

The main goal of any scholar was to calculate accurately the length of each season in order to obtain an exact and affordable calendar to establish with great accuracy both the dates of Christian feasts and the right hours for prayer in monasteries .

C.Finally, KEYBOARD LID decoration, unique among all other decorations sculpted in the Gate, shows a rare pattern, which had been popular in some areas around the Alps and in Ireland between IX and XI centuries, rather neglected in the XII .

Each knot of the interlace corresponds to one of the 11 keys protruding out of the rectangular box. This division in fact is the most puzzling feature of all, as nobody could justify the introduction of a chromatic scale in XII century musical practice, when only strict diatonism was allowed. But we discovered that, curiously enough, both the unusual decoration and the division of the octave in 12 semitones can be referred to diagrams of planetary latitudes, related to musical scales as well, in contemporary astronomical manuscripts.

Such diagrams were intended to describe planetary latitudes across the zodiacal band, divided vertically in 12 degrees. As usual the horizontal line of these grids was divided in 30 parts, but since XI century we often find 12 parts in order to signify the 12 zodiacal signs. The Sun and Saturn were given a serpentine path within the two middle degrees of the zodiac, Jupiter had three degrees, Mars four, Mercury eight, the Moon covered the zodiacal band with its 12 degrees of latitude. Venus was assigned a latitude of 14 degrees, one degree beyond the zodiac on each side.
Then, in a manuscript by Abbo de Fleury (c 940-1004) we find a horizontal column list of the Plinian intervals between planetary orbits attached to planetary latitudes grid .

Whether 14 semitones can be counted in total, the musical octave from Moon to Saturn is divided into 12 semitones (semitone being the unit of measurement of the scale, clearly enough). A keyboard with keys ranging about two full chromatic octaves demonstrates that this arrangement, despite the diatonic absolutism exhibited in sacred music, fits quite well XII century two voices polyphonic music, in original settings and in mutationes.

The middle key, the sixtht, indicates the Tritonus, in the middle of chromatic scale. Musician’s right hand is dangerously operating just aside.

In Santiago de Compostela doorgate one special music instrument looks like a summary of musica mundana main concepts, a retelling of the very ancient myth of Music of the Spheres. Symphonia could be its meaningful name instead of more popular Organistrum .

Martedì, 22 Novembre 2016 14:10

Vielle ovale de Graville

Reconstitution d’une vièle ovale d’après une sculpture du 12ème siècle de l’Abbaye de Graville au Havre, Normandie.Par Giuseppe Severini, luthier sicilien.

