Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Fellow in the Humanities
2009—2010 Forum on Connections
Hot Air Balloons and Music: Connecting Earth and the Infinite at the End of the Eighteenth Century
Today, hot air balloons provide peaceful, aimless rides for vacationers, and momentary visual delight for accidental spectators. In the 1780s, however, hot air balloon flights were accompanied by clamorous celebration, and connected people and spaces in new ways. My project examines the link hot air balloons forged between earthly and celestial regions, and the questions they occasioned about sonic communication in the late eighteenth century. Through readings of texts from the hot air balloon craze, I will develop a new history of the spectacle of hot air balloon flight that takes into account the sonic yet wordless connections made between spectator and aeronaut, and the partial yet promising connection achieved between earth and heavens. I will also draw a historical connection between the hot air balloon craze and the development of early Romantic music aesthetics. The loss of articulate sound between earth and hot air balloon suggests examining not only what instrumental music could mean for early Romantics, but also what it – uniquely – could connect. For early Romantics, instrumental music, functioning like a hot air balloon, could connect man to higher, infinite realm.