Dissertation Index

Author: Johnson, Russell W.

Title: Essais sur les Principes de l'Harmonie by Jean-Adam Serre: An Annotated Translation

Institution: Florida State University

Completed: November 1994


This Thesis is a translation of the Essais sur les principles de l'harmonie (Paris: 1753) by Jean-Adam Serre (1704-1788), and is intended to lay the groundwork for further studies of Serre's musical writings in particular, and eighteenth-century musical thought in general. Serre was an amateur music theorist who brought a strong scientific background to his critical evaluations of the writings of Jean-Philippe Rameau, Leonard Euler, Charles Henri de Blainville, and Guiseppe Tartini. Central to Serre's musical thought is his subordination of what he terms the principle of resonance, i.e. the resonance of a sonorous body, to what he terms the principles of ratios, which refers to the ratios of vibrations between two or more sounds. Serre's theoretical writings on music were better known in his time than they are in ours. Some of his ideas may well have influenced certain nineteenth-century theorists, in particular his derivation of the minor mode.

Keywords: Serre, Rameau, Euler, Blainville, eighteenth-century music theory


- REFLECTIONS on the Theory of the Arts in General, & in Particular
on That of Harmony
- REFLECTIONS on the Respective Roles of Harmony and Melody, and on
the Fundamental Bass, and etc.
- General Reflections on Blainville's Essay
- The Importance of Harmony Strictly Speaking in Relation to Melody
- A Comparison of Melody with Design, and etc.
- The Supposition of a Single Mode is More Plausible than That of Three
- A Distinction on the Subject of Harmony and Melody
- Harmony is the First Object of Musical Theory
- An Examination of Some of Mr. B.'s Conjectures
- The Importance of a Knowledge of the Fundamental Succession
- The Difference Between the Methodically Fundamental Bass and the
Succession Essentially So
- The Figured and Supposedly Fundamental Bass Is Often Not Very
Analogous to the Principle of Resonance
- The Essentially Fundamental Bass
- A Reflection of the Unimportance of Having Recourse to
Temperament for the Understanding of Harmony
- The Calculation of Commas Necessary in Theory
- The Anonymous Genre of Music, Though Very Frequently Used
- A Conjecture on the Foundation of the Greek Enharmonic Genre
- Another Conjecture on the Same Subject
- A Comparison of the Essentially Fundamental Bass with the
Figured Bass
- Examples of the Differeces Between the Two Kinds of Fundamental Bass
- The Foundation of the Minor Seventh Chord
- The Principle Which Distinguishes Direct and Inverted Intervals
- The Natural Origin of Dissonance
- The Foundation of the Direct Chord of the Major Sixth and of the
Seventh Chord which is an Inversion of It
- The Foundations of Some Other Chords
- The Foundation of Chords Called Chords by Supposition
- On the Fundamental Progression of a Descending Diminished Fifth
- On the Fundamental Progression of the Ascending Major Second
- The Theory of the Fundamental Progression of an Ascending Major
Second and of a Descending Semitone
- On the Fundamental Succession from the Tonic to the Second Note
- On the Complexity of Modulation
- The Origin of the Chromatic in Changing or Conserving the Genre
of the Mode
- On the Sixth Note of the Major Mode of C, and on the Double
Employment to which It Is Susceptible
- An Observation of the Double Employment as Conceived by Rameau
on this Occasion
- Reflections on Mr. B.'s Last Two Questions
- Clarifications on the Subject of the Fundamental Succession
- The Use of Dissonance
- Different Ideas of the Fundamental Bass
- The Definition of the Theory of Music
- The Principles of Harmony
- On the Principle of Ratios
- On the Principle of Resonance
- On the Principle of Reminiscence
- Principles of Melody
- Principles of Expression
- EXPLANATION of the First Plate
- On the Origin of the Minor Mode
- The Question of the Origin of the Minor Mode has been Treated in
an Unsatisfactory Manner
- The Origin of the Minor Mode According to Rameau
- An Examination of the Experiment in which Rameau Thought to have
Discovered a Natural Indication of the Minor Mode
- An Experiment where the Resonance of Two Higher Sounds Jointly
Produce a Lower Sound
- An Explanation of this Experiment
- The Consequences Drawn from an Experiment Are Not Always as
Necessay as They May Seem
- How the Major Mode Is in Large Part the Work of Art
- On the Origin of the Perfect Minor Chord and the Mode which
Dependes on It
- Another Way of Considering the Formation of the Minor Mode
- Observations on the Formulas of Euler which Represent the Sounds
of the Major Mode and Those of the Minor Mode
- EXPLANATION of the Examamples of the Second Plate
LETTER to the Editor of the Mercure de France, on the Nature of a Mode of
E-b-e Natural, and on Its Relation as musch with the Major Mode as
with the Minor Mode
REFLECTIONS on the Supposition of a Third Mode in Music, Serving as a
Response to the "Observations" of Blainville, Published in the
Mercure in the Month of November, 1751


Russell W. Johnson
1845 Belle Vue Way, Apt. 102
Tallahassee, FL 32304

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