A Little Night Music

Music has soothed many a deep thinker over the centuries.  Pythagoras discovered the principles of musical harmony. Einstein played the violin.  And Thomas Edison tried his best to master the piano.   This is unsurprising, perhaps, as both science and music are, at their best, creative arts.  But while many scientists have become excellent amateur musicians, few musicians have made ground-breaking discoveries in astronomy.  The exception?  William Herschel.  This great astronomer was surely one of the few to excel in both fields.  I‘ve already outlined his scientific work. Today, a sample of his music…

As an astronomer, Herschel discovered infrared radiation and the planet Uranus, cataloged hundreds of nebulae and galaxies, and built the most sophisticated telescopes of his era.  But his musical work is not as well known.

Before his days as an astronomer, Herschel mastered the violin, cello, oboe, harpsichord, and organ.  And he composed a number of pieces of church music, as well as concertos and 24 symphonies.

Though his music isn’t played much today, a few modern musicians have kept Herschel’s works alive.  One of our subscribers, Bruce Whitson, is an accomplished amateur astronomer and a professional violist.  He’s organized several recordings of Herschel’s music.  And he’s generously supplied us with a recording of a recent concert in Germany by the The Kapellsolisten of Dresden, with Helmut Branny conducting.  The music is excellent, and Bruce has given us permission to post a sample here.

Click on the link above to listen to the Allegro from Herschel’s 8th symphony.  Then head outside and gaze up at the night sky Herschel loved so well.