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Physics & Optics

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[ACOUSTICS] CHLADNI, E. F. F.. Entdeckungen über die Theorie des Klanges. Leipzig, Weidmanns Erben und Reich, 1787.

Large 4to [21.9 x 17.9 cm], (2) ff., 77 (1) pp., with 11 engraved plates. Bound in half morocco and marbled papers over boards. Some soiling and discoloration to title, general browning & foxing in margin of scattered leaves and plates as usual.


First edition of this experimental classic, which attempted to describe and visualize the production of sound from solid bodies, “the foundation of the modern science of acoustics” (PMM). Chladni devised a method of representing vibrating bodies by means of sand figures (still known as “Chladni figures”) by spreading sand over glass and copper plates and drawing a violin bow over their edges to make the plates vibrate. Agitated, the sand would collect over the nodal curves of the plates, which remained unmoved. He subsequently classified the figures according to geometrical shape, correlating pitch to geometrical configuration, “thus demonstrating that the patterns and sounds of a vibrating plate are analogous to the shapes and tones of the modes in the harmonic series of a string. The strange and beautiful Chladni figures ... attracted much scientific attention in the early 19th century, inspiring fruitful investigation of the mathematics of elastic vibration” (Norman).

The wonder of giving graphic form to auditory sensation made Chladni a celebrity, and there are accounts of his giving numerous demonstrations before Enlightenment notables (Goethe, Napoleon etc.) and learned societies.

* Norman I.481; PMM 233a; Dibner, Heralds 150; C. Truesdell in New Grove IV. 289-90

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