Auenbruggers, Sensibility, and the Instrumental Bodies

Keri Hui*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


In conceiving the ideal of the man or woman of sensibility, many eighteenth-century philosophers and writers described the human body as a living instrument. The Austrian physician Josef Leopold Auenbrugger, who wrote the libretto for Salieri’s Der Rauchfangkehrer (1781), held just such a view. Auenbrugger’s musical sensibility led to his invention of the percussive technique as a diagnostic method for cardiac and respiratory diseases, a method that has received little attention by music historians despite widespread recognition in medical studies. This article reassesses the significance of Auenbrugger’s work, arguing that his musical-medical understanding of sensibility, as demonstrated in his treatise Inventum Novum (1761), effectively reinforces the eighteenth-century idea that the responsive body functions like a sensitive string and percussive instrument. Not only so, but Auenbrugger’s theory also offers applications to Haydn’s “Auenbrugger” sonatas, dedicated to Leopold Auenbrugger’s daughters, Caterina Franziska and Marianna.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)90-110
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Musicological Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 12 Dec 2023

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Music


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