Music of the Spheres

The Greek philosopher Pythagoras theorized that musical harmony should relate perfectly with the harmony of the heavens, a celestial music created by the movements of the heavenly bodies. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of scholars and scientists, no such perfect relationship has been achieved. The Pythagorean scale is derived by using frequency ratios to define musical intervals. For centuries, astronomers tried to compare these ratios with patterns in the heavens, to discover the music of the spheres. (See Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain for a full description.)

There is a lovely consonance between Pythagoras’ attempts to relate science and art, specifically music, that suits the genre of science fiction. Music, of course, is both science and art; and musicians, like science fiction writers, employ both disciplines.

The arts of writing and of music intersect in other ways. Form is essential to the shape of a novel, and form also helps to define musical works. Symphonic form, song form, sonata-allegro form–all are external structures or frameworks for the interior musical content. Novels and short stories, similarly, have a shape, or form, that organizes the material within. Other aspects of music, such as theme and variation, inform literature as well. The building and release of tension, in particular, suits the art of fiction.

And then we come to the most complex form of all, and my favorite: opera. For the study of character development, scene setting, dramatic tension, there’s nothing like it. Of course, many operas, like Bizet’s Carmen, began as literature (Carmen was first a short novel by Prosper Merimee.) The stories grow in depth and significance and intent when elaborated upon by music.

For readers who may be new to classical music, may I make a few suggestions? Begin with anything by Mozart, do by all means try to see a performance of Carmen, and buy a good recording of Handel’s Messiah for Christmas. These sturdy classics may draw you in!