William Herschel is famous for science. What about his music?

However, Herschel was unwilling to consider a move to bustling but musically competitive London. So after a brief stint as organist at Halifax Parish Church in West Yorkshire – according to Miller, he informed the jury during his audition that he had already accepted a better offer elsewhere – he moved on. in Bath in 1776, entering an emerging city. – classy sophistication, with a budding intellectual scene and the newly built octagonal chapel, from which Herschel built a small musical empire built around oratorio performances and subscription concerts.

Several years earlier, William’s sister, Caroline, had followed her brothers to England. Accounts of his history also obscure his early musical interest. The first woman to receive the Royal Astronomical Society’s Gold Medal, the first published woman to publish scientific research, and the first female scientist to receive a salary, Caroline moved to England after her brother intervened – to rid her of a life of household chores after their father’s death – and began taking voice lessons, eventually becoming the resident soprano at William’s oratorio performances, at a time when families of performers were all the rage .

Herschel believed that music belonged to one of the four liberal arts of the quadrivium, alongside arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. With the help of two 18th century books by Cambridge scholar Robert Smith – “Harmonics” and “A Compleat System of Opticks” – he began to approach astronomy with the same self-taught zeal used to learn English through the dense texts of John Locke. And one of his first homemade Newtonian reflector telescopes sparked a change that would make Herschel an overnight celebrity: the March 1781 discovery of Uranus, which he initially believed to be another comet. Herschel obsequiously named this planet Georgium Sidus much to the delight of King George III, who later offered him a salary with the title “King’s Astronomer”.

The position involved taking a significant pay cut from his profitable music business, but Herschel nonetheless gave up music to focus his sights on the heavens. As the Herschels moved to Slough to be closer to the King, the telescopes grew bigger, the investigations more ambitious and the celebrity more intense.

Although Herschel’s musical compositions came to a halt with the move, there is mystery surrounding his relationship with Haydn, who visited the observatory in June 1792. In “Essays in Musical Analysis,” classic volumes from the 1930s, Sir Donald Tovey concluded that looking through Herschel’s famous 40-foot telescope provided the cosmic inspiration for the famous overture to Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation”. The problem: Records show Herschel was out of town at the time. But maybe Caroline, at this point his trusted assistant, could have led Haydn to his moment of clarity?

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