The Divine Nexus of Music and Mathematics

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By David Eaton

david_eatonI have this fantasy.

I’d love to see a debate on a liberal arts college campus between members of the sociology department, those who bemoan the heritage of European culture at every turn, and members of the music faculty who revere the music of Bach, Chopin and Wagner.

It would be fascinating to witness the spectacle of the sociology contingent trying to convince the musicians that they have it all wrong regarding the music of their cherished composers.

But do musicians in the academy really have it all wrong regarding Western culture? Are those who argue there may be “immutable truths” that govern music — its creation and realization — completely obtuse to sociological or cultural prejudices as postmodernists would have us believe?

Though we might debate the cosmological and metaphysical aspects of music, a cursory examination of music (regardless of cultural sphere) reveals that the laws and principles that govern music production are rooted in mathematics and physics.

This understanding dates back to Pythagoras in Greece and the Sumerians of Mesopotamia. Nevertheless, we have come to a point in our postmodern culture where any allusion to “certainty,” “universals” or “immutable truths” is, more often than not, met with skepticism, even abject derision.

This mindset originated with Nietzsche, Marx, Stirner, Hegel, and others whose abnegation of religion and “absolutes” infected Western culture at the beginning of the 20th century.

That pernicious legacy persists today.

Paradoxically, those who disparage religion love the music that is the progeny of a decidedly religious culture. Nietzsche, a cultural revolutionary and an earlier admirer of Richard Wagner’s operas, said, “Life without music would be a mistake.”

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