[Smt-talk] Symmetry and Musical Aesthetics

Stephen Taylor staylor7 at illinois.edu
Fri Dec 10 06:51:45 PST 2010

The Oxford mathematician Marcus du Sautoy has a book called Symmetry  
(2008) which includes a chapter on music, ranging from Rameau to  
change-ringing to Xenakis. The discussion is not that deep, but still  
enlightening. It's just one chapter out of a book which includes  
discussions on a whole lot of things, including Galois, the Alhambra  
and a 196,883-dimensional figure (!) called the Monster.

As a lay-person's introduction to symmetry I thought it was fantastic  
- he also has an excellent book on prime numbers, "The Music of the  
Primes," which covers everything from Pythagoras to internet  
encryption, and includes quite a bit of music as well.

Best wishes,

Stephen Taylor
Associate Professor of Composition-Theory
School of Music
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
staylor7 at illinois.edu

On Dec 9, 2010, at 12:55, Laurel Parsons wrote:

> 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
> www.questu.ca
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