What can maths teach us about music?

A brilliant lecture by Marcus de Sautoy on music and maths gets Ivan Hewett thinking.

“The mind counting without being conscious that it is counting.” That’s how the the philosopher Leibniz described listening to music. By the time he came along, the idea that music and maths had a deep connection had been around for two millenia. It started with Pythagoras, flourished in the Renaissance, and then faded away in the Age of Reason. Leibniz’s view was already dated when he uttered it. People had stopped looking to music for a beautiful image of the “mystical mathematics of heaven,” as Sir Thomas Browne called it. Psychology and meaning and emotions took over.

Now maths is making a comeback. It’s partly because cognitive scientists have become very interested in the ways the ....