Scott Wiessinger is an award-winning multimedia producer for astrophysics, heliophysics, and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Scott received a Masters of Fine Arts in Science and Natural History Filmmaking from Montana State University in 2009 and has been at NASA ever since. His work with Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) imagery has been widely featured in the media and he has pioneered innovative ways of displaying solar footage, including the art installation called Solarium. Much of Scott’s time is spent communicating the complex science of high-energy astrophysics, which includes topics like black holes, supernovas, neutron stars and gravitational waves.
Born: June 11, 1864, Munich, Bavaria
Died: September 8, 1949, Garmisch, Germany
Written: Between February 4, 1895, and August 24, 1896, Munich
Premiered: November 27, 1896, Frankfurt City Orchestra
Approximate duration (this version): 5 minutes
Instrumentation (this version): 2 flutes, oboe, two clarinets, bassoon, 4 French horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, bass drum, crash cymbal, suspended cymbal, triangle, glockenspiel strings
German composer Richard Strauss is known for his huge tone poems: pieces of programmatic music that, in his case, tell a story or elaborate on an extra-musical idea. In Also sprach Zarathustra he expanded the scale of his tone poems. The complete work is around forty minutes, uses a massive orchestra, and pushes various instruments to new levels of difficulty. As a result, the full, original version of this piece is rarely played.
In the 1890s Strauss spent a lot of time reading the works of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). Nietzsche articulated his philosophy extensively in his four-part treatise Also sprach Zarathustra, published in 1883-85. Here Nietzsche speaks through Zarathustra, his version of the Persian prophet Zoroaster, who has been removed to a mountaintop for years to meditate and then returns to share his insights with humanity. Strauss was very attracted to Nietzsche’s philosophy, and used this work to “convey in music an idea of the evolution of the human race from its origin, through the various phases of development, religious as well as scientific, up to Nietzsche’s idea of the Superman.”
Today’s arrangement captures several themes from the full tone poem, including the opening theme, made famous in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. It opens in darkness, with the lowest instruments intoning a low C. Brass instruments represent the sun rising over the horizon in a rising three note motif: C-G-C. This “Nature” or “World Riddle” theme is an evocative introduction to the musical journey that follows.
Music donated by Brian and Gay Landstrom in honor of Darlene Dugan
Born: June 9, 1865, Funen, Denmark
Died: October 3, 1931, in Copenhagen
Written: March 10–April 23, 1903, Athens, Greece
Premiered: World premiere: October 8, 1903, Copenhagen, Danish Royal Orchestra
Approximate duration: 9 minutes
Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings
Carl Nielsen grew up in a large family on the island of Funen in Denmark. His father was an amateur violinist and trumpeter. Carl also played the violin and eventually attended the Copenhagen Conservatory. In 1889 he became a violinist in Copenhagen’s opera orchestra. He started conducting the ensemble part time in 1905 and became its primary conductor in 1908. In 1915 he began teaching music theory and composition at the Copenhagen Conservatory, and was named its director in 1930. He was never able to support himself as a composer full time, but he was so well loved for his works that his death in 1931 was named a day of national mourning. He was not well known as a composer outside of Denmark during his lifetime, but his reputation grew after his death, mainly through his orchestral works, including six symphonies and other thematic pieces.
Like many of his contemporaries, Nielsen grappled with one of the biggest musical debates of his time. Should music be “pure,” unattached to any outside idea or story? Or should music be “programmatic,” that is, music that would paint a picture, tell a story, depict something in nature, or express some other non-musical idea? In general, NIelsen was wary of going too far into the “programmatic” music camp, stating that music should be based on its internal logic and telling its own “story” rather than just narrating someone else’s story. But in the winter of 1903, his wife, a sculptor, received a grant to study ancient art in Athens. They rented rooms overlooking the Aegean sea, and the hot sun of Greece inspired Nielsen to compose his Helios Overture, named for the Greek god of the Sun. He described his new piece to a friend: “Now it is scorchingly hot; Helios burns all day and I am writing away at my new solar system. A long introduction with sunrise and morning song is finished, and I have begun on the allegro…. My overture describes the movement of the sun through the heavens from morning to evening, but it is only called Helios and no explanation is necessary.” Nielsen later added this description to the score, summarizing the overture’s scene: “Stillness and darkness – Then the sun rises to joyous songs of praise – Wanders its golden way – Quietly sinks in the sea.”
