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The Music of the Spheres; Music, Science, and the Natural Order of the Universe

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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. 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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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. 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.

30 review for The Music of the Spheres; Music, Science, and the Natural Order of the Universe

  1. 5 out of 5

    Owlseyes

    It all started with Pythagoras: music as expression of celestial Harmony, the Divine. Then Renaissance and later Romanticism, and things started changing?...especially due to the increasing role of Science?...and the Divine got silenced? Maybe. Under scrutiny great names of Science: Newton, Kepler and Einstein...; but also great Music masters: Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Haendel...and Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Cage and Glass. (Karl F. Schinkel's stage-set for Die Zauberflöte (Act II, Sc It all started with Pythagoras: music as expression of celestial Harmony, the Divine. Then Renaissance and later Romanticism, and things started changing?...especially due to the increasing role of Science?...and the Divine got silenced? Maybe. Under scrutiny great names of Science: Newton, Kepler and Einstein...; but also great Music masters: Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Haendel...and Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Cage and Glass. (Karl F. Schinkel's stage-set for Die Zauberflöte (Act II, Scene 7) of Mozart). And some "societies": the Freemasons, namely. And some key concepts: Hermetism...yes, of Hermes Trimegistus.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Will Byrnes

    The version I read was published by Copernicus, an imprint of Springer-Verlag. That edition was not available on GR, so I selected this one. This is clearly a book by an academic. The author is a music critic, and holds a very high opinion of his opinions, which gets very old very fast. Still, there was interesting material in the book, most particularly about the influence (long forgotten) of Pythagoras, as the Renaissance Man before there was a Renaissance, the genius of his day, producing semi The version I read was published by Copernicus, an imprint of Springer-Verlag. That edition was not available on GR, so I selected this one. This is clearly a book by an academic. The author is a music critic, and holds a very high opinion of his opinions, which gets very old very fast. Still, there was interesting material in the book, most particularly about the influence (long forgotten) of Pythagoras, as the Renaissance Man before there was a Renaissance, the genius of his day, producing seminal work in a wide range of fields. James looks at the understanding of the universe realized by ancients of the classic period and through to the modern age. All things have a tone, they believed, so why not the heavenly spheres? Music, in fact, was not part of the picture, so much as tonality. James also writes about how music and science were once thought to be coherent, integrated, and how it is only in modern times, with the industrial revolution that science has been forcibly divorced from the arts, and in fact the shift in science from a gentleman’s pastime to a tool of production has made science, ironically, less important to many. James also tells of a cosmic view that had the earth at its center and the universe consisted of greater spheres surrounding it. It is a very interesting trip down that particular scientific memory lane and it introduced notions that were novel for me. But the self-importance of the author was a major turn-off and I did find that I had a bit of a hard time keeping up (and in fact did not) when he wrote of fifths, twelfths, and other musical notions that simply have never taken root in my mental soil. Not recommended for any but those who might have a particular interest in the subjects at hand.

  3. 5 out of 5

    A. McMahon

    I found this book to be revelatory. James explores what he calls The Great Theme, which is the idea throughout history that the world forms an integrated whole which can be explored through the perspectives of music and science, which are deeply connected to each other. The origin of the Great Theme is the figure of Pythagoras, and his doctrines were expanded on throughout the subsequent ages until everything came crashing down with the advent of the Enlightenment, or the so-called Enlightenment I found this book to be revelatory. James explores what he calls The Great Theme, which is the idea throughout history that the world forms an integrated whole which can be explored through the perspectives of music and science, which are deeply connected to each other. The origin of the Great Theme is the figure of Pythagoras, and his doctrines were expanded on throughout the subsequent ages until everything came crashing down with the advent of the Enlightenment, or the so-called Enlightenment we could say given that everything connected to the Great Theme started to go dark at that time. But James is very realistic and level-headed about what we have lost: he believes that we cannot go back to that earlier age, no matter how romantically attractive it may seem to us now; the development of the modern post-Enlightenment world is irreversible. Music was once held to be the vehicle through which profound cosmic truths could be expressed; now it is just about helping us feel good. But he ends the book with an over-view of attempts to revive the Great Theme in the modern world, suggesting that the roots of the Great Theme go so deep that it is just not as easily overthrown as all that. A magisterial book, worth reading and re-reading.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    So much fun to read. Parallel histories of music and science and their divergence during the romantic age. Kepler and Bach, Mozart and Newton, Schonberg and Einstein. Interesting discussions of Newton's Principia and the opera The Magic Flute.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Debbie Bridge

