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The following is an excerpt from the book Secrets of the Widow's Son
by David A. Shugarts
Published by Sterling; September 2005;$17.95US/$25.95CAN; 1-4027-2819-0
Copyright 2005 David A. Shugarts


There is a vast symbolic realm that bears mention here, the world of music. There are aspects of music that are very ancient, other aspects that permeate the history we have been discussing in this book, and some very modern aspects.

So far in his novels, Dan Brown has largely overlooked music. This is puzzling, because he has a highly musical background. Brown grew up in a household where his mother played church organ, and he learned keyboard as a youth. He was a group singer and when he joined the Amherst College Glee Club, it gave him the opportunity to go on a world tour, a pivotal point in his artistic life, as he later recalled. After college, he continued to play keyboard, sing, and write his own songs, showing enough promise that he was encouraged to go to Hollywood in the early 1990s to seek a music career. His CDs hardly sold, though, and he turned to writing novels.

Dan Brown's father was a teacher of mathematics and was a source for a lot of the discussion of Fibonacci numbers, the golden ratio Phi, and the like, that can be found in DVC. Thus, it would seem only natural that young Dan would be exposed to the legends that the Pythagoreans studied -- worshipped, really -- the discovery of math in harmony.

Although the Pythagoreans could not have known the exact frequencies, they were able to tune stringed instruments, the precursors of lyres, and discover that a musical tone and its octave tones, had a relationship of halves of the length of the string. In other words, if a string is tuned to E on a modern guitar and you fret it at the high E, your finger is at the midpoint of the string. To get to the next E an octave higher, you would fret at the midpoint of the remaining string length.

What's more, they discovered that other harmonious steps, in a system we now call the musical scale, lend themselves to incredibly simple ratios. These are ratios such as 6:8::9:12, which also can be used to derive 8:9, thus yielding all the steps in the scale.

These simple facts are taken for granted today, but really, when you come to grips with the full implications, probably the only correct thing to do is fall to your knees in adoration of the Great Architect of the Universe, who built this into the fabric of the cosmos.

An excellent description of the astoundingly simple ratios of harmony is found in Jesus Christ, Sun of God, by David Fideler, who also delves into the gematria of the harmonious numbers.

Pythagoras lived and died five centuries before Christ. Fast-forward to an early father of the Christian Church, Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-216 AD), who was deeply aware of the earlier Greek and Gnostic traditions that associated numbers with deities, and knew how they also applied to music. He was fraught with meaning when he described Christianity as the "New Song," implying it was an extension of Hellenistic beliefs.

Music, like other thematic streams in this book, is a mighty river, flowing timelessly and gathering many smaller streams unto itself. For a very long time, the main repository of formal knowledge of this river was the Catholic Church.

And it began very early. For instance, the earliest ecclesiastical chanting modes were defined by Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, in the late fourth century. The system was improved under the direction of Pope Gregory in the late sixth century, which is why everyone popularly calls them "Gregorian chants," completing forgetting Ambrose. Later, in the Renaissance, the eight Gregorian modes were given Greek names, such as Ionian or Doric, merely as a means of reference.

Around 774 AD, Paul the Deacon composed a simple hymn for St. John the Baptist's Day. (As we have seen, this is a day of significance to Freemasons and Templars.) In approximately 1020 AD, the monk Guido of Arezzo extracted the first syllables of each line of the St. John hymn, to obtain ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la:
Ut queant laxi
Resonare fibris
Mira gestorum
Famuli tuorum:
Solve polluti,
Labii reatum, Sancte Johannes

It took another six hundred years or more to modify this and come up with what we recognize today as: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do. An excellent description of this history of the scale can be found at a Web page,

This is certainly a rocket ride through music history, but it shows that the very ancient beginnings of a formal understanding of music can be linked to today's musical scale -- with an implied homage to St. John the Baptist every time someone sings it.

Although it is an unfair truncation of music history, we can now fast-forward again to the Baroque period. One of the more notable, but unsaid things to be known about the Baroque period was that the composers and musicians took the Gregorian heritage of eight modes, which had survived through the medieval and Renaissance periods, and chucked six of them. The two modes remaining in common use, Ionian and Aeolian, were renamed the "major" and "minor" scales.

Interestingly, traditional Celtic music still carries forward some of the other modes, whereas the vast majority of music we listen to today does not. It is "secret" musical knowledge that is "hidden in plain sight." Any musician who wishes to explore the Dorian or Mixolydian modes will have no trouble finding references.

