[Smt-talk] Symmetry and Musical Aesthetics

Soderberg, Stephen ssod at loc.gov
Fri Dec 10 06:15:33 PST 2010

I think a good introductory outline that relates the traditional music theoretic terminology to the corresponding group theory terminology is Chapter 9 ("Symmetry in music") of David Benson's book, Music: a mathematical offering.  With the cooperation of Cambridge UP, he has put the entire book (all 400+ pages) up on the web for free.  It can be downloaded here: http://www.maths.abdn.ac.uk/~bensondj/html/maths-music.html.

I don't think I've ever heard of any good historical overview of how symmetry has been used in music (Western or non), but, since you say her overall interest is the relationship between symmetry and beauty (not just of the musical kind), I've never read a better "cross-disciplinary" discussion than Hermann Weyl's beautiful little book, Symmetry (http://www.amazon.com/Symmetry-Hermann-Weyl/dp/0691023743 -- not much in it about music per se though).

Steve Soderberg

Stephen Soderberg
Senior Specialist
   for Contemporary Music
Music Division
Library of Congress
Washington, DC

From: smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org [mailto:smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org] On Behalf Of Laurel Parsons
Sent: Thursday, December 09, 2010 1:55 PM
To: smt-talk at societymusictheory.org
Subject: [Smt-talk] Symmetry and Musical Aesthetics

Dear colleagues,

An upper-level undergraduate student at our liberal arts and sciences university is embarking on a long-term interdisciplinary study of the relationship between symmetry and beauty.  She is an accomplished violinist, but is not a music major and has no post-tonal theory background as yet; however, she is both well-versed and interested in calculus, statistics, and other mathematical forms so could pick it up fairly easily. While there are hundreds of scholarly articles on various kinds of compositional symmetry in the music of Western composers to which I could refer her, I'm wondering if anyone can recommend:

1) a good historical overview of how symmetry has been used in Western music, and/or
2) scholarly writing that addresses the aesthetics of musical symmetry rather than (")simply(") the compositional mechanics of its usage in the works of specific composers.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Best wishes,
Laurel Parsons

Laurel Parsons, Ph.D.
Co-ordinator, Humanities Division
Quest University Canada
3200 University Blvd.
Squamish, BC
VB8 0N8
laurel.parsons at questu.ca<mailto:laurel.parsons at questu.ca>
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