Inventors in the age of the Enlightenment created lifelike androids capable of playing music on real instruments. Music and the Forms of Life examines the link between such simulated life and music, which began in the era's scientific literature and extended into a series of famous musical works by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Music invented auditory metaphors for the scientific elements of life (drive, pulse, sensibility, irritability, even metabolism), investigated the affinities and antagonisms between life and mechanism, and explored questions of whether and how mechanisms can come to life.
The resulting changes in the conceptions of both life and music had wide cultural resonance at the time, and those concepts continued to evolve long after. A critical part of that evolution was a nineteenth-century shift in focus from moving androids to the projection of life in motion, culminating in the invention of cinema. Weaving together cultural and musical practices, Lawrence Kramer traces these developments through a collection of case studies ranging from classical symphonies to modernist projections of waltzing specters by Mahler and Ravel to a novel linking Bach's Goldberg Variations to the genetic code.