I was chatting with a Ukrainian friend the other day when she asked me, “Do you play any musical instruments?” I admitted that I could, by certain not terribly high standards, be called a piano player. “A-ha! I knew it. Math people are always music people,” she responded triumphantly, and started to list off all the people she knew who had a combined love of math and classical music.
Of course, we in the United States are bound to take all utterances from Ukrainians on the subjects of music, math, and ballet as unquestionably true. But there’s a lot of supplementary evidence as well, from great mathematicians and physicists who either played an instrument or had a deep and profound love of music, to the necessary connections between what is great about math and what is great about music that attract one and the same mind.
It’s the structural similarities that get me. Mathematics is the art of saying a universe while bound by formalist fetters of the toughest stuff. Every word, every turn, has to bear the scrutiny of an epoch of rigor. When you find something new to say within those confines, you’ve pulled off an unparalleled act of creation. A stunning proof can get me positively teary-eyed, and it’s that exact same structure of finding creativity in the face of impossible restriction that touches me in classical music.
I’m going to take an extreme example because, hey, it’s the Holidays. Consider the last movement of Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata. It is ...more