Tone Poem Tuesday

Composer Eric Whitacre, whom I have featured several times in this space before, is an always fascinating voice to return to. I had, in fact, forgotten about him until the week before the eclipse, when I looked up classical music selections inspired by space (that were not Holst’s The Planets, which is a work with which I’ve had a strained relationship over the years). Whitacre’s name came up for a piece called Deep Field, which sounded interesting. It turns out that the background of Deep Field is even more interesting.

If you’re up on your Hubble Space Telescope lore, you’ll recognize the title Deep Field as referring to one specific image: the “Hubble eXtreme Deep Field”, and here it is:

Bigger versions are available here. By way of background:

This image, called the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF), combines Hubble observations taken over the past decade of a small patch of sky in the constellation of Fornax. With a total of over two million seconds of exposure time, it is the deepest image of the Universe ever made, combining data from previous images including the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (taken in 2002 and 2003) and Hubble Ultra Deep Field Infrared (2009).

The image covers an area less than a tenth of the width of the full Moon, making it just a 30 millionth of the whole sky. Yet even in this tiny fraction of the sky, the long exposure reveals about 5500 galaxies, some of them so distant that we see them when the Universe was less than 5% of its current age.

The Hubble eXtreme Deep Field image contains several of the most distant objects ever identified.

It’s one of the most awe-inspiring images of our Cosmos ever captured, particularly when you realize that (a) this comprises just the tinies part of what we can see from here, and (b) the Cosmos looks like that in every direction. The vastness of space-time captured here and implied by the strange smallness of this specific infinity is utterly humbling.

The XDF image inspired the making of a film celebrating the years of Hubble’s service to astronomy, and Mr. Whitacre was brought in to score the film. The result is an amazing ethereal work that builds and builds and builds with intensity, before subsiding with the entrance of a choir. The work is open and yet dense, peaceful and yet driving…it’s music that stands alongside our images of the depths of our universe.

Grammy® award-winning American composer Eric Whitacre’s symphonic work Deep Field was inspired by the world’s most famous space observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope which celebrated its 30th year in orbit in 2020, and its greatest discovery – the iconic Deep Field image. The film – Deep Field: The Impossible Magnitude of our Universe – illuminates the score by combining Hubble’s stunning imagery, including never-seen-before galaxy fly-bys, with bespoke animations to create an immersive, unforgettable journey from planet Earth to the furthest edges of our universe.

The film is a first-of-its-kind collaboration between Grammy® award-winning composer & conductor Eric Whitacre, producers Music Productions, scientists and visualizers from the Space Telescope Science Institute and multi award-winning artists 59 Productions. The score and film paint the incredible story of the Hubble Deep Field. Turning its gaze to a tiny and seemingly dark area of space (around one 24-millionth of the sky) for an 11-day long period, the Hubble Space Telescope revealed over 3,000 galaxies that had never previously been seen, each one composed of hundreds of billions of stars.

Here is Deep Field, first performed in concert at the Royal Albert Hall, and then the film with the work alongside it. This is amazing stuff.


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