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The Expanding History Of Theory II

Alexander Rehding (Harvard University), Chair

Yuri Kholopov’s Theory of Universal Harmony as a Clandestine Bearer of Orthodox Beliefs

Knar Abrahamyan (Yale University)


In English-language scholarship, the work of Yuri Kholopov (1932–2003) has been addressed by Philip Ewell, Zachary Cairns, and Christopher Segall, among others. However, the intellectual history of Kholopov’s seminal achievement—the theory of universal harmonyhas not received due attention. Kholopov introduced this theory as a comprehensive method for analyzing all music ranging from Ancient Greece to the twentieth century. In this paper, I argue that the theory of universal harmony presented a hidden outlet for manifesting the theorist’s Orthodox beliefs. 

Although Kholopov was a devout Orthodox, he could not openly express his beliefs due to the Soviet government’s hostility toward religion. His writings are, nonetheless, permeated with terminology and metaphors borrowed from the religious philosopher Aleksei Losev’s (1893–1988) neo-Platonic understanding of music as representing the originary unity resting on numbers. Only in 2006 did Kholopov’s affinity to Losev’s doctrine became explicit in a posthumous publication: Kholopov stated that the aesthetic qualities of music have the capability to bring one nearer to God and argued that the act of composition represents the process of manifesting the Platonic eidos in the sonic realm. Drawing on the work of Larisa Kirillina, I first outline the common features between the theory of universal harmony and Losev’s doctrine of unity. I then consider the specificities of the theory’s practical application by turning to several music analyses by Kholopov. Finally, I examine to what degree a music theory as such may function as a subversive apparatus capable of resisting censorship.

“A Beautiful Voice from the Heavens”: Pitch-Centered Analysis of Turkish Makam Using Cantemir's Edvar (c.1700)

Adem Merter Birson (Hofstra University)


From the fourteenth to the twentieth centuries, Ottoman music theory was recorded in individual treatises, known as edvar. One such treatise, by Dimitrie Cantemir (1673–1723), describes the Turkish makam system in a remarkable amount of detail compared to the others that preceded it. Cantemir was a Moldavian prince who lived in Constantinople as part of a diplomatic arrangement. There, for twenty years, he received courtly education in music and became a renowned composer, theorist, and performer. Cantemir’s theory is a reflection of his Ottoman education, which was at the time based on the relationship of individual pitches to one another within a foundational gamut of seventeen primary notes spanning roughly two octaves. This historical approach presents a radically different understanding of the makam system from the predominant twentieth-century theory that builds scales out of microtonal tetrachords and pentachords. Avoiding tetrachordal paradigms altogether, Cantemir describes how each pitch could form the focal point of a melody using the notes of the gamut. In this understanding, a makam is defined as any melody that begins and ends on one of these pitches. In addition to aiding in analysis, this approach illuminates the otherwise enigmatic naming system of makam; the mode Çargah, for instance, is so called because that is the name of its pitch in the gamut. Using this pitch-centered understanding, I will present a new methodology for makam analysis based on historical sources as well as make accessible the music-theoretical perspectives found in the writings of non-Western theorists like Cantemir.