Saturday, November 21, 2009

From harmony, from heav'nly harmony, this universal frame began.

Now pay attention. This diagram (click to enlarge) reveals the secret of life, the universe and everything. It appears in Marin Mersenne's Harmonie Universelle, volume 2 (1637). It depicts the great Lyre of the universe, governed by the divine Orpheus, who tunes all the parts of the world as he pleases. At the top right you can even see a divine hand emerging from a cloud and turning a tuning peg.

The diagram equates musical notes and intervals, on the right, with the planets and their orbits, on the left. It seeks to demonstrate that the universe is constructed according to musical principles, with the same fundamental ratios governing both. Whence the 'Music of the Spheres': the idea that the planets produce harmonious musical sounds in their movement.

Mersenne was inspired by the astronomer Johannes Kepler, who had finished his book Harmonice Mundi on this topic less than twenty years before. Kepler, in turn, was influenced by the lutenist and music theorist Vincenzo Galilei, father of Galileo Galilei.

There's an interesting article about Kepler by Andrew Brown on the Guardian website.

1 comment:

Joe Messina said...

Thanks for this and other delightful comments. I rcently discovered your site and am finding it interesting and helpful in some of my researches. For instance, you helped me with the problem I was having with the incorrect Spanish text running around the frame of the picture from El Maestro that Ruggiero Chiesa reproduces and that is used by Noad in his collection of Renaissance guitar music.You led me to the online facsimile of the book at the Spanish Biblioteca Nacional, where I was able to verify the better text of the Spanish. Thanks!

Joe Messina