Riccardo Martinelli

Mach, Helmholtz, and the Analysis of Sounds

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Mach greatly admired Helmholtz’s 1863 book on tone sensations, which he popularized in Austria. However, Mach also suggested some amendment. In his view, Helmholtz was wrong in assuming that a single sensory energy corresponds to each different pitch. Initially, Mach explored an alternative physiological explanation, pointing at the role of muscular sensations. Subsequently, he envisaged a more sophisticated mechanism based upon supplementary auditory sensations. Insisting, against Helmholtz, that invariant patterns recur within auditory appearance, unexpectedly Mach ended by paving the way to gestalt approaches in psychology.


  • Mach
  • Helmholtz
  • Tone sensations
  • Music perception
  • Gestalt psychology


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