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The Key of GreenPassion and Perception in Renaissance Culture$
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Bruce R. Smith

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780226763781

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: February 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226763811.001.0001

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Listening for Green

Listening for Green

(p.168) Chapter Five Listening for Green
The Key of Green

Bruce R. Smith

University of Chicago Press

William Shakespeare and John Fletcher's The Two Noble Kinsmen provides an instance of hearing color. Even Sir Isaac Newton was convinced that colors could be heard—or at least that color perception worked like hearing—when in 1675 he explained that colors, like sounds, result from vibrations. An association of color with sound goes back to the very beginnings of Western culture. It is, in fact, Aristotle who is Newton's primary inspiration for the idea that sound and color both result from mathematically mappable ratios. Thus, to listen for green would mean to listen for the totality of sound, for all there is to hear. This chapter considers some famous instances in which writers say they can hear colors and examines the acoustic equivalents of antic work and grotesquerie in the form of sounds that spin away from logocentric exactitude. Varying musical settings of Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd...he maketh me to lie down in green pastures”) figure in a survey of changing ideas about the relationship between words and music.

Keywords:   color, green, sound, Psalm 23, music, words, Isaac Newton

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