Music Carved in Stone
[caption id="attachment_2501" align="alignnone" width="577"]Woodcut from Flores Musicae (1488)[/caption]
Many say it was Pythagoras, some 2,500 years ago, who first heard the magic. Blacksmith hammers, pounding out strange and beautiful harmonies, caused him to stop in his tracks. He realized that anvils of proportional sizes produced perfect consonances. A 1:2 ratio created an octave, 2:3 a fifth, 3:4 a fourth, and so on…
But there’s more: these same proportions create a triangle. Hearing his beloved geometry in music, Pythagoras came to the conclusion that music is little more than number made sound. The entire universe is founded on numbers and proportions. Musical notes, geometric shapes, and even planets all make music. Plato called this “the harmony of the spheres.”
Others say it wasn’t Pythagoras who discovered the celestial harmonies, but Jubal, the mythical Hebrew father of music, along with his brother the blacksmith, Tubalcain. While the debate matters little, what they heard has shaped the course of music and art ever since.
Medieval musicians knew that not only could you see a triangle, you could hear it and even paint it in music. This anonymous woodcut from 1488 shows Jubal measuring anvils at the smithy in the foreground. In the background, he carves the notes of the medieval scale as a pair of musical triangles on two pillars of marble and stone. In doing so, he follows ancient advice that says, “Only wisdom carved in marble and stone will survive the destruction of the apocalypse.”