A chess playing friend of mine who is also a poet told me recently that while playing chess, new fragments of poetry flow through her mind.

This rang a bell for me, and I experimented today with setting up an internet chess game on one monitor, and adjacent to it a music manuscript window. I found that while the chess was going on, I was able to take dictation in a similar way on to the music file. (This was very bad for the level of chess moves, but they were there merely to oil a mechanism.)

I have no idea how common it is to have this combination of interests (as a search on Composer and Chess brings up chess problem composers). The well known precedent was Philidor whose music is outstanding. Mendelssohn was also keen on chess. But I am unaware of others. Musician chessplayers are of course numerous.

The novel I am reading right now, The Eight by Katherine Neville, has Philidor among the dramatis personae. I have not read enough yet to be able to recommend it. There are one or two technical errors about chess, but it has made me start wondering again about the origin of the game. It is newly reprinted from the eighties as she has just had a sequel published (The Fire).

GM Nigel Davies replies:

It will dismay many to learn that chess and other board games are descended from religious rituals in which delineated space represents the battle ground between our attempts to have good triumph over the dark side. The conflict between forces under our control and those of chaos (the pieces at the other side attempting to wreck our plans) reflects the battle people face in creating order (sanity) within their own minds.

With music you have what is essentially the same battle in the attempt to create harmony in sound which separates it from the chaos of noise. Of course here you don't have the issue of an agent that is actively trying to destroy your attempts but the process is very similar in many respects (abstraction, harmony/pattern etc).

Markets have some similarities in that there one is trying to find moments of order within the chaos of price movement. Here it's even harder because even the definition of what constitutes harmony is constantly changing.


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