A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Savart, Felix

SAVART, Felix, a French philosopher, who distinguished himself by researches in acoustics. He was born at Mézières June 30, 1791, and was the son of a mathematical instrument maker of some repute. He at first practised medicine, but subsequently devoted himself in preference to general philosophical pursuits, obtained the post of professor at the College of France, and was admitted a member of the French Academy of Sciences in November 1827.

Following in the steps of Chladni, whose labours had particularly attracted his attention, he made many investigations in acoustics, which are recorded in the several publications bearing his name. He appears particularly to have thrown light on the nature of that complicated relation between a vibrating body which is the source of sound, and other bodies brought into connexion with it, by virtue of which the original sound is magnified in intensity and modified in quality; well-known examples of such an arrangement being furnished by the soundboards of the violin tribe and the pianoforte.

Savart's name is also connected with an ingenious little device for measuring, in a manner easily appreciable by a lecture-audience, the number of vibrations corresponding to a given musical note. A wheel, caused to rotate quickly by ordinary mechanical contrivances, is furnished on its circumference with teeth or ratchets, against which a tongue of pasteboard or some other elastic substance is brought into contact. The passage of each tooth gives a vibration to the tongue, and if the wheel revolve fast enough, the repetition of these vibrations will produce a musical sound. Hence, as the number of rotations of the wheel in a given time can be easily counted, the number of vibrations corresponding to the note produced can be experimentally ascertained, with tolerable precision. This mode of determining vibration numbers has been since superseded by the more elegant instrument, the Syren, and by other modes known to modern acoustic physicists, but from the simplicity of its demonstrations it is still often used.

Savart also investigated with some attention and success the acoustical laws bearing on wind instruments, and on the production of the voice. He died in March 1841.

[ W. P. ]