The search for the missing Harrison manuscript

The following text appeared in the New Scientist Magazine in April 97 submitted by Charles Lucy. If you can help in any way with the quest for this document please contact Charles Lucy. We will be most grateful. It is our intention to publish information as it comes in relating to this search so please stay tuned !

It seems to me that we at at a crossroads in musical tuning, similar to that which mathematics passed, a couple of hundred years ago. Many still seem to judge the validity of a tuning system only by its proximity to integer frequency ratios and the harmonics, which are arrived at by this (to my mind) simplistic logic. From my readings, experiments, and observations, I am convinced that John Harrison had managed to break through this barrier in the mid-eighteenth century.
At the end of a very successful scientific career, during which he made three major new inventions, and "won" the prize for Longitude with his horological designs, he devoted his last years to the study of musical tuning. This is a subject very closely akin to his other particular areas of expertise, i.e.navigation, pendulums, harmonic motion, and the study of mechanical systems with regard to time..

In his book Concerning Such Mechanism, (after "slagging off" his contemporaries), he very clearly states his conclusions: The Natural Notes of Melody may be derived mathematically from pi. He gives no experimental details, except that he used monochords, and clearly understood and criticises WNR (whole number ratio) logic and practice. He seems to have been criticized for this work, in the same way that his tunings are criticised today.

[Not for their impracticabilities, tunelessness, or any musical reasons - (it works exquisitely for musical harmony, modulation, and transposition for all types of "ethnic" music which I have encountered to date); yet for its lack of scientific proof].

After CSM ..... was published he wrote a manuscript

HARRISON, John. A True and Full Account of the Foundation of Musick, or, as principally therein, of the Existance of the Natural Notes of Melody. An unpublished manuscript of 182 pp., which is cataloged as item 8961 in Bibliotheca Chemico-Mathematica issued by Messrs. H. Sotheran of London in 1921, but has since been lost.

I have seen only one page of this manuscript. It arrived at my London address from a horological researcher, about ten years ago. I hear that it was by way of a Folkestone antiquarian bookseller. The page was a diagram of a clockface, with the note names written around the circumference, and marks where later steps of fourths and fifths would arrive. It showed the Large interval at the angle of the radian i.e. 360/(2*pi) = 57.3 degrees.

C was at 6 o'clock and the other naturals were arranged ascending clockwise.

From this page and the title, I suspect that the missing manuscript revealed Harrison's experiments. I heard that the offices of Sotheran were destroyed during the London blitz by a direct hit.

I wish to attempt to reconstruct Harrison's experiments, for I believe that they will give us much greater insight into his thinking, and possibly provide us with "scientific proof".

Any help, pointers, or comments about this manuscript will be appreciated.

Should Harrison's "proof" be found to be valid, it will be necessary to re-examine the traditional scientific assumption that "harmonics" can only occur at integer frequency ratios.

That would really put the scientific "cat amongst the pigeons"!

Charles Lucy

March '97

Control Number:

FOUND IT!!!! Thanks Shaun, and New Scientist Magazine

Click here to see first page

James Iliff's response in New Scientist 31 May 1997

Return to LucyTuning homepage