Chikako Osako

Concepts of Organisation in François-Joseph Fetis’ Writings on Harmony

In establishing his own harmonic theories, Fétis made an extensive survey of the theories proposed by his predecessors, from the Middle Ages to his own time, pursuing a deeper understanding of the subject in its various historical contexts. Previous research has primarily focused on specific aspects of Fétis’ approach to the musical practices of earlier repertoires as seen in his Biographie universelle des musiciens, Revue musicale, Concerts historiques, etc. Relatively little work has been devoted to his interconnected systems of harmony, counterpoint, and rhythm and their philosophies. The aim of this presentation is to situate Fétis’ concepts of organisation through an analysis of his writings on harmony. This will be achieved in three steps. First, I will clarify his conception of tonality, which is fundamentally linked to his harmonic system and its theory. Fétis identified three types of tonality, each different in character: ancient tonality based on church modes, modern tonality based on major-minor scales, and the scalar-based tonality of traditional repertoires. These scales, according to Fétis, are purely “metaphysical” systems that result from the “organisation” of their respective musics. Second, I will examine Fétis’ systematic categorization of rhythm, which he presented as a system dealing with the temporal aspect of music in relation to his harmonic system. The fact that these systems are linked by the same term “organisation” leads to my final point, in which I will examine Fétis’ concepts of organisation, within the context of the contemporary sociological thought of Auguste Comte. Fétis’ diversified concepts of organisation provide clues for situating his theory within the context of 19th-century Francophone theories on music.