Material Melody, Immaterial Writing: Music and Stenography in Mid-19th Century Germany

Alfred Cramer, Associate Professor of Music, Pomona College.

Innovative stenography systems of the 1830s used the variable thickness of line that was so important in the cursive handwriting of the time to signify differences in phonemes. These systems and their descendants became the dominant shorthand systems in England, America, and Central and Eastern Europe for the rest of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, even as stenography moved from being an intellectual hobby to being a professional tool of secretaries and court reporters. Music and stenography both involve the writing of sound, and stenographical systems (especially since 1830) put the phonemes of speech into "scales" that vaguely recall musical scales. Alfred Cramer, Associate Professor of Music at Pomona College, a scholar interested in the analogies among spoken language, music, and writing, will compare two ways of "writing sound" and the way "writing sound" can also be reversed into "the sound of writing," an interpretation lending historical substance to Richard Wagner's quote that he heard "penstrokes" behind music.

Wednesday, March 1st, 4:15 p.m.

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