Canadian ensemble Tafelmusik play the music of the spheres, with a little help from Galileo.

Most of us know that Galileo was a seminal astronomer, a brilliant scientist, and a visionary. Less well-known is the fact that he played the lute. His father was an influential composer, and his circle of friends included Claudio Monteverdi.

The link between pioneering astronomy and Baroque music might have remained obscure if Canadian astronomer John Percy had not happened to be a subscriber and fan of the Toronto-based period instrument ensemble Tafelmusik. From his post on the organising committee of the International Year of Astronomy in 2009, which was celebrating the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first use of the telescope, he approached the group.  Would it not be good to put together an evening of music around this idea?

Alison Mackay, a double-bass player with Tafelmusik, had long been dreaming of creating an evening of music for which the musicians would all play from memory. In thastre Galileo idea, she saw an opportunity.

At first, music director Jeanne Lamon was sceptical. “I was one of the last people to think that there would be any point in learning a program by heart,”...