Visions of the Cosmos

In the process of composing my new piece ‘Visions of the Cosmos’

Sometimes composing can take you on a far journey. I decided to write ‘Visions of the Cosmos‘, a piece about the history of how man viewed the place of the earth in the universe, starting with Aristotle to Ptolemy, Copernicus, Galileo and finally Kepler. Instinctively, I knew that the piece was going to be about how man viewed himself in the universe. It took many millennia before man could accept the fact that he wasn’t the center of the universe. Great religions took exception to many scientists’ observations. When I picked up a book containing some of Galileo’s letter, instead of being faced with mathematics, I was confronted by a theological discussion on for example Joshua’s battle in Palestina when he prayed for God to stop the sun.

Even today, it’s difficult not to realize that the earth is turning from west to east and it’s not the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. It must have been a mind-buggling stretch of the imagination for someone like Copernicus to have realized that the earth was turning as well as revolving around the sun. Of course there must have been several philosophers who also postulated this, but for a modern western man it was Copernicus who made this breakthrough.

But Kepler is far and away the most eccentric. He combined the ratios of the orbits of the planets with the Pytagorean musical ratios and developed an entire theory on the harmonies of the universe. His thoughts resulted in the book ‘Harmonia mundi’, in which he develops the ratios of the distances between the planets, and converts them into musical scales, so that one could almost literally compose the orbit of Venus. In fact, at one point Kepler even writes that he would rather have an artistic motet instead of the book he was writing.

“Accordingly, you won’t wonder anymore that a very excellent order of sounds or pitches in a musical system or scale has been set up by man, since you see that they are doing nothing else in this business, except to play the apes of God, the creator, and to act out, as it were, a certain drama of the ordination of the celestial movements”.

Kepler’s passion for the subject reaches its apogy in the chapter ‘The Universal Consonances of All Six Planets, Like Common Four Part Counterpoint, Can Exist”. The chapter opens with the text that I will use to close my composition:

“But now, Urania, there is need for louder sound while I climb along the harmonic scale of the celestial movement to higher things, where the true archetype of the fabric of the world is kept hidden. Follow after, you modern musicians, and judge the thing according to your arts, which were unknown to Antiquity. Nature has finally brought you forth in these last generations the first true images of the universe. “

Kepler telescope

And now, when we see photographs of the universe taken by the Kepler telescope, we again, 400 years later, think we are seeing for the first time true images of the universe. Does it lie to the present generation of musicians and composers to then create, once again, a true harmony of the universe?

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