La sculpture :
La petite sculpture (30x35x20cm) en pierre blanche, abîmée à gauche, a été retrouvée, après la guerre, dans les ruines de la tour centrale. On ne connaît pas sa position initiale et on pense qu'elle est de la fin du 11ème siècle.Toute la composition et même l'instrument sont inspirés par la forme ovale.La figure entière est inscrite dans un ovale, la tête, les yeux, la bouche ovale, l'instrument a une caisse ovale, l'une des ouïes est une demi-lune et l'autre a une forme presque ovale.La figure est très bien modelée, les traits fins, gracieux, on dirait qu'elle a quelque chose de féminin et de lunaire.
La reconstitution de l'instrument
Les bois :J'ai choisi deux qualités de bois qu'on pourrait aisément retrouver en Normandie au11ème siècle: sapin et hêtre.Sapin (très vieux et avec des taches pour rappeler la surface de la lune) pour le corps de l'instrument: table d'harmonie, éclisses, manche et chevilles.Hêtre pour le fond.
Un instrument creux :
Puisque les instruments au Moyen Âge n'avaient pas d'âme, la résonnance est premièrement due à la table d'harmonie, le fond ayant pour fonction de refléter le son.J'ai donc creusé l'instrument dans du sapin à partir de la table d'harmonie car c’est la partie la plus importante de la vièle, d’une épaisseur d’environ trois millimètres, sans aucun barrage.Le manche est creusé dans la même planche, même s’il est un peu plus haut que la table.Les flancs son concaves. Le fond en hêtre est creusé, arrondi à l'intérieur comme à l'extérieur, l'épaisseur est d’à peu près trois millimètres.
Les ouïes :
Dans la sculpture, on voit que les deux ouïes ne sont pas symétriques, l’une en forme de demi-lune, l'autre presque rectangulaire, creusée plus bas sur l'autre moitié de la table. On pourrait penser que l'auteur a voulu faire ce perçage bizarre pour une raison de perspective, mais j'ai pensé qu'il a reproduit un instrument réel, fait de cette façon.Y-a-t-il d’autres exemples de cette asymétrie sur les vièles médiévales ? NON.Mais il y a d'autres instruments de musique avec des perçages asymétriques, certaines harpes, des psaltérions et des monocordes.
Quelle pourrait être la motivation de cette asymétrie ?Donner au musicien une ouïe (plus petite) plus proche de son oreille ou, proposition presque hérétique, pour placer une âme au-dessous du chevalet ...Après réflexion, j'ai décidé de faire les deux ouïes exactement comme elles sont représentées sur la sculpture.
La touche, le cheviller, le cordier :
La touche est un petit morceau de buisde 2mm d'épaisseur, collé sur le manche.Le cheviller est hexagonal, comme dans les vièles de Boscherville.Le cordier est en buis.
Le vernis :
Je n’ai employé aucun vernis. On sait qu’à l'époque il n'y avait pas de gomme-laque, aussi, pour protéger le bois, j'ai employé de l'huile d'amande pure.
Les cordes :
Les cordes sont en boyau de mouton.J'ai choisi de faire un accord complexe avec deux chœurs et un bourdon. Les chœurs sont accordés à l'unisson ou en quartes.
LA ré/ré la/la
LA la/ré mi/la
Le deuxième accord est le plus convenable pour une exécution polyphonique de musique sacrée, comme suggéré par le caractèrede la sculpture.

Giuseppe Severini, Randazzo, Sicile, juin 2016.



Giovedì, 27 Ottobre 2016 15:34

Aeolian harp

WARNING: this is NOT a musical instrument !!! It is not an instrument YOU or ANYONE can play, but an object only WIND can play properly. You make a sound box, you stretch nylon strings on it, you tune them all at the same pitch (you can tune some of the strings one octave lower or higher, or even at a fifth OR fourth) and then put this object in a place where the wind can blow, for exemple very close to your window slightly open. You will hear marveillous unexpected sounds coming from the strings, apparently absolutely still. These particular subtle sounds are the natural overtones, part of every sound we hear but hidden inside them, as usual. The wind harp works with sound as the prism does with light: it shows a clear analysis of sound in its components, as prism does with white light projecting the different colours in the air (the Rainbow). If you don't want to make your own soundbox by yourself you can take an old classical guitar and put on it all nylon strings the same size tuned at the same pitch and you will get approximately the same goal! Or you can hear them in House of music and lutherie Randazzo, in windy days..


Mercoledì, 26 Ottobre 2016 08:45

Harmonic planetarium

At the House of Music and Lutherie in Randazzo, a little medieval village on mount Etna, you can also see, and listen to !, a reproduction of Cosmos according to Pythagoras, Plato and Aristoteles. Each planet and the stars have a sound of the diatonic major scale (Dorico). The stars have C all together, then you find Saturn on D , Juppiter E, Mars F, the Sun G (the fifth, the major consonant interval), Venus A, Mercury B and the Moon on C. So you fulfil a whole octave. And our Earth? It is still in the middle and receives all harmony and light from outer space. Some differences are among the ideas od Pythagoras, Plato and Aristoteles about Universe, but all their contributions are illustrated in this model and you can even listen to the magic sounds of the "Cosmic Lyre" through strings streched at the right distances to reproduce the famous "Music of the Spheres" !

