James Murray Barbour Papers

Summary Information

Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections
Barbour, J. Murray, (James Murray), 1897-1970
James Murray Barbour papers
1931-1969, 2000, undated
1.5 Cubic feet
Language of Materials
Some of the materials are in German.

Preferred Citation

Researchers wishing to cite this collection should include the following information: "Item title, Collection title, Collection Identifier, Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan."

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Biographical Note

James Murray Barbour (1897-1970) was born March 31 in Chambersburg, PA. He graduated from Dickinson College (B.A., M.A.) and Temple University (Mus.B.) and studied in Cologne and Berlin, Germany. In 1932, he was granted a doctorate in musicology from Cornell University, the first person in the U.S. to receive this degree. His dissertation was entitled “Equal Temperament: Its History from Ramis (1482) to Rameau (1737).” He also attended the University of Toronto, from which he received a second doctorate in music in 1936. He held short-term positions at Haverford College and Wells before accepting a position at Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York, from 1932-1939. From 1939 to 1964, he taught at Michigan State University. He died in Homestead, Pennsylvania, on January 4, 1970 where he moved to be near his daughter, Marjorie Humer, and her family. He also had one son, James. Barbour’s wife, Mary, died in 1963. He received an honorary doctorate from Temple University in 1965.

Barbour was internationally known for his work on tuning and temperament. His most important book, “Tuning and temperament: a historical survey”, was based on his dissertation, and was published by Michigan State College Press in 1951, later republished by Dover in 2004 and 2013. The renowned German music encyclopedia, Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, commissioned him to write an article on the same topic, with an emphasis on Asian practices. He was also renowned as an acoustician, which led to correspondence with several theorists in the early 1950s, when his interest in mathematical formulae was at its peak. A second influential book was his “Trumpets, horns and music”, published by the MSU Press, 1964, which combined his interest in acoustics with a study of the overtone series of brass instruments as they had developed over centuries. He also wrote numerous articles and reviews for a variety of publications. A 1966 bibliography, compiled by Carol Bauer for the American Musicological Society, listed 57 scholarly publications plus 37 compositions, many of which were published and performed. He was a long-standing member of the American Musicological Society and served as its president in the 1956-1957 season.

Barbour was involved with a series of three LP records dealing with temperament in the early 1950s, for the Musurgia Company, in conjunction with Fritz Kuttner. Musical examples are played on organ and harpsichord, in various tunings, by Robert Conant.

Barbour’s main instrument was the organ. At Michigan State University, he primarily taught music theory and compositional technique, although during World War II, he was required to teach mathematics, one of his true specialties.

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Scope and Content

The James Murray Barbour collection contains correspondence with numerous individuals, most notably with Gladys Watson Tipple, whose enthusiasm for dividing the musical scale into 53 intervals led to a year-long correspondence and the creation of a template slide rule. The collection also contains Barbour’s article for MGG (Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart) and the preparatory work for that article, as well as numerous reviews and articles in the original journal issues. Other material incluces eight original compositions for voice and piano, an excerpt from an opera for which he wrote the music while at Ithaca College, four choral compositions, and two instrumental works. The opera excerpt is a photocopy of the manuscript; the other works are all in manuscript (black ink).

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections November 216

Conrad Hall
888 Wilson Road, Room 101
East Lansing , MI, 48824

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Legal Status

Copyright: Michigan State University. Property Rights: Michigan State University.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to publish material from this collection must be obtained from University Archives & Historical Collections, Michigan State University.

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Controlled Access Headings


  • Letters (correspondence)
  • Music
  • Publications


  • Composers
  • Mathematics
  • Musical temperament

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Collection Inventory

Box Folder

Article: L. E. Waddington, draft and off-print: A Slide Rule for the Sudy of Music and Musical Acoustics. 1947 

5666 1

Article: G. H. Pohland: Binary Logarithms 1931 

5666 2

Correspondence and articles with Gladys Watson Tipple; "Mercator slide rule" 1949-1950 

5666 3

Slide rule (draft) from Gladys Tipple undated 

5689 1

Correspondence, article, critique, notes on critique, Gerald E. Lee March-July 1959 

5666 4

Correspondence: Irwin Margiloff, Mary Black, re Barbour recordings 2000 

5666 5

Correspondence: John W. Link, Jr. and draft of his article on meantone temperament January 18, 1963 

5666 6

Correspondence, miscellaneous: Joe Burns, letter and score of vihuela music, undated; Erwin Wilson, letter on 31-tone division of octave 1962 

5666 7

Doctoral Dissertations in Musicology compiled by Helen Hewitt [mentions Barbour's Ph.D. dissertation] 1958, 1962 

5666 29

The Ithacan (Ithaca College): announcement of performance of "Hannele's Way to Heaven", music by "Dr. Barbour". May 12, 1939 

5666 8

Poems, mostly for Mary - 2 copies, one leather-bound, one paper-bound; letter from Barbour's daughter Margie Humer 1969 

5666 9

Program notes, Collegium Musicum concert undated 

5666 10

Scales: articles, drafts, mathematical computations, presentations 

5666 11-12

Slide rule drafts and computations, undated (may have been sent to Barbour) undated 

5666 13

Temperament and Tuning 

Box Folder

Temperament und Stimmung: off-print of article by JMB as translated into German and published in MGG (Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart) Dates are those of the entire encyclopedia. 1949-1968 

5666 14

Correspondence for article on temperament, particularly Asian tunings; notes on Asian tunings; Library of Congress request slips 1963 

5666 15

Temperament and Tuning: original English version of article translated for MGG. Missing page 1 undated 

