About the Urania theatre and Kövesligethy’s “The Harmony of the Spheres”


From 1897 Hungarian scientist faced a new task: the foundation and operation of the Urania Theatre for popular science. The Urania Theatre has the right to claim that its influence is elemental; it is acknowledged by the scientific world as well as the huge crowd of a hundred thousand acquiring knowledge among its walls; and behold: in Vienna, New York, London, Milan, Dresden there are Urania theatre striving for the same great aim: propagation of science. The founder thought, the more they manage to evoke the joy of knowledge and thinking in the hearts of the people, the more they lay the foundation of pace and happiness of them. The Urania theatre was born in the spirit of this idea. Radó Kövesligethy also shared these ideas.

The theatre itself was completely transformed, equipped with the most modern optical instruments according to the aims of the Urania Theatre. Thus, first and foremost, it became not only higher but also deeper, decorated with all the elements of modern art. 1500 lights illuminated the richly-gilded auditorium and the beautiful drop-scene, on which two figures could be seen: Pallas Athenae and Helios the symbol of the light of science.

The oratorio The Harmony of the Spheres. The Saga of a Word by Kövesligethy was prepared for a performance of this Theatre. Through this entertaining read we can form a true picture of Kövesligethy's intellectual character and learn about important events concerning the history of science – in a poetic form! Due to the historical character of the piece, the author often personifies great scientists of old times to convey his message.

Here are some examples from the lengthy piece, just to give an idea: Pythagoras says: 'I have found it! The key for the understanding of Nature is harmony and harmony is numerical. Nature can be understood through numbers and everything is harmonious: the number is the essence of things.' We hear the further details of this thought from the mouth of Ptolemy: 'And since each dance is a copy of the movement of the planets originally, I think we could show the orbit of the planets in accordance with my new world concept. Science is not a dire monster lurking behind mounds, but strives to find the masses; it is not an enemy of joy either.'

Kövesligethy, the born mathematical genius, never got lost in the labyrinth of mathematics. He had been looking for the essence behind numbers and physical phenomena since his early youth and found the beauty and vivifying power of music. Kövesligethy, although admired the ancient astronomers, found a real soul mate in Kepler. He also took the title of his oratorio from him. 'Kepler was just as much a poet as a scientist, a true alter ego of Pythagoras. He extended each concept into a world concept.'

'The Music of the Stars' is one of the most modern scientific theses. What Kövesligethy said one hundred years ago is still topical, although not widely known or acknowledged. 'Thus, the movement of the planets can be illustrated by sounds and this two processes are so much related, that we can even show the instrument which is most suitable for this.'

The concept of ‘sonification’ of the Universe and its events is still valid. The different sounds created in relation to the celestial bodies can be played to demonstrate the concepts arisen during the history of science and the physical phenomena behind them. The idea can be extended to modern astrophysics e.g. through the oscillation of stars and the vibrations of the early Universe. Kövesligethy’s concept to use science history and musical harmonies to communicate science to the general public still can have a high impact.
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Magda Vargha
Zoltán Kolláth