There’s something ethereal about music that speaks to humanity. Music expresses emotion sonically without the need for language or text. Music doesn’t even need to be understood to be enjoyed.
Hearing the words ‘music’ and ‘universe’ in the one sentence brings many things to mind – from the Ancient Greeks to space travel, or maybe the sound of Holst’sThe PlanetsorBartok’sMikrokosmos. Space can be perceived in music, either in terms of physics and acoustics or on a more abstract level within our imagination. The universe holds a special place; a source of wonder and mystery, it can be admired and contemplated and it’s up to us how deep we want to delve. The same can be said of music.
The connection between music and outer space was already observed in Ancient Greece and frequently discussed by the likes of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates. The mathematician Pythagoras suggested that celestial bodies emit a unique humming sound based on their orbital revolution, known asmusica universalisor Music of the spheres.
Sir William Herschelwas a German-born English composer and astronomer from the 18th century. Although better known for his work as an astronomer, Herschel led a short but successful music career, with an astonishing 18 symphonies to his name, as well as concertos for oboe and viola. Using a telescope in 1781 he found the planet Uranus, the first planet to be discovered since antiquity. .
Holstwas an innovative English composer, most famous for his orchestral work,The Planets. He was a modest and introverted character and spent the majority of his career as an educator as well as a composer, holding many teaching positions in various schools throughout his life. The use of bitonality and dissonance inThe Planetscreates a unique and individual element to the work. It gained immediate attention and most of his continuing fame rests on this striking work.
In our solar system, there is a minor planet named afterHildegard of Bingen, the German Benedictine abbess, composer, writer, scientist and philosopher of theMedievalperiod. The minor planet 898 Hildegard, which orbits the sun, was discovered on 3 August 1918.
On 12 April 1961 a melody was whistled in space for the first time. Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first ever human in space, whistled the patriotic song"The Motherland Hears, The Motherland Knows"by fellow-SovietDmitri Shostakovich, on board the Vostok 3KA-3 (Vostok1).
The Voyager Interstellar Record is a compendium of human achievement which was recorded on a gold-coated phonograph and sent into space on the Voyager in 1977. It is currently floating through space at least 11.6 billion miles away from Earth. In his book,The Murmurs of Earth(1978), the astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan refers to the curation of this artefact – what was chosen and why. Sagan declares that the decision to include the music ofJohann Sebastian Bachwas a case of unashamed showing off. The full playlist consists of tracks of music by Bach,Mozart,Beethovenand many popular and non-Western numbers.