Lunedì, 24 Ottobre 2016 16:52

Barbitos un instrument de l'ancienne grèce

Cet instrument, récemment reconstitué, a été representé très souvent sur les vases greques à partir du IV siècle a.C. On le voit dans les mains de jeunes hommes ou femmes et de Faunes ou de Satyres. Carachteristique la caisse en tortue, la table d'harmonie en peau de chèvre ou de poisson et sourtout les cordes très longues, comparées à celles de la Lyre. On joue cet instrument avec un plectre en os ou ivoire. Les greques d'Athèns consideraient barbare le Barbiton et disaient que n'était pas convenable au moeurs des citoyens cultivés, mais propre des habitants des iles. est un peu difficile à jouer car les cordes sont vraiment longues et le son très grave. Peut etre que le Barbiton était employé dans des contextes particuliers, de dance et d'ivresse, avec des executions principalement rithmiques.

Sabato, 22 Ottobre 2016 17:49

Luthier's workshop

At the first floor of our XIII century House of music and lutherie you can visit the luthier's workshop, where he makes new instruments, as usual replicas of ancient ones, or even reparation and restoration of old violins, mandolins, guitars and other stringed instruments as well. The workshop is really small so the luthier moves outside in the quiet street carrying out his desk,to  work in the open air as they used in the old times. Many different kinds of wood are used to carve the marveillous medieval Viols, Citoles, Lyres, Harps, Psaltery, such as Cypres, Pine, Spruce, Chestnut, Walnut, Maple and Cherrytree. There are many tools around, mainly knives, gauges and saws, there are moulds to make Lutes, then colours, varnish, hide-glue. In some boxes there are pieces of bone and mother of pearl and rare woods to make precious inlays. Main decorations are  sculpted directly in the body of the instruments, which at last are equipped with gut strings or bronze, iron, brass strings,  depending on the characteristics of each one.


Venerdì, 21 Ottobre 2016 21:37

Reconstitution d'une viele ovale

Au mois de juin du 2016 j'ai presenté au Havre ma reconstitution de la petite vièle ovale du XII siècle gardée au Musée du Prieuré de Graville.

L'instrument à eté creusé dans un bloc de Sapin pour faire la table d'harmonie, les flancs, la manche et le cheviller, le fond étant creusé dans une planchette d'Etre et depuis collé au premier.

Les ouies ont etés reproduites fidèlement d'apres l'original, bien qu'elles soient fort hors de symétrie.

Le cheviller a eté fait comme on le voit dans les vièles des sculptures de l'Abbaye de Boscherville. Les cordes en boyeau sont cinq: un bourdon grave et deux choeurs ou à l'unisson ou en quartes, pour jouer des polyphonies primitives (Organa).

Cette reconstitution a etè commandèe par l'Association Les Prieurales de Graville. Je remercie tous les amis des Prieurales, sourtout Francois Montaufray et sa femme Babette.


Venerdì, 21 Ottobre 2016 20:34

Music and astronomy

Since Prehistory man has felt close relationship between Music and Astronomy, between sounds and stars.Prehistoric horn with 28 marks on it shows the object was considered a symbol of moon, and animal horns were music instruments too. Same shape have harps from Ancient Egypt. Conkshells were also used as musical instruments: in their shape the origins of universe from a whirlpool in the primitive Ocean.

And so on until Pythagoras and Plato. They found all instruments already done and perfectly working, and they studied the idea of Harmony, its numerical structure. So they found analogies between the seven notes and the seven planets, they thought that musical harmony, perfectly calculated and firmly established on permanent ratios, could explain the perfect balance and regularity of cosmic mechanism. Filolao and Architas calculated the first music scales and Plato mede the first attempt to define the imagine of what will be said: Music of the spheres, in his outstanding work: Timaeus. In this book, as in other parts of his large production (see Fedone and Repubblica) he describes both human Soul and Univers structure as a sequence of singing etheric bowls one inside the other.

This idea had a very long life, and arrived through the MiddleAges to Renaissance and ended with Johannes Kepler, its last outstanding supporter.



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