Tone Poem Tuesday

In light of the stunning images being released today by NASA from the James Webb Space Telescope, I decided to look for “classical music inspired by space”, in hopes of finding a work that might evoke the cosmic sense of wonder that the Webb Telescope’s preliminary work is inspiring.

The search results took a bit of work to get though: nearly everybody who writes on the topic recommends Holst’s The Planets, which is fine but not so much inspired by space as by astrology. Many articles cite Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, which is indeed a great work that I’m sure I’ll feature eventually! But it’s not actually about space. Strauss’s inspiration was the philosophy writings af Friedrich Nietzsche, and the “space” association came many years later when Stanley Kubrick used Strauss’s work to great effect in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I did find several pieces that fit the bill, though, and this is one of them. It is the Sunrise Mass, bu Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo (born 1978). The work is a setting of the traditional Mass–the text is Latin–but with a somewhat stellar inspiration. The work has that cathedral-like feel in its sonorities that makes me think of, well, the universe.

The composer has written:

The reason I used English titles for each movement in this setting of the Latin Mass has to do with the initial idea behind Sunrise Mass. I wanted the musical journey of the work to evolve from transparent and spacey to something earthy and warm; from nebulous and pristine, though more emotional landscapes, to ultimately solid groundedness–as a metaphor for human development from child to adult, or as a spiritual journey.

The piece is also inspired by several movies and film scores from the past few years that I love dearly.

The work consists of four movements:

The Spheres
The City
Identity and the Ground

I listened to the piece twice today–once during lunch and again while doing some admin work–and it captivated me greatly. Gjeilo’s work is melodic without being cloyingly so, and his choral writing is top notch; his harmonies are easily parsed and the entire choir sings with balance and a huge sound. The work teems with the kind of sepulchral wonder that I hope we all feel when confronted with the infinite amazements of our universe.

In short, I loved this piece and I hope you will too. Here is Sunrise Mass.

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