Vilani And Dusinberre

Recent changes
Table of contents
Links to this page

Previous posts ... There's more on Rachels Ramblings
One of
Rachels Ramblings
In a way, Cédric Vilani, in "Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure", and Edward Dusinberre, in "Beethoven for a Later Age", are attempting a very similar task. They are seeking to explain and to share the joys, the trials, and the life of their two different, but for most of us, rather esoteric professions.

Of the two, I found Dusinberre's book the easier read - perhaps because I've been listening to the Beethoven Quartets all my life, and attending quartet concerts since I was 12. I only really became aware of research mathematics when I was in my late twenties, so I had a lot of catching up to do!

It also helps that Dusinberre's Quartet, the Takács, is well known to me through DVDs and recordings, and that other incidental dramatis personae are also known to me, one way or another. But still, however much, as an audience member, one may be aware that this quartet renders a favourite piece with nuances entirely absent in another's performance, it can be hard to imagine how the performers arrive at their interpretations or achieve the sometimes extremely subtle effects that combine into a whole. And in spite of the breadth of the Quartet repertoire, I've heard people wonder how on earth the performers can bear to perform some of the stalwarts of that repertoire again and again and again, year after year, after year. And yet they do - and gladly - because there is always a new shade of interpretation to try, and the different audiences and acoustics provide point and emphasis. After his first audition session, the then-25-year-old Dusinberre realised that working on interpretation, and collaborating in that interpretation with three other musical intelligences was far more exciting and invigorating than his rigorous technical training to date had really revealed. I am quite sure that it was his articulation of that realisation, as well as his abilities, that encouraged the three established members of the Quartet to take a chance on an untried young graduate.

If Dusineberre takes few prisoners, describing rehearsal discussions and music in detail, sometimes bar by bar, and assuming his readers will keep up (I didn't, quite!), Cédric Vilani takes no prisoners at all. His book is scattered with mathematical notations, fragments of discussion and excerpts from papers and notebooks. Since Fields-Medal-winning mathematics is well out of reach, I skimmed those sections, reading purely for the adventure of being a mathematician. And an adventure it surely is, for those who have the skill and the temperament, with Vilani's words conveying excitement, frustration, moments of clarity, moments when the husband and father swats the mathematician aside for a moment. I certainly didn't expect to be rummaging in the Notes at the end for references to popular culture varying from music to manga, but after all, even members of the most esoteric professions are products of their time, and there is no rule to state that they should have no other interests. But there is another point - Vilani is also describing collaborations, and cross-generational collaborations at that, just as when Dusinberre joined a Quartet already nearly twenty years old.

For all their geniality - both books are written well and engagingly - these aren't novels. There are serious, interesting, thought-provoking points at issue, and the reader has to pull their weight. That said, I enjoyed them both immensely, both for the personalities revealed, and for the insights into professions whose demands - and rewards - can be less than obvious to outsiders. Highly recommended!

  • Edward Dusinberre, Beethoven for a Later Age

  • Cédric Vilani, Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure

One of Rachels Ramblings


There were no headings
in the main text so there
is no table of contents.

Links on this page

Site hosted by Colin and Rachel Wright:
  • Maths, Design, Juggling, Computing,
  • Embroidery, Proof-reading,
  • and other clever stuff.

Suggest a change ( <-- What does this mean?) / Send me email
Front Page / All pages by date / Site overview / Top of page

Universally Browser Friendly     Quotation from
Tim Berners-Lee
    Valid HTML 3.2!