Mozart, Galileo and Passionate People

1. Listening to Mozart, Handel and Rossini played by the frankly fabulous Australian Brandenburg Orchestra last night at the City Recital Hall, I remembered something I’d read recently about Galileo Galilei.


Aside: that name is delicious, isn’t it? Galileo Galilei.


Anyway, before GG got caught up in the furore surrounding helio-centric models of the solar system, he was working on gravity. Specifically, trying to establish how fast objects fall. He wanted to show the error of the ancient assumption that if one drops a 1lb weight and a 10lb weight from the same height at the same time, the 10lb weight will hit the ground first purely by virtue of being heavier. Which sounds logical but is, in fact, quite wrong.

To do this, he set up a beautiful experiment (and I am indebted for my understanding of this – having never been allowed to study physics at school I am coming to it all rather late – to this book) which involved rolling balls down various inclines and measuring the rate at which they accelerated and passed the points along the slope.

Obviously, to measure speed over distance you need some kind of timing device.

Which brings me back to last night’s concert. Because apparently GG used the regular beat of music as his timing device. The author of the book posits that human beings – or most of us at least – have an innate sense of timing which comes from our musical abilities. He states that not only can experienced and skilled conductors and professional musicians keep time accurately – even divide beats by half and half again – but that most audiences can recognise such timing. We may not all be able to dance to it, but we know when its off.

So now I have a marvellous mental picture of Galileo Galilei rolling balls down wooden slopes on the floor of his lab, singing away to himself and carefully noting how far the ball had reached on each up beat.

2. One of the things I like most about the ABO is the evident passion and enthusiasm of its conductor and musical director, Paul Dyer. Anyone who not only feels such joy in his job, but who is not afraid to communicate it, deserves a rousing round of applause accompanied by some uninhibited foot stamping IMHO.

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5 Responses to Mozart, Galileo and Passionate People

  1. David says:

    Now I have that same marvelous mental picture. Thank you.

  2. woo says:

    wonderful, isn’t it? Who knew physics could be so much fun?!

  3. sledpress says:

    It recalls the comparison of quantum physics to Dancing Wu Li Masters (however flaky that book may have been, in places).

  4. Oh, Woo. I was with you until you mentioned professional musicians being able to keep time accurately. You haven’t lived until you listen to a professional string quartet in rehearsal quarreling about who can or can not keep the beat and who is rushing that passage in measure 186 –“I’m not rushing, you are dragging!” Why was the metronome invented, anyway? Due to my own personal experience I take that assertion with a large grain of salt.

    Love the image of GG, though. Maybe he was better at keeping the beat than some musicians I know. Knew.

  5. woo says:

    sledpress – I don’t know that one, I’ll have to investigate, thanks for the tip 🙂

    healingmagichands – well, there goes another of my illusions! No, wait, maybe the fact that those musicians can even tell that someone was rushing or dragging is an indicator of their timing ability – I’m sure I probably wouldn’t even have noticed at all.

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