Music and Science

Throughout history, music has been used to celebrate nature. Both folk songs and concert music frequently celebrate the sun, the moon, the seasons and other natural phenomena.

Discuss the science of the moon
• The moon is believed to have originated 4.5 billion years ago when a collision between the earth and another planetary body occurred, dislodging a gigantic chunk of rocky debris. This debris gathered into a ball and began to orbit the Earth.
• Unlike the Earth, the moon is made of solid rock. It has no water and no volcanic activity. Because it lacks a protective atmosphere, the moon has been hit by meteorsThe phases of the moon very frequently. These are the cause of the moon's numerous craters.
• One side of the moon always faces away from the sun, and thus is permanently dark.
• The moon's gravitational pull causes the earth's tides. The bodies of water nearest the moon swell, while those farther away recede.
• The moon is only visible when it is refl ected by sunlight. Depending on the relative position of the sun, moon and earth, different portions of the moon are illuminated, from a "crescent moon" to "gibbous moon" to a "full moon." The various phases of the moon are shown in the diagram at right.

Discuss the mythology of the moon, and how the moon has been perceived by cultures throughout history
Moon • For instance, the word "lunacy" is derived from the French word for moon, lune. Because crime rates have historically been higher during the full moon, the moon was often cited as a cause of madness. Werewolves and other creatures draw their power from the moon.
• Some cultures percieve a human face in the full moon. The picture at right is taken from the the fi rst science fi ction movie, a 1902 French silent fi lm entitled Le Voyage dans la Lune.
• The mysterious associations of the moon have been a source of inspiration for many composers including Claude Debussy (Claire de lune from his piano pieces Suite bergamasque) and Arnold Schoenberg (Pierrot lunaire).

Class Lesson:

  • Play a recording and read a translation of the French folk song Clair de lune. This familiar song illustrates the special qualities of moonlight—mysterious, secretive and romantic.
  • Play a recording of the fi rst movement of Beethoven's Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor. Listen for the characteristics which have led many to call this work his "moonlight" sonata.
  • Invite the students to bring in other art-work—music, painting, poems, etc.—that celebrate the moon.

Further Study:

Many concert works exist that can be paired with discussions of scientifi c topics. Gustav Holst's The Planets for orchestra, is a musical portrait of each planet. Claude Debussy's orchestral work La Mer ("The Sea") describes the ocean at times of calm and times of tempest. Debussy also has many piano works that portray the wind, rain, clouds and more. Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 ("Pastoral") includes several natural scenes, including a lightning storm. Ferde Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite is a popular orchestral tone poem. Camille Saint-Saëns Carnival of the Animals is a wonderfully colorful work, celebrating elephants, whales, turtles, donkeys—and even fossils. Bedrich Smetana portrays the river of his homeland in The Moldau. Similarly, Charles Ives depicts the quietly fl owing Housatonic river in the last movement of his Three Places in New England George Crumb's Song of the Whale is a celebrated avant-garde work for electric flfl ute, violin and piano that evokes the plaintive and mysterious voices of these undersea mammals. In works such as Oiseaux Exotiques, the 20th-century composer Olivier Messaien included references to the bird-song of hundreds of species, which he avidly recorded. In addition, there are untold folk and popular songs that refer to nature, including such familiar tunes as Fly Me to the Moon, Singing in the Rain and Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

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