Monday, November 30, 2015

Advent 1: Messiah mix-up

In a sleep-deprived fog, occasioned by a delayed flight that got me home at 3 am yesterday, I wandered onto Twitter where two chemist friends noted that they never came away from a reading of Messiah without new insights.  My first thought was they were talking about the classic quantum mechanics text by French physicist Albert Messiah.  Actually, not.  Handel's Messiah was the text under discussion.

Evidence I really am a science geek first and foremost.  I used Messiah's text when I took a year long course in quantum physics as a graduate student (from the physics department, have exhausted the chemistry offerings as an undergrad).

The text is still in print, though Albert Messiah died in 2013 at aged 92.  We pronounced his name "mess-ee-uh" rather than "mess-eye-uh."  I wondered today how he might have pronounced his name, and dove into the interwebs to see if I could uncover any clues.  I discovered Messiah had been part of the French Resistance in World War II (joining at age 19, the same age of my youngest son), worked at Princeton with  Niels Bohr and returned to France to teach and write this text.

I also listened to a few minutes of a presentation Messiah gave in 2009 at Le Ecole Polytechnique.  It was oddly moving to hear the voice of someone whose written words I had spent so much time wrestling with almost forty years ago.  And at the end of the presentation, I learned how he pronounced his name.

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