The Music of the Spheres: Music, Science, and the Natural Order of the Universe / Edition 1

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For centuries, scientists and philosophers believed that the universe was a stately, ordered mechanism, both mathematical and musical. The perceived distances between objects in the sky mirrored (and were mirrored by) the spaces between notes forming chords and scales. The smooth operation of the cosmos created a divine harmony that composers sought to capture and express. Jamie James allows readers to see how this scientific philosophy emerged, how it was shattered by changing views of the universe and the rise of Romanticism, and to what extent it survives today - if at all. From Pythagoras to Newton, Bach to Beethoven, and on to the twentieth century of Einstein, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Cage and Glass. A spellbinding examination of the interwoven fates of science and music throughout history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Wide ranging and elegantly written. By the end of it you can almost hear the cosmic music yourself." Wall St. Journal "A provocative, engaging reassessment of the Western musical tradition and its relation to science." Publishers Weekly
"...a graceful and entertaining account of matters seldom presented to the general reader." The New Yorker
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
From Pythagoras onward, music was perceived as a mirror of cosmic harmony and of the Supreme Intelligence believed to pervade the universe. But 19th-century Romantic composers, in James's view, were deaf to the music of the spheres, and created instead an aberrant music of exaggerated emotional appeal. James, who writes on science and music for Discover and Connoisseur, contends that the works of Bach, Mozart, Schubert and Schonberg embody a belief in a sublime cosmic order that Beethoven overturned. This bold, pathbreaking history explains how the ancient tradition of music as a branch of divine science has found support from Plato through Kepler, Sir Isaac Newton (an alchemist and self-professed Pythagorean) to Galileo, Freemasonry and the esoteric experiments of today's avant-garde composers. A provocative, engaging reassessment of the Western musical tradition and its relation to science. Illustrated. (Apr.)
Library Journal
The Music of the Spheres is a truly interdisciplinary book, as much science as music. The book begins with Pythagoras, who some consider both the first scientist and one of the first to study music in a disciplined fashion. Pythagoras described the heavens as seven spheres, one nestled in the next, each supporting a known planet, with the sun as the innermost sphere. This perfect system both produced and was music; the music of the spheres was celestial harmony. Pythagoras used mathematical principles to study nature, the heavens, and music, showing that they could be studied in the same way. Science writer James traces the development of science and music from antiquity through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance (including Kepler's well-described cosmology), and the present. He discusses how developments in music and science paralleled one another, overlapped, and in general reflected the position of humanity in the universe. While this book is aimed at general audiences, some familiarity with the history of music is helpful. For interdisciplinary collections.-- Eric D. Albright, Galter Health Sciences Lib., Northwestern Univ., Chicago
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780387944746
  • Publisher: Springer New York
  • Publication date: 6/22/1995
  • Edition description: 1st ed. 1993. 2nd printing 1995
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 627,582
  • Product dimensions: 0.60 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 9.21 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1 The Great Theme 3
2 Pythagoras, the Master 20
3 Plato and the World Soul 41
4 "The Key to the Universe" 60
5 The Renaissance Musici 79
6 The Music of the Spheres and the Birth of the opera 98
7 The Hermetic Tradition 114
8 Kepler Pythagorizes 140
9 Newton and The Magic Flute 159
10 The Romantic Anomaly 180
11 Schoenberg and the Revival of the Great Theme 212
12 Into the Future 229
Bibliography 243
Index 249
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