    ‘In the modern age it is a basic assumption that music appeals directly to the soul (which has been called by many names – sensibility, temperament, the emotions, among others) and bypasses the brain altogether, while science operates in just the reverse fashion, confining itself to the realm of pure ratiocination and having no contact at all with the soul. …. These suppositions would have seemed very strange to an Athenian of Plato’s day, to a medieval scholar, t an educated person of the Renai ‘In the modern age it is a basic assumption that music appeals directly to the soul (which has been called by many names – sensibility, temperament, the emotions, among others) and bypasses the brain altogether, while science operates in just the reverse fashion, confining itself to the realm of pure ratiocination and having no contact at all with the soul. …. These suppositions would have seemed very strange to an Athenian of Plato’s day, to a medieval scholar, t an educated person of the Renaissance, even to a habitué of London’s coffeehouses in the eighteenth century.’ – quote from The Music of the Spheres This quote is a great place to start to understand what this book is really about and why I enjoyed it so much. I have not read nor understood this side of the history of music, as it is so well laid out in this book. It’s like the history of science and music meets Angels and Demons. It is just a wonderful study of how the understanding and acceptance of music has changed so much, especially in the last 200 years, which isn't that long ago, when you think that he starts from the Greek era in some of his descriptions of music and its historical understanding. ‘Somehow, Mozart’s symphony, rather than telling us about joy, creates joy. The music is a zone of joy. How is that possible? The Greeks knew the answer: music and the human soul are both aspects of the eternal.’ Its statements like these that make me wonder, why did we stray so far away from these understandings of music and science? For such a long time they were all considered the same thing and carried an equal weight of appreciation and understanding. In this book Jamie James explains how we lost touch with this understanding and why, a brilliant journey through our past history to the turn of this last century. A beautiful argument against science of today: ‘In this century the classics have slipped to the periphery of the curriculum, and in the place of enquiring humanism we now have condescending nihilism: the modern intelligentsia smiles at Christian fundamentalists, at credulous followers of absurd schools of psychotherapy, at adherents of what is call the New Age. Yet if people are driven to feel a connection with the Absolute by wearing crystal jewellery and listening to voices from beyond the grave, as naïve as those beliefs may be perhaps we ought not castigate them for abandoning science – for has not science abandoned them? Is it reasonable to expect that the man in the street will be content with being told, “Your life is pointless, and you are destined to be a sterile, meaningless speck of stardust, but be of good cheer: science will tell you how to power your automobile with pig droppings?”’ I think there is much to learn that this book highlights and I wish it was part of today’s curriculum, as it shows quite clearly why the arts are so important and needs to continue to be on equal footing with all other sciences and studies.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mikael Lind

    This book is a pretty decent read on music and science. It's mainly concerned with composer's who have used music to portray a greater theme, a celestial harmony, or the greatness of God's kingdom, as they then imagined it. Before romanticism, James argues, classical music in the Western world was concerned with conveying something that was much bigger than the composer's ego. With romanticism came the philosophy of the larger-than-life composer that had an urge to get his/her own ego across to This book is a pretty decent read on music and science. It's mainly concerned with composer's who have used music to portray a greater theme, a celestial harmony, or the greatness of God's kingdom, as they then imagined it. Before romanticism, James argues, classical music in the Western world was concerned with conveying something that was much bigger than the composer's ego. With romanticism came the philosophy of the larger-than-life composer that had an urge to get his/her own ego across to the listeners through music. In the modern days, a lot of composers have taken this individual path to the extreme, and with a dwindling audience, they keep making music for their own small group of followers, and look at those who don't "understand" the music with contempt. I enjoyed the book, even though it wasn't engaging the whole time. It felt a bit that the author had discovered a very interesting theme to write about, but then never really found enough material to work with, especially with regards to more modern music. Therefore, the book doesn't feel 100% finished, and is a bit sketchy at times, but it is full of interesting anecdotes and facts. Considering that I found it in a charity shop for a pound, it was still definitely a rewarding investment!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Morella Montresor

    A rescue, an invitation to musicians and music-lovers to re-enter and recover the mathematical, astronomical and philosophical sides of music. Musicians indeed have to be scientists (or a bit of it) also in order to punch a bit against postmodernism, nonsense, kitsch features of current music and noise. Binding music and science together seemingly is not a peaceful and comforting framework to be in, but surely it would give a better understanding and a quenchable suckle of music itself.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rose Carpenter

    Lots of interesting information in here, but damn is it dry. Took me forever to muddle through. Its about as satisfying to finish as a history textbook or eating a bowl of raw kale with no seasoning. You are mostly just glad its over. But maybe I'm just too accustomed to reading esoteric writing about the same subjects, making it difficult to read a non-woo-woo interpretation of woo-woo things.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rachelle

    couldn't finish

  10. 4 out of 5

    Yazan

    Read this book in high school. Definitely inspired me to look at science and art in a different way. Would love to get a hold of a copy to reread.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Owen Zoll

    i will be honest and say i struggled through this, although it is decently educational. it's just a very dull read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Good Good

  13. 4 out of 5

    A

    I have a new-found respect for Pythagorus and Kepler.

  14. 5 out of 5

    MJ

  15. 4 out of 5

    KISHORSINH GOHIL

  16. 4 out of 5

    Michael A. Sherbon

  17. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Disneyq

  18. 5 out of 5

    Petri Lahtinen

  19. 5 out of 5

    Emiliano

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lee Williams

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kierkegaard's Pancakes

  22. 5 out of 5

    -k-

  23. 4 out of 5

    Berkant Duman

  24. 4 out of 5

    RAVI

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rafif

  26. 4 out of 5

    Creadiv

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tristan

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ronald

  29. 5 out of 5

    Bob

  30. 4 out of 5

    Bhavna

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