Music and the occult : French musical philosophies, 1750-1950


Music and the occult : French musical philosophies, 1750-1950

by Joscelyn Godwin

(Eastman studies in music)

University of Rochester Press, 1995


Esotérisme musical en France, 1750-1950


Esotérisme musical en France, 1750-1950

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Translation of: L'Esotérisme musical en France, 1750-1950

Bibliography : p. [245]-254

Includes index

Originally published: [Paris] : A. Michel, 1991 in the series "Bibliothèque de l'Hermétisme"



Occultism and esotericism flourished in 19th-century France as they did nowhere else. Many philosophers sought the key to the universe, and some claimed to have found it. In the unitive vision that resulted, music invariably played an important part. This account begins with the anti-Newtonian "colour harpsichord" of Pere Castel, and closes with the disciples of Rene Guenon and their fierce anti-modernity; in between are the major figures of Fabre d'Oliver, Charles Fourier, Wronski, Lacuria, Saint-Yves d'Alveydre and their disciples. Music was for them a blend of science and art that could bring insight into the cosmic order, and even into the mind of God. Theirs was a "speculative music" in the tradition of Pythagoras, Plato, Ficino, and Kepler, such as is generally thought to have died with the coming of the Enlightenment. On the contrary, as this book shows, it flourished more vigorously than ever. The author presents his subjects straightforwardly, explaining the many difficulties in their works and giving a context for their often surprising beliefs. He shows how speculative music relates to practice, treating specially the cases of Satie and Debussy, as composers familiar with occultism.


  • The harmony of the spheres in the Age of Enlightenment
  • Pythagoras in Egypt and China
  • Fabre d'Olivet
  • Fourier and the Fourierists
  • Wronski and the Wronskians
  • the Pythagoreans of mid-century
  • Edmond Bailly and universal harmony at the Fin-de-Siecle
  • Saint-Yves d'Alveydre and his Archeometre
  • speculative music encounters modernism.

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