Tuesday 5 July 2022

Stories inspired by the Queen of Science

Painting of Mary Somerville by Thomas Phillips (1834)
Painting of Mary Somerville by Thomas Phillips (1834)
Astronomer and mathematician Mary Somerville (1780-1872) is not a well-known figure but Electric Voice Theatre's event Songs and Stories from the Somerville Connexion at the Stroud Green Festival on 24 July 2022 is aiming to change all that. 

They explore Somerville’s personal connections through music by 19th century composers who were close to her circle, revealing Italianate arias by Jane Bianchi, Scottish Melodies by Isabella Scott Gibson, devotional verses by Eliza Flower and an astute parlour song, which appears to echo Somerville’s early life, by one of her dearest friends, Lady Dufferin. 

One of her mathematics students, Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852), became a figurehead for generations of women developing computer technology up to the present day, and inspired composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad to write a solo work using her words. There are further settings of the words of several of the protagonists by composers Lynne Plowman (setting Mary Somerville) and Frances M Lynch (setting astronomer Caroline Herschel). 

Somerville College, Oxford, is named after Mary Somerville. She and Caroline Herschel were elected in 1835 as the first female Honorary Members of the Royal Astronomical Society. Somerville's 1834 book, On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences, in which she described the interdependence of astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology and mathematics, and explained the latest scientific thinking of the day in language directed to her "country-women", was one of the best-selling scientific books of the 19th century. When Somerville died in 1872, The Morning Post's obituary declared  "Whatever difficulty we might experience in the middle of the nineteenth century in choosing a king of science, there could be no question whatever as to the queen of science"

Full details from Electric Voice Theatre's website.

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