The Harmony of Spheres

BBC Radio 3

Exploring the ancient and very beautiful idea that places music at the centre of our universe: the Harmony of the Spheres.

With its roots in Pythagoras, energised by Renaissance astronomy, the thought that the stars, suns and planets of the cosmos resonate to a harmony too beautiful and too powerful for human hearing has inspired composers and musicians for many hundreds of years, from Purcell, Handel and Rameau to the present day, with Tarik O’Regan’s rapturous ‘The Ecstasies Above’ and Pogues co-founder Jem Finer’s Long Player project, a millennium-long loop of celestial music.

Music was once a science as well as an art, joining with astronomy and mathematics to unlock the secrets of the heavens, a great celestial harmony ordering the universe. And now it is again: across the globe telescopes like the Lovell at Jodrell Bank look up to the night sky and listen, turning stars into music through the new science of astro-acoustics and what astronomers are calling sonification. Composers are again tuning in to the cosmos as a song. But the harmony of the spheres has always been a moral idea as well as a musical one: that we should live in better accord with one another here on the Earth, itself a beautiful and precious sphere. In an age of ecological discord and division do we need to listen for the harmony of the spheres - has its time come again?

Presented by author Jerry Brotton, featuring musicians, artists, composers and astronomers from Jordi Savall and Erykah Badu to Anish Kapoor, William Christie and Tim O’Brien.