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The Music of the Spheres

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 19 June 2008

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the music of the spheres, the elegant and poetic idea that the revolution of the planets generates a celestial harmony of profound and transcendent beauty. In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice the young Lorenzo woos his sweetheart with talk of the stars: “There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’stBut in his motion like an angel sings,Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;Such harmony is in immortal souls;But whilst this muddy vesture of decayDoth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.”The idea of music of the spheres ran through late antiquity and the medieval period into the Renaissance and its echoes could be heard in astrology and astronomy, in theology, and, of course, in music itself. Influenced by Pythagoras and Plato, it was discussed by Cicero, Boethius, Marcello Ficino and Johannes Kepler It affords us a glimpse into minds for which the universe was full of meaning, of strange correspondences and grand harmonies.With Peter Forshaw, Postdoctoral Fellow at Birkbeck, University of London; Jim Bennett, Director of the Museum of the History of Science at the University of Oxford and Angela Voss, Director of the Cultural Study of Cosmology and Divination at the University of Kent, Canterbury

  • Further Reading

    Joscelyn Godwin (ed.), The Harmony of the Spheres: A Sourcebook of the Pythagorean Tradition in Music (Rochester, Vt. : Inner Traditions International, 1993)

    Joscelyn Godwin, Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: The Spiritual Dimensions of Music from Antiquity to the Avant-Garde (London: Thames and Hudson, 1987)

    Mariken Teeuwen, Harmony and the Music of the Spheres: The Ars Musica in Ninth-Century Commentaries on Martianus Capella (Leiden: Brill, 1995)

    Jamie James, The Music of the Spheres: Music, Science, and the Natural Order of the Universe (Springer, 1995)

    Penelope Gouk, Music, Science, and Natural Magic in Seventeenth-Century England (Yale University Press, 1999)

    Marsilio Ficino, edited and with an introduction by Angela Voss (Western Esoteric Masters Series)

    Michael Hoskin, The Cambridge Illustrated History of Astronomy (Cambridge University Press, 1997)

    Olaf Pedersen, Early Physics and Astronomy (Cambridge University Press, 1993)

    Max Caspar, Kepler (Dover, 1993)

    CD:
    Secrets of the Heavens - a collection of music in the spirit of Marsilio Ficino's orphic singing

  • Heavenly Music

    Heavenly Music

    The Concert of Angels, 1534-36 (fresco). Sanctuary of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Saronno, Italy.

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