The piece opens with hushed low notes, quiet horn calls, and smooth melodic fragments that capture the “stillness and darkness” of the early morning. A horn melody and subsequent trumpet fanfare evoke Helios, riding his golden chariot through the sky. The main body of the overture, with fast and high melodies, portrays the sun in all its glory. The piece ends in the original slow, quiet manner as the sun “quietly sinks in the sea,” leaving only a distant, low hum.
Music donated by James Strickland
Born: February 8, 1932, Flushing, Queens, New York City
Written: Star Wars: A New Hope, 1977
Approximate duration: complete suite: 24 mins; Main Title: 5 minutes; Imperial March: 3 minutes
Instrumentation (complete suite): 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, bass tuba, timpani, triangle, snare drum, tambourine, cymbals, suspended cymbal, bass drum, tam‑tam, chimes, glockenspiel, celesta, xylophone, vibraphone, harp, piano, celeste, and strings.
John Williams is the most recognized and decorated composer of music for the movies. He has received 51 Oscar nominations, 24 Grammys, 4 Golden Globes, 7 BAFTAs, and at least 12 honorary doctorates. He has more Oscar nominations than anyone else alive–second only to Walt Disney. His score for the earliest Star Wars film was recognized as the greatest movie score of all time. Over 20 of his albums have achieved gold or platinum status.
Williams was the son of a Jazz drummer and percussionist. Though born in New York City, his family moved to Los Angeles when he was twelve. He studied music and composition in college and joined the Air Force, where he played various instruments, conducted, and arranged music for the U. S. Air Force Band. He then concluded his musical studies at Julliard and Eastman, studying piano and composition and playing jazz piano in many night clubs. After his studies he returned to Los Angeles and worked as an orchestrator for film studios and played piano as a studio musician. He was also the primary conductor of the Boston Pops from 1908-1993.
Williams composed many “concert” works in addition to his film scores, including concertos, song cycles, and other orchestral pieces. He is certainly most known and loved for his cinematic music. His style is very romantic, with expansive themes and colorful orchestration very well suited to Fantasy and Science Fiction films. He follows in the footsteps of late Romantic composers like Richard Wagner with his use of leitmotifs–melodic themes that represent characters such as Princess Leia, Darth Vader, or Jaws.
Born: August 14, 1953
Died: June 22, 2015
Approximate duration (this version): 5 minutes
Instrumentation (this version): 2 flutes, 1 oboe, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 1 bassoon, 4 French horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, field drum, bass drum, suspended cymbal, tambourine, crash cymbal, snare drum, chimes, bells, triangle, piano, strings
James Horner is a celebrated composer and orchestrator of film scores. He is well known for his use of Celtic melodic motifs in his music. His score for Titanic is the best-selling movie soundtrack ever. His music is varied and has wide appeal, in movies ranging from Avatar to A Beautiful Mind to The Karate Kid, and also some of the Star Trek, Zorro, and Spiderman movies.
Horner started playing the violin at an early age. He spent most of his life, including his education, in the Los Angeles area. He was also an avid pilot and owned several small planes. He died in a single airplane crash at the age of 61.
The movie Apollo 13, directed by Ron Howard, tells the story of one of the most watched and suspenseful missions of the U.S. Space program. In this movie, set in 1970, astronauts played by Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton are en route to the moon when an explosion causes a critical system failure. Mission Control aborts the moon landing and the team proceeds with a desperate attempt to bring the crew home safely despite dwindling oxygen and electric power and other perils. This movie is the source of the famous line, “Houston, we have a problem!” It was released in U.S. theaters in 1995 and was nominated for many awards."
Born: June 15, 1843, Bergen, Norway
Died: September 4, 1907, Bergen
Written: May 1874–September 1875
Premiered: Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt premiered in Oslo, Norway, February 24, 1876
Approximate duration: Entire suite: 15 minutes; Morning Mood: 4 minutes
Instrumentation (complete suite): 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, bass tuba, timpani, triangle, cymbals, bass drum, and strings.
