Kepler's Harmony of the Universe: Modern Realizations

Consider three examples:  Carl Sagan, Laurie Spiegel and Jonathan Annis.

  • Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York, 1980)

The Voyager space probes launched in 1977 to explore the outer solar system and travel through interstellar space. Carl Sagan led a NASA committee that prepared two Golden Records to represent humanity and planet Earth to any extraterrestrial intelligence that might someday discover them. Each Golden Record contains hundreds of images and audio recordings, and was inscribed, “To the makers of music – all worlds, all times.” The many works of Sagan, professor of astronomy at Cornell, ignited public interest in astronomy for a generation. Cosmos became the most widely watched series in the history of American public television, and with it came a deepening appreciation for the history of science. On the Golden Records, dozens of musical recordings – from Bach to Chuck Berry to the songs of Humpback Whales – were launched into the ocean of space to represent the music of a small planet.



  • “Kepler’s Harmony of the Worlds,” in Laurie Spiegel, The Expanding Universe (Unseen Words, 2012)

Music honoring Kepler is now on board two spacecraft that are leaving the solar system:  Laurie Spiegel’s tribute to Kepler’s Harmonices mundi was chosen to travel on the Voyager spacecraft Golden Records in 1977.

One reviewer described Spiegel’s piece: “Spiegel’s realization is bracing, menacing, and disorienting, the piercing tones not unlike a choir of air raid sirens. An alien life form encountering it on Voyager’s Golden Record would conclude that our world was a maddening, maniacal place.” Spiegel, a pioneer of computer music, interpreted Kepler’s laws in light of modern conceptions of science and the universe.

Listen to a clip of Spiegel’s interpretation of Kepler, courtesy of NASA.



  • “Cosmic Suite,” Jonathan A. Annis (OU, 2015)

A different approach to recovering Kepler’s music of the spheres is that of OU School of Music graduate student Jonathan Annis.  For Galileo’s World, Annis composed a suite for harp, flute (doubling alto flute) and oboe (doubling English horn) entirely comprised of musical themes from Kepler’s Harmonices mundi.  Annis arranged the themes, but they derive from Kepler’s musical description of the harmonic law. In this piece, Kepler’s universe becomes a cosmic dance. Spiegel’s tribute to Kepler may reach other worlds. Annis’ suite, on the other hand, reaches back to the world of Kepler and the music of the spheres.  DOWNLOAD HERE

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