5666 16

Drafts and notes for article on temperament and tuning undated 

5666 17
Box Folder

Wilhelm Dupont. Chart: Sechs- und siebenstollige Tonlogarithmen von 1,000 bis 2,000 berechnet und zusammengestellt von Wilhelm Dupont. Nuernberg, Phingsten. Hand-written. 1953 

5666 18

Publications by Barbour 


Box Folder

Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung: Prototype of Contemporary Musical Journalism. MLA Notes, p. 325-337 June 1948 

5666 19

Bach and “The Art of Temperament”. Musical Quarterly, p. 64-89 January 1947 

5666 19

A Geometrical Approximation of the Roots of Numbers. American Mathematical Monthly, p. 1-91 January 1957 

5666 20

Irregular Systems of Temperament. Journal of the American Musicological Society (JAMS), p. 20-26 Fall 1948 

5666 20

Just Intonation Confuted. Music & Letters, p. 48-60 January 1938 

5666 20

Music and Ternary Continued Fractions. American Mathematical Monthly, November 1948, p. 545-555 November 1948 

5666 21

Musical Logarithms. Scripta Mathematica, p. 21-31 1940 

5666 21

Nierop’s Hackebort. Musical Quarterly, p.312-319 July 1934 

5666 22

The Persistence of the Pythagorean Tuning System. Scripta Mathematica p. 286-304 June 1933 

5666 22

Pokorny Vindicated. Musical Quarterly, p. 38-58 January 1963 

5666 23

The Principles of Greek Notation. JAMS, p. 1-17 1960 

5666 24

The Texts of Billings’ Church Music. Criticism: a quarterly for literature and the arts, p. 49-61 Winter 1959 

5666 25

Violin Intonation in the 18th Century. JAMS, p. 224-234 Fall 1952 

5666 25

Book reviews by Barbour 

Box Folder

Danielou, Alain. North Indian Music, vol. II: The Main Ragas. MLA Notes, p. 243. March 1955 

5666 26

Gamberini, Leopoldo. La Parola e la Musica Nell’ Antichità. JAMS, v.XVIII, no. 1, p. 81-83. Spring 1965 

5666 26

Helmholtz, Hermann. Sensations of Tone, 2nd English edition, translated by Alexander J. Ellis. Scripta Mathematica, p. 81-87. March/August 1956 

5666 26

Kellner, Altman. Musikgeschichte des Stiftes Kremsmünster. JAMS, p. 84-88 Spring 1961 

5666 27

Moser, Hans Joachim. Die Musik in frühevangelischen Oesterreich. MLA Notes, p. 230-231. March 1955 

Box Folder

Rameau, Jean-Philippe. Off-print of JMB's reviews of several Rameau editions. No publication information undated 

5666 27

Schillinger, Joseph. The Mathematical Basis of the Arts. Scripta Mathematica, p. 81-87. March-June 1956 

5666 27

Schillinger, Joseph. The Schillinger System of Musical Composition. MLA Notes, p. 274-283. June 1946 

5666 27
Box Folder

Review of book by J. Murray Barbour: Trumpets, horns and music. Published MSU Press; reviewed by J. Forrest Posey, Jr. no publicaton or date information. Also sheet of computations and citations of books on various brass instruments, probably used in Barbour's book. 1963-1964 

5666 28

Music by J. Murray Barbour. All in his hand unless otherwise noted 

Solo Songs, Minature Choral Score 

Box Folder

The Art of Kissing. Song [medium voice, piano] Text: JMB. 3 pages. Undated 

5689 2

At Your Service. Song [medium voice, piano] Text: JMB. 4 pages. Some performance indications. Undated 

5689 2

Four Songs from "As you Like It". Songs [medium voice, piano] Text: Shakespeare. 4 pages. Some performance indications. I. Under the Greendwood Tree. II. Hunter's Song. III. It Was a Lover and His Lass. IV. Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind. Undated 

5689 2

Hail, Michigan State. Song [medium voice, piano] Text: JMB. 1 leaf. Undated 

5689 2

How Do I Love Thee? Song [medium voice, piano] Text: Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 3 pages. Some performance indications. Undated 

5689 2

The Hen. Song [medium voice and piano] Text: "Words from the German and music by J. Murray Barbour." 3 pages. Some performance indications. Undated 

5689 2

Lost. Song [medium voice, piano] Text: Carl Sandburg. 2 pages. Undated 

5689 2

Summer Bonum. Song [medium voice, piano] Text: Robert Browning. 2 pages. Some performance indications. Undated 

5689 2

Softly Away: Chorus of Angels in Hauptmann's "Hannele's Way to Heaven". SSA, a capella. Miniature score, reprinted from manuscript. 4 pages. Undated 

5689 2

Choral Music 

Box Folder

Eyes So Tristful. SATB chorus, piano for rehearsal only. Text: H. W. Longfellow. 4 pages. [note: "Tristful" is correct] Undated 

5689 3

Hark, Hark, Pretty Lark. SATB chorus, piano for rehearsal only. Text: H. W. Longfellow. 3 pages. Undated 

5689 3

The Return of Spring. SATB chorus, piano accompaniment. Text: H. W. Longfellow. 8 pages. Some corrections. Undated 

5689 3

She is a Maid. SATB, piano ad lib. Text: H. W. Longfellow. 3 pages. Undated 

5689 3

Instrumental Music 

Box Folder

Little Irish Song. String quartet. Full score, no parts. 2 pages. Undated 

5689 4

Quartet in G Minor. Violin 2, viola, cello parts only - no score, no violin 1 part. Undated 

5689 4