There were many great Baroque musicians and composers, but the acknowledged giant of the age was Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Bach grew up in Germany in a time when there was still great religious strife and many of his countrymen were immigrating to America. His surroundings had previously been the home of many Rosicrucian and Pietist movements, but he and his large extended musical family were grounded in Lutheran and/or Calvinist society, which fostered and nourished him throughout his career. Later, the same general region would give rise to Adam Weishaupt, founder of the Illuminati. But there is no reason to believe Bach was either Rosicrucian or Masonic in his beliefs. He largely remained within orthodox religion as he knew it. In general, he is most remarkable for the intellectual power that his music displayed. However, one of Bach's musically talented sons, Johann Christian Bach, was a Freemason.

The form called a canon was a specialty of J.S. Bach's. In a canon, a musical theme may be started, then joined by a second voice rendering the same theme but raised by five notes on the scale, or depressed by four notes. Or, the theme may be played "upside down," or it may even be played backwards. The real challenge is to achieve harmony while all of these variations are being expressed. A more relaxed form was called a fugue, but it could still be made very complex. Bach was a master of the canon and the fugue, and could compose them for many parts, in his head, on demand.

Indeed, in about 1747, Bach made a celebrated visit to Frederick the Great, king of Prussia, who was himself an accomplished musician. Frederick challenged Bach with a complex theme. Bach immediately delivered a three-part canon on the theme, followed by a six-part canon of his own, astonishing his audience. He later went home and composed in the king's honor a piece of great complexity called simply A Musical Offering, containing a six-part fugue.

All of this is described in a singular book, Gdel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas R. Hofstadter, written in 1979 and widely read in the 1980s.

Hofstadter, one of our era's most notable polymaths, floored his readers by combining talk of mathematicians (Gdel et al.), artists (M.C. Escher et al.), and musicians (Bach et al.), in pursuit of a concept he called "strange loops" that eventually rendered out (after some seven hundred pages) his best guess as to what the basis for artificial intelligence might be.

Hofstadter described in detail how Bach made a minor puzzle out of the Musical Offering. He did not write down each and every note, but left it to the king to flesh it out according to the canonical conventions. At one point, Bach instructed: Quaerendo invenietis (by seeking, you will discover). For a non-Freemason, Bach had a lot of the same love of veiling the truth.

Bach had many musical tricks up his sleeve, according to Hofstadter, including writing his own name in the musical notes, and composing a very special piece that contains the ability to warp back on itself and rise in key. Hofstadter nicknamed it the "Endlessly Rising Canon," and saw it as an example of the self-referring "strange loop" of the kind expressed in art by M.C. Escher (as in the artist's drawing of one hand drawing another hand, drawing the first hand).

Bach's era closed around the time of his death in the mid-eighteenth century. A new musical era was rising -- the Classical -- with the "father of the symphony," Franz Joseph Haydn (1 732-1809). Socially and politically, it was also the Age of Enlightenment, and the next giant of the period was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Both Haydn and Mozart were Freemasons.

The flamboyant Mozart wrote one of the most flamboyantly Masonic pieces of music ever crafted, The Magic Flute, an opera that is agelessly popular.

Like Bach before them, Haydn and Mozart both enjoyed planting little tricks into their music. Haydn is famous for the Surprise Symphony, for instance, which was deliberately written to lull the king to sleep, then wake him with a jolt. Mozart, in Don Giovanni, wrote into the score, the sound of the musicians tuning up.

The aforementioned Douglas Hofstadter grabbed odd ideas like Bach-like canons that play the same backwards and forwards, and juxtaposed them with artificial recursive sequences of DNA, the genetic coding of life. At the time, it would have been outlandish to suppose that sequences of DNA could be manipulated in that way. He perhaps would have been gratified two decades later to see researchers actually coding secret messages into DNA, as a means of preventing counterfeiting, among other uses. Like DNA, music is sequential data.

Music is a peculiar symbolic system because is not only written, but audible, so there are almost infinite ways to use it to impart hidden meanings. Consider, for instance, the great opening theme of Ludwig von Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, which drums out the letter "V" in Morse code. It could be extended to pass an entire message in Morse code, making any number of tonal changes that would be ignored in decoding, because it would be the rhythm that carries the data. Consider modern cases where, for instance, people played Beatles songs backwards to discover what were rumored to be concealed messages. Consider my own composition, a thankfully short cacophony called "Play Me" an example of another (albeit silly) way to code with music. If one were to apply a layer of ciphers to written music, it would be relatively simple to hide a message in the string of notes. And with today's computers, the average person could encode vast quantities of secret data within a piece of music by audio compression and other techniques.

So far, nothing like these coding schemes have surfaced in Dan Brown's novels, but we surely can't rule them out in The Solomon Key, given Brown's musical expertise.

Copyright 2005 David A. Shugarts