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Music and the Making of Modern Science$
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Peter Pesic

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780262027274

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262027274.001.0001

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Euler: From Sound to Light

Euler: From Sound to Light

(p.151) 10 Euler: From Sound to Light
Music and the Making of Modern Science

Peter Pesic

The MIT Press

Beside his enormous achievements in mathematics, Leonhard Euler was deeply involved in many areas of physics. His early work on music had a direct bearing on his contemporary study of sound, which in due course contributed to his studies of the mechanics of continuous bodies and vibrating bodies. These important advances in continuum and fluid mechanics also moved Euler to advocate a wave theory for light, as against Newton’s emission (particle) theory. He took the analogy with sound so far as to postulate light “overtones” and “undertones” based on the musical theories of Jean-Philippe Rameau, though lacking any experimental justification. Throughout, Euler used the examples of sound and music as exemplars for a new understanding of light and color. Euler’s later musical writings include his reflections on “ancient” versus “modern” music and its use of chords based on the seventh. He also used music as the centerpiece in his popular account of science. Throughout the book where various sound examples are referenced, please see http://mitpress.mit.edu/musicandmodernscience (please note that the sound examples should be viewed in Chrome or Safari Web browsers).

Keywords:   Leonhard Euler, Theory of music, Analogy between sound and light, Continuum mechanics, Vibrating bodies, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Overtones, Undertones, Seventh chords

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