The tenacious timepiece seems to have ticked through time immemorial, but its form and application to musical life were hundreds of years in the making, beginning with the 16th-century scientist Galileo’s discovery of the pendulum’s isochromism: regardless of amplitude, the pendulum will take about the same amount of time to complete one period, or back-and-forth swing. This discovery could be applied to timekeeping, Galileo realized, foregrounding the invention of the pendulum-powered clock by Christiaan Huyghens in the 17th century and George Graham in the 18th. In 1696, Étienne Louilié, a French musician and pedagogue, was reportedly first to design a metronome with an adjustable pendulum, though his invention was soundless and required the user to keep it in view. Plaguing Louilié and his contemporaries was the problem of creating a metronome that would beat slowly enough to keep the tempo of many classical pieces, often at a mere 40 to 60 beats per minute. Full story.
Jennifer Gersten (WQXR) / October 12, 2017