Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

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Composers and space

Thu Oct 18 2018

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“For the same reason we are bound to believe that, as neither the beautiful neither the ugly is universal,” claimed the French composer Hector Berlioz in 1844. “Certain operas, which are every day represented and applauded (on Earth), will be hissed off the stage on Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and Venus.”

Berlioz also believed the deceased Mozart lives on Jupiter, and Beethoven on Saturn. During his lifetime, Beethoven himself speculated what the residents of the solar system would have made of his music.

As our music and science series Bach, the Universe and Everything returns this weekend, we looked at the important astronomical discoveries that occurred during the lives of some of the composers we’re performing this season. Who knows, they might even have influenced their work.

Barbara Strozzi (1619 – 1677)

1616 – Galileo is warned by the Catholic Church not to promote the (correct) idea that the Earth goes around the Sun.
1644 – Strozzi’s First Book of Madrigals is published.
1656 – discovery of the rings of Saturn.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750)

1686 – Newton publishes his theory of universal gravitation.
1705 – Edmund Halley predicts the near-Earth return of a comet in 1758.
1724 – Bach’s St John Passion is first performed.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)

1758 – Halley’s comet returns, as predicted.
1781 – Charles Messier publishes a catalogue of astronomical objects, including the first recordings of galaxies now known to be outside our own Milky Way.
1788 – Mozart writes his Symphony no. 40 in the summer of this year.

 

Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856)

1838 – Friedrich Bessel accurately calculates the distance to a star (other than our Sun) for the first time.
1846 – The most distant planet in our solar system, Neptune, is discovered.
1850 – Schumann writes his last symphony, Symphony no.3 Rhenish.

 

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958)

1910 – Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis premiere’s at the Three Choirs festival. The Tallis theme that Vaughan Williams used was written in 1567, when Galileo was three years old.
1915 – Einstein introduces his General Theory of Relativity, revolutionising our understanding of space and time.
1957 – Sputnik is launched, and becomes the first man-made object in space.

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