As the literature for this Oxbridge 2005 conference notes, “C.S. Lewis once said, ‘the sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing…to find the place where all the beauty came from.’” Lewis is not alone in his quest. While one might expect such company as writers, artists, musicians, and philosophers it might be surprising to discover a stellar contingent of Nobel Prize winners and other significant physicists along for the journey. It appears, as we will see in the following accounts, that beauty has long been the unsung companion of great discoveries in the physical sciences. Taking a look at the role beauty plays in the realms of both physics and theology could point the way to a place where Christian theology and the modern science of physics might have a conversation profitable to both disciplines.
Contemporary architecture has been trivialized spurred on by a profit-driven construction industry on the one hand and aspiring intellectual designers on the other. At a time of increasing social inequality, threats of nuclear proliferation, widespread spiritual and moral fatigue, disintegration of the social nucleus, lifestyle- and environment-dependant illnesses of epidemic proportions, alarming frequency and intensity of natural disasters, terrorism, global warming, deforestation, air pollution, acid rain, ozone depletion, the extinction of species, limited natural resources and a dwindling food supply, architecture has either been absent or responded with inconsequential metaphors.
Concepts of musical beauty change over time. The origins of harmony—influenced by the Pythagorean mathematical ideal of whole-number ratios—adored perfect intervals in parallel motion. By the time of the Renaissance, imperfect consonances were the aesthetic model. They displaced consecutive perfect intervals with such thoroughness that even today, beginning students of music theory are prohibited from writing parallel perfect fifths and octaves as they learn to master the principles of common-practice music.
To be sure, aesthetic ideals at the beginning of the 20th century differ from those governing today. We have heard medieval, Renaissance, Classical, Romantic, and a plethora of 20th century styles of music. And yet, some aspects of musical beauty transcend time. My purpose in this paper is to begin exploring these ideals of beauty by comparing passages from two compositions written almost a century apart. In doing so, I will focus on the music’s structure, rather than the less tangible affect that music has upon the listener. The sources of the two passages are Arnold Schoenberg’s “Friede auf Erden” of 1907, and Morten Lauridsen’s “O Nata Lux” of 1997.