Numbers and Music

by carlyjroman

I have always heard about the connection between music and math. It is all about the connection between sound and rhythm, counting and measuring, harmony, form, frequency, tuning, scale, and composition–all integral components of both math and music. It has been said that the study of each subject are so closely related that if a student is trained in music they will actually excel more in math (or at least do better in math than they might have without musical training). Even Pythagoras, the Greek mathematician, is said to have conducted experiments with musical instruments and studied the relationship between numbers and musical harmony, finding the connection between musical scales and ratios.

It’s interesting to learn about Schoenberg’s obsession with numbers and to consider whether this was a function of some extreme obsessive-compulsive disorder or a deeper, more organic manifestation of the connection between music and math. Pierro Lunaire, Schoenberg’s melodrama, is commonly known as Opus 21.  It is 21 poems, broken up into three sets of seven, written with seven-note motifs. Each poem is made up of 13 lines with the first line of each poem being repeated three times (on lines seven and 13). The piece was performed by an ensemble of seven people, if you include the conductor. In addition, he was born on the 13th day of a month and died on the 13th day of a month at the age of 76, with 7 and 6 equalling 13! At some point be developed an aversion to the number 13, going so far as to renumbering his measures 12, 12a, and 14 in order to avoid the number 13.

Clearly Schoenberg was excited by numerology. Was this a basis of his musical talent? Was it a result of his musical talent? Was it mere coincidence?