Musica universalis

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"Music of the Spheres" redirects here. For other uses, see Music of the Spheres (disambiguation).
Harmony of the world, 1806 г.

Musica universalis (lit. universal music, or music of the spheres) or Harmony of the Spheres is an ancient philosophical concept that regards proportions in the movements of celestial bodies—the Sun, Moon, and planets—as a form of musica (the Medieval Latin term for music). This "music" is not usually thought to be literally audible, but a harmonic, mathematical or religious concept. The idea continued to appeal to thinkers about music until the end of the Renaissance, influencing scholars of many kinds, including humanists.


Engraving from Renaissance Italy (Gafurius's Practica musice, 1496) showing Apollo, the Muses, the planetary spheres and musical ratios.

The Music of the Spheres incorporates the metaphysical principle that mathematical relationships express qualities or "tones" of energy which manifest in numbers, visual angles, shapes and sounds – all connected within a pattern of proportion. Pythagoras first identified that the pitch of a musical note is in proportion to the length of the string that produces it, and that intervals between harmonious sound frequencies form simple numerical ratios.[1] In a theory known as the Harmony of the Spheres, Pythagoras proposed that the Sun, Moon and planets all emit their own unique hum (orbital resonance) based on their orbital revolution,[2] and that the quality of life on Earth reflects the tenor of celestial sounds which are physically imperceptible to the human ear.[3] Subsequently, Plato described astronomy and music as "twinned" studies of sensual recognition: astronomy for the eyes, music for the ears, and both requiring knowledge of numerical proportions.[4]

Esoteric Christianity[edit]

The three branches of the Medieval concept of musica were presented by Boethius in his book De Musica:[5]

  • musica mundana (sometimes referred to as musica universalis)
  • musica humana (the internal music of the human body)
  • musica quae in quibusdam constituta est instrumentis (sounds made by singers and instrumentalists)

According to Max Heindel's Rosicrucian writings, the heavenly "music of the spheres" is heard in the Region of Concrete Thought, the lower region of the mental plane, which is an ocean of harmony.[citation needed]

It is also referred to in Esoteric Christianity as the place where the state of consciousness known as the "Second Heaven" occurs.[citation needed]

Use in recent music[edit]

A small number of recent compositions either make reference to or are based on the concepts of Musica Universalis or Harmony of the Spheres. Among these are Music of the Spheres by Mike Oldfield, Om by the Moody Blues, and Björk's single "Cosmogony", included in her 2011 album Biophilia.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Weiss and Taruskin (2008) p.3.
  2. ^ Pliny the Elder (77) pp.277-8, (II.xviii.xx): "…occasionally Pythagoras draws on the theory of music, and designates the distance between the Earth and the Moon as a whole tone, that between the Moon and Mercury as a semitone, .... the seven tones thus producing the so-called diapason, i.e.. a universal harmony".
  3. ^ Houlding (2000) p.28: "The doctrine of the Pythagoreans was a combination of science and mysticism… Like Anaximenes they viewed the Universe as one integrated, living organism, surrounded by Divine Air (or more literally 'Breath'), which permeates and animates the whole cosmos and filters through to individual creatures … By partaking of the core essence of the Universe, the individual is said to act as a microcosm in which all the laws in the macrocosm of the Universe are at work".
  4. ^ Davis (1901) p.252. Plato’s Republic VII.XII reads: "As the eyes, said I, seem formed for studying astronomy, so do the ears seem formed for harmonious motions: and these seem to be twin sciences to one another, as also the Pythagoreans say".
  5. ^ Boethius, De institutione musica, I.2 (p. 187 Friedlein ed.)


Further reading[edit]

  • Calter, Paul. "Pythagoras & Music of the Spheres". Geometry in Art & Architecture. Dartmouth College. Retrieved November 26, 2011. 
  • Plant, David. "Johannes Kepler & the Music of the Spheres". Retrieved November 26, 2011. 
  • Wille G. Musica Romana. Die Bedeutung der Musik im Leben der Römer. Amsterdam, 1967.
  • Burkert W. Weisheit und Wissenschaft: Studien zu Pythagoras, Philolaos und Platon. Nürnberg, 1962
  • Richter L. Tantus et tam dulcis sonus. Die Lehre von der Sphärenharmonie in Rom und ihre griechischen Quellen // Geschichte der Musiktheorie. Bd. 2. Darmstadt, 2006, SS.505-634.

External links[edit]