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Galileo’s Music

On his remarkable Galileo 1610 website, Mark Thompson writes about the role of music Gilileo’s scientific work:

“Thus the effect of the fifth is to produce a tickling of the eardrum such that its softness is modified with sprightliness, giving at the same moment the impression of gentle kiss and of a bite.”

Music played not only a unique, but an essential role in leading Galileo to his new physics. Because it is an art demanding precise measurement and exact divisions, music reflected the spirit of Galileo’s science.

One of Galileo’s most important discoveries, the law of falling bodies, can actually be traced to his early musical experiments with his father, Vincenzo Galilei, a musicologist and lute virtuoso. Together, they discovered the motions of pendulums while measuring with weights, the tensions of lute strings.

Galileo was an outstanding lutenist himself, whose “charm of style and delicacy of touch” surpassed even that of his father. Playing the lute was a source of great pleasure and a special comfort to him in his final years, when blindness was added to the many other trials of his life.

”Everything Galileo ever did has been challenged,” said the late Stillman Drake, Canadian historian of science and preeminent biographer of Galileo. ”But ultimately it stands up.”

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