Obviously recognizing the Golden Mean in music is not as easy as in the visual arts, where angles and distances can be measured and compared. The very nature of music—ephemeral and immediately lost—makes it difficult to layout in aural terms the use of the proportion.


What can be said is that certain formal structures, such as sonata form, are more or less based on the Golden Mean. Certainly not every symphony is built exactly on the 0.62 ratio; still, enough Classical symphonic first movements come close enough to the mean that it cannot be called chance.

Composers such as Bach who were obsessed with numbers were certainly aware of the Golden Mean and incorporated it into fugues, cantatas, concerti and other musical forms. The Mean was just another tool in the rhetorical tool box—waiting to be used to convey the Affekt of the music and conveyance of the emotional content.

Creative and performing artists have always known how important symmetry is to the human eye and sensibility. Leonardo's drawing above shows us why. The body itself is a manifestation of the Golden Mean. The symmetrical halves of the body are the blueprint for almost everything we find beautiful; hence, the aural component of both Western and non-Western art forms please us precisely because of the formal structures and mimic nature. That's how it's been for millennia and it's likely to guide composers into the next century and beyond.