THE MUSIC OF THE SPHERES by Jamie James

THE MUSIC OF THE SPHERES

Music, Science, and the Natural Order of the Universe
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Music in relation to science is a theme that James has explored in popular articles (Discover, etc.). Here, he contends that, until the 19th century, music embodied the classic ideals of an ordered universe--having harmonies among the music of the spheres (musica mundana), the music of the human organism (musica humana), and ordinary music-making (musica instrumentalis). In parallel, science was a noble pursuit aimed at establishing the natural order of things (embodied, for example, in the Great Chain of Being). James cites Pythagoras as the prime begetter of these ideas. The sixth-century Greek thinker espoused a philosophy of the interrelatedness of all things and a system of dualities (one/many; odd/even; limited/unlimited, etc.) that led to his elaborate numerology. Pythagoras is also credited with the discovery of the ratios (1/2, 2/3, 3/4...) that define the harmonic intervals of the scale: the octave, the major fifth, the fourth, etc. The tradition of cosmic harmonies continued through Plato, Plotinus, the Christian mystics, and the Hermetic cults, with James reminding us of the links that joined astronomy/astrology and science/alchemy in the works of Kepler and Newton. In the 19th century came what James regards as the great anomaly in music history: Romanticism, with its earthy expression of human passions. Similarly, science divorced itself from lofty ideals to be measured on the human scale. Paradoxically, music and science became pursuits of an elite--a tradition that has continued to the present, albeit with a reaction to Romanticism in atonality, aleatory music, and other experiments. Ours is not a happy time, James notes rather sadly, saying that perhaps we need to be reinfused with cosmic consciousness....or to seek it outside the concert hall. Doubtless, experts will accuse the author of overstatement and will find exceptions and countercurrents; but, overall, his discussion is lively and stimulating.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-8021-1307-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1993




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