Susan Slesinger – Circle(s) – Music of the Spheres

This quilt illustrates the ancient theory of the music of the spheres, and the circle of fifths. The latter is one of the important cornerstones of Western art music from the Baroque until the early twentieth century.

Music of the spheres, also known as harmony of the spheres, or musica universalis, is an ancient philosophical concept that regards proportions in the movements of celestial bodies, as a form of music.  Until the Baroque era music was intertwined with mathematics, physics and philosophy forming the basis for higher education.  Pythagoras was the first person to note that the sound of a musical note was in proportion to the length of the string that produces it, and that intervals between harmonious sound frequencies form simple numerical ratios. In a theory known as the Harmony of the Spheres, Pythagoras proposed that the Sun, Moon and planets all emit their own unique hum based on their orbital revolution, and that the quality of life on Earth reflects the tenor of celestial sounds which are physically imperceptible to the human ear.   Plato described astronomy and music as “twinned” studies of sensual recognition: astronomy for the eyes, music for the ears, and both requiring knowledge of numerical proportions.

The Circle of Fifths is commonly used in Western music theory since the Baroque era to illustrate the relationship and order of the musical scales to each other. It first appeared in late seventeenth century music theory treatises. The starting note of each scale is a perfect fifth above or below its neighbor.  The perfect fifth is a mathematical ratio based on divisions of a string, first described by Pythagoras.   Scales with sharps go round the circle clockwise, while scales with flats go round the circle counter-clockwise.

Techniques used: Oil stick rubbings, machine applique, free motion machine quilting, inkjet printing on fabric

Materials:  Commercial cotton fabrics, oil sticks, 100 weight polyester and silk threads, cotton batting.

Image of Circle of Fifths courtesy of Linkware Graphics Music Images




Close up View:


  1. I never knew about this thank you for sharing and wonderful design.

  2. Thank you for this explanation Susan. I had never heard of it. Your interpretation of the theme is very special. Beautiful design.

  3. Oh my goodness! I never knew what lay behind the ‘Music of the Spheres’. Thank you for the story, and for such an elegant representation in fabric and thread.

    • English quilter

      Thank you for your kind comments. I knew that the course I took on the History of Music Theory might be useful at some point. I would not have known about the music of the spheres and its origin had it not been for my professor—who also had us attempt to read early treatises in Latin!


    A nice explanation in an unknown area for me, thank you for that. And a very nice translation to your quilt, love the background fabric and the detailed circles you made.

  5. For each of your quilts you have a beautiful story or a very interesting research with scientific explanations : thank you to share this !
    I like your black circles with the oil stick rubbings.

  6. carolinehiggs

    Beautifully researched and interpreted, a great take on circles.

  7. This design looks lovely and your explanation behind your interpretation of the theme was so interesting. I just wish you’d given us a little more explanation on how you actually constructed it

    • English quilter

      I would be happy to share how I constructed it. I first quilted the background fabric with a design featuring musical notes. I started with a fat quarter of black fabric with a slight tone on tone design, and used a texture plate with concentric circles und multiple colours of metallic Shiva (Markal) oil sticks, created the fabric for the outer circles. (This had to cure for several days before being heat set and cut.) The music of the spheres was printed on a commercial pre-treated fabric sheet, and the circle of fifths was printed onto fabric I treated with Bubble Jet set. The outer black circles were cut using templates and were appliqued on top of the printed circles, using Invisifil (100 wt thread.)

  8. Love the history behind your piece it certainly is as interesting as your quilt. I see something different every time I look at it.

  9. Susan, music of the spheres was a totally new topic for me and certainly gave real meaning to your quilt which was beautifully executed. Thank you for sharing your techniques. Great use of shiva oil sticks.

  10. What a great research did you do on this theme. I love your rubbing part of the quilt. I am glad you explaned your technique. First I thought you cut the circles from commercial fabric, now I understand you printed them. Beautiful.

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