In 1874, the playwright Henrik Ibsen invited Edvard Grieg to write incidental music for his poetic satire, Peer Gynt. In this play, Peer, the only son of poor peasants, follows some bad advice from a group of trolls. Instead of staying home to help his widowed mother and marry his girlfriend Solveig, he embarks on a series of reckless adventures, including carrying off brides from weddings, seducing the daughter of a mountain king, and wandering among foreign countries. Throughout his adventures, Peer finds wealth and fame, but he is unhappy. He moves farther away from being a caring person and seeks only to satisfy himself by lying and taking advantage of others. At one point he returned home just in time to see his mother, Aase, die from her worry for Peer, but he immediately departed again. He finally returns as a remorseful old man, welcomed by his first love, Solveig, who has waited for him all these years.
When Ibsen asked Grieg to compose this music, Grieg was well known in his country but not abroad. He was hesitant to accept, feeling that Ibsen’s portrayal of the Norwegian people, represented by Peer, was insulting. He needed the money, though, so he finally agreed to participate in this project, thinking that he could use it as a vehicle to bring Scandinavian—especially Norwegian—musical and literary culture to the attention of the rest of Europe. He succeeded in this endeavor, and this assignment that established Grieg’s fame around the world.
“Morning Mood” portrays the day on which Peer Gynt started his adventure. Grieg captures the calm spirit of dawn, the songs of birds, the rippling water of a stream, and the glory of a majestic sunrise.
Music donated by David Heuvelhorst, in memory of James and Henrietta Heuvelhorst
Born: September 21, 1874. Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England
Died: May 25, 1934. London
Written: Mars, Venus, and Jupiter: 1914; Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune: 1915; Mercury 1916
Premiered: First performance of complete work: November 15, 1920, in London
Approximate duration: 51 mins (complete work); Mars: 6 minutes; Venus: 10 minutes; Jupiter: 7 minutes
Instrumentation (complete work): 2 flutes, piccolo, alto flute), 2 oboes, English horn, bass oboe, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoon, contrabassoon, 6 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tenor tuba, bass tuba, 6 timpani (2 players), triangle, snare drum, tambourine, cymbals, bass drum, tam‑tam, chimes, glockenspiel, celesta, xylophone, 2 harps, organ, and strings. Off-stage female chorus
Gustav Holst was born into a very musical family and showed early promise as a concert pianist, organist, and choirmaster. He also played the violin and trombone. After neuritis in his right arm put an end to his solo career, he pursued composition, teaching, and choir directing. Like his friend Ralph Vaughan Williams, Holst sought to infuse his music with English folk music and wrote pieces in a cosmopolitan, accessible style.
Sometime after the turn of the century, Holst became fascinated by astrology. Initially he was reluctant to speak of this, though he admitted that his “pet vice” was reading horoscopes for his friends. Ultimately he transformed this interest into his best-known work, The Planets, written between 1914 and 1917. This large suite of subtly interrelated tone poems, or as Holst preferred, “mood pictures,” depicts the astrological characters of seven planets in our solar system and their influence on human character, though a few mythological and astronomical elements enter in as well.
World War I was on the horizon when Holst wrote Mars, the Bringer of War in August, 1914. Strings begin this strange march in 5/4 meter by tapping their strings with their bow sticks. Brass and percussion soon dominate, sounding brutal and implacable chords over a relentless martial ostinato. After a dissonant climax, the machine pauses desolately for a moment, only to push towards a devastating conclusion. Holst instructed that "Mars" be played as fast and brutally as possible.
A solo horn summons Venus, the Bringer of Peace. In The Principles and Practices of Astrology, Noel Tyl writes that, to astrologers, “when the disorder of Mars is past, Venus restores peace and harmony.” This movement is total contrast: a calm, tranquil reverie, set far from the scene of any conflict. The dominant instrumental colors come from flutes, harps, celeste, and high violins.
The most massive of the Planets is Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity, named for the light‑bringer, the rain‑god, the god of thunderbolts, of the grape and the tasting of the new wine, of oaths, treaties, and contracts. The opening and closing sections were inspired by Edwardian vaudeville, folk songs, and dance halls. In the central section, the strings introduce a stately, British melody evoking a more ceremonial type of rejoicing. Holst later gave this tune words and it became the English patriotic hymn, "I Vow to Thee, My Country."
Karen Jane Henry