MEASURE FOR MEASURE by Thomas Levenson


A Musical History of Science
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 A look at the history of ideas as a marriage of music and science. Levenson (Ice Time, not reviewed) chronicles the human quest for order in the world, from the idealism of Pythagoras to contemporary computer programs for musical composition and performance. Pythagoras is credited with the discovery of the harmonic series, the basis for the musical scale, which, writ large, suggested a music of the spheres--the eternal, unchanging perfection of the universe. And so for a millennium, during the Church's iron rule, the dominant music was Gregorian chant and ``science'' was considered ``revealed knowledge''--something more spiritual than material. But musical horizons were broadening; notation and polyphony and duration were invented, and instruments grew in sophistication. The measurement of time, the invention of clocks and other mechanical devices, laid the groundwork for the experimental science of the Renaissance. Levenson pairs developments in music and in musical instruments with the development of science and scientific instruments like the microscope and telescope. The music/science metaphor continues with parallel chapters of latter-day developments, concluding with such striking inventions as genetically engineered mice that, lacking their own immune systems, accept fetal human immune cells and are now used to study AIDS. He concludes with a history of synthesizers and computer-aided compositions such as those played by Yo Yo Ma on an electronic cello. Ultimately, his point is that art and science come together as acts of human creativity that satisfy aesthetic demands. In so doing, science strives for beauty while recognizing that its truth is ever evolving, substituting a truth for the truth. Levenson occasionally dwells too long on the details of instrument-making and could well have indicated other parallels to illustrate his theme--the history of painting and sculpture, for example. Still, his theme and variations are very well orchestrated and worth hearing.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-671-78730-6
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1994


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