HARMONY OF THE SPHERES
In March 2019, I had the unique pleasure of being briefly interviewed on the BBC Radio 3 "Sunday Feature" series, in a programme about the ancient Greek musical and cosmological concept of the "Harmony of the Spheres" :
Although so short, but so sweet to have had this opportunity of briefly describing on BBC Radio 3, the essence of how my own music attempts to match the ancient ideal of the Music of the Celestial Spheres, I would have certainly liked to have gone into much more depth - so in this blog, here is my opportunity to do just that...
The Harmony of the Spheres, sometimes also referred to as the "Music of the Spheres" (also known as “Musica Universalis”), was an ancient Greek philosophical/cosmological concept, describing the proportions of the movement of the celestial bodies as a form of music (not literally audible, but a harmonic, mathematical and sacred concept). This concept developed from an ancient astronomical theory, known as the Celestial Spheres:
“The celestial spheres…were the fundamental entities of the cosmological models developed by Plato, Eudoxus, Aristotle, Ptolemy, Copernicus and others. In these models, the stars and planets are carried around by being embedded in rotating spheres made of an aetherial transparent 5th element (quintessence), like jewels set in orbs. Since the fixed stars did not change their positions relative to each other, it was argued that they must therefore be on the surface of a single starry sphere” (Wikipedia)
How, precisely, did this ancient Greek cosmological concept relate to an ancient Greek concept of music?
“The spheres were thought to be related by the whole number ratios of pure musical intervals, creating musical harmony – there is a legend that Pythagoras could hear the music of the spheres, enabling him to discover that consonant musical intervals can be expressed in simple ratios of small integers” www.crystalinks.com
According to Pythagoras and Plato, then, music literally reflected the harmony of the universe – to them, these mathematical proportions of pure musical intervals were universal truths, just as are the laws of geometry. In philosophical terminology, these truths are ‘Apriori’ (reasoning to acquire knowledge from pure deduction rather than observational experience).
For example, even if there was no time or space, nor a creator of the universe, the mathematical proportions of the symmetrical, whole number ratios of pure musical intervals would still remain timelessly the same – a 5th would have the ratio 3:2, a 4th would have the ratio 4:3, an octave the ratio 2:1 – just as the angles of a triangle always add up to 180 degrees.
Regarding triangles, the tetractys, was a distinctive symbol in Pythagoreanism. It is a is a triangular figure consisting of ten points arranged in four rows: one, two, three, and four points in each row:
As a mystical symbol, it is the geometrical representation of the fourth triangular number. The tetractys was therefore a very important to the secret worship of Pythagoreanism - there were four seasons, and the number was also associated with planetary motions and music.
It is said that the Pythagorean musical system was based on the tetractys as the rows can be read as the ratios of 4:3 (perfect fourth), 3:2 (perfect fifth), 2:1 (octave), forming the basic intervals of the Pythagorean scales.
That is, Pythagorean scales are generated from combining pure fourths (in a 4:3 relation), pure fifths (in a 3:2 relation), and the simple ratios of the unison 1:1 and the octave 2:1
MUSIC AS A MODERN FORCE OF NATURE
1. String Theory – the popping up into existence of fundamental particles from nothing, can be explained as the vibration of super strings, vibrating between different dimensions of space-time! Improvisation in music, therefore mirrors the creation of matter in the universe! Improvisation is just as magical as quantum particles popping into existence from seemingly nowhere.
2. Music as a Creative Force – if one creates music as a means to an end, the intrinsic value of the music as a pure, creative force is lost - it just becomes another means to an ends; to make money!
This is why, to me, commercial music has literally lost it’s soul. I believe that if we create music, for music’s sake alone, is may just be conceivably possible, that the positive creative energy this process naturally generates, could possibly actually have some effect on the energy in the universe with which it resonates with? This is why I now strive not to make a living from music, but instead, to live for music!
Indeed, regarding the idea of the Universe actually providing some form of reward for the creative energy we generate whilst we are are a part of it, I have often discovered that the most awesome of my musical achievements to date, have always seemed to have happened - when I have done absolutely nothing 'proactive', besides simply putting my new ancestral musical creations 'out there' - the invitation to this very BBC Radio 3 interview came via a telephone call from the producer, just as I was on my way out the house to one of my part-time jobs which I have to do to keep me in lyre strings, the adaption of my "Hymn to Zeus" in 2 scenes of Rufus Wainwright's second opera, "Hadrian", the use of my track "Ode to Ancient Rome" in the Mars M&M's TV advert which went across the entire continent of the USA & Canada, the use of my lyre music for museum exhibitions all over the globe, my ongoing collaboration with Luthieros specialist replica ancient Greek lyre makers in Thessaloniki, my collaboration with artists and composers all over the globe and my epic new collaboration with the legendary Hip Hop record producer, Tim Gomringer of CuBeatz (who may soon fulfil my dream of making my lyre music mainstream!) - all of these wondrous things came to pass from emails sent to me, as a consequence of recording my spontaneously conjured up tunes in my spare room!
HOW MY 'NEW ANCESTRAL MUSIC' FOR SOLO LYRE ATTEMPTS TO FIT INTO THE ANCIENT CONCEPTUAL SCHEME OF THE HARMONY OF THE SPHERES
Another aspect of my own 'New Ancestral Music' creations, in how I attempt to fit it into the conceptual scheme of the Music of the Celestial Spheres, is the 'stripping back' in the texture of my compositions for solo lyre to only those basic elements which best capture the 'essential essence' of the emotions I wish to convey through my music - analogous to the stripped back purity of the almost perpetual, ratio of the orbital motions of the stars and planets.
In other words, the basic texture of my 'New Ancestral Compositions' for lyre, features just one solo lyre, using one primary melodic line which is either plectrum or finger plucked, (in accordance with my idea of creating simple spontaneous textural improvisations via the use of heterophony) - accompanied literally by simple, geometrically pure intervals of 4ths or 5ths in just intonation (tuned via simple, perfectly symmetrical whole number ratios) with the fingers of my left hand.
My ultimate intention is therefore to create aesthetic beauty from only those bare, stripped back elements necessary to achieve this task - free of clutter, extravagance and distractions; to reveal the essential essence of a pure, elemental aesthetic inner beauty...
In the same way, in our own lives, if we strip back all the extravagance, superficiality and strive to seek only the ancient ideal of the perfection of the perpetual purity and simplicity of the motion of the celestial spheres, we too, can finally find the true essence of the intrinsic beauty and worth we have, which resides within all of us!