The Hubble telescope, an observer of the univers, orbiting the Earth

On October 13, the OSM directed by Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki invites you to liftoff into space with a concert of galactic proportions. After hearing Messiaen’s Ascension with organist Jean-Willy Kunz, you will find yourself in orbit and circling The Planets by English composer Gustav Holst, a highly imaginative, impactful work that gives each planet its own musical character. A triumphant success from the outset, The Planets has inspired many film music composers and is a brilliant introduction to the classical universe. But space has inspired composers of all eras! Discover a sample of this music, between heaven and earth…

The Pillars of Creation, in the Eagle Nebula, photographed by the Hubble telescope in 2014

Since time immemorial, man has looked upon the heavens with a sense of awe, wonder, imagination, and mystery. It was inevitable that interpretations of outer space would find their way into artistic endeavours, including music. Best known by far of this repertory is, of course, of course Gustav Holst’s seven-movement suite for large orchestra, The Planets. Other composers besides Holst have written a series of planet pieces: Canadians Walter Boudreau (for solo piano) and Denis Gougeon (for various solo instruments), and Americans Richard Burdick (solo horn), and Kyle Gann (instrumental ensemble). Holst skipped Earth, and Pluto hadn’t been discovered yet when he wrote his Planets (1914–-1917), but later composers helped him out with a Pluto movement. In 1997 the American composer Margaret Brouwer wrote Pluto: A Sequel to Holst’s “‘Planets,”’ and three years later the British composer Colin Matthews finished Holst’s cycle with Pluto, the Renewer, composed at the request of Kent Nagano.

With our solar system as a launch pad, we move further into space with compositions like Gloria Coates’ Halley’s Comet, Guillaume Connesson’s Supernova, Joel Gressel’s Meteor Shower, Karl-Birger Blomdahl’s space-travel opera Aniara, Rued Langgaard’s Music of the Spheres, Josef Strauss’s elegant waltz Sphärenklänge (Sounds of the Spheres), André Jolivet’s Cosmogonie, and Gunther Schuller’s Journey to the Stars.

Canadians have been especially prolific in their depictions of heavenly objects and phenomena. In addition to the aforementioned, we have three works each by Alexander Brott (Spheres in Orbit, Astral Vision, and Aurora borealis) and Claude Vivier (the opera Kopernikus, Orion, and O! Kosmos) plus individual works by Jean Coulthard (Image astrale), John Estacio (Solaris), Malcolm Forsyth (Sagittarius), Alexina Louie (Music for Heaven and Earth), Andrew MacDonald (Pleiades), Alex Pauk (Cosmos), Clermont Pépin (Quasars), and R.  Murray Schafer (Scorpius).

We complete our mini-tour of music out of this world with mention of three symphonies of universal interest: Charles Ives’s Universe Symphony (unfinished), Hindemith’s Harmony of the Universe Symphony, and The Universe Symphony by Canadian Steven Gellman.

Here is enough music to keep you at zero gravity for quite a while! Before the concert is webcast on on October 13, many light-years remain to be traveled in the company of these space-inspired compositions!


© Robert Markow and Benjamin Goron