Astronomers in Music

I’ve long been aware of Garrett Fisher’s opera Stargazer, which presents the confrontation of Galileo and Church authorities. This piece from the production illustrates the composer’s style with voice and instruments. Others are on YouTube, I noticed.

Nicolaus Copernicu, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (Norimbergae, 1543).

Nicolaus Copernicu, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (Norimbergae, 1543).

Four years before he composed his massively popular Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, Henryk Górecki adopted his astronomer-countryman as a theme for his second symphony. Full work here.

Nikolaus Copernicus played his theory very cagily. A sun-centered universe got some ill-inclined notice, but not much. The Church might have been more confrontational with Galileo because the Italian had two things. First, he was more personally confrontational. And two, he had evidence Copernicus didn’t–viewing planets in his telescope. Trust me: people get more angry when you bring the facts that don’t support the status quo.

I have no idea what Górecki’s intention was with this piece. A scientific revolution causes upheaval for both mind and heart. The first movement represents that. In the second, I imagined myself, the listener, transported into space. The music is more reminiscent of the famous third symphony. After a revolution, there comes peace. In a scientific revolution, the final resistance is more the stuff of comedy than anything else I can recall.

Image credit.




About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Astronomers in Music

  1. Liam says:

    A tangent: Of course, our Sun is not the center of the “universe” . . . and we can thank Kepler for (re?)discovering elliptical orbits… [If one were to credit movies of our day, one might think Hypatia figured that out 1200 years earlier before being murdered by contemporary Christian fundamentalists:

    It’s good for people to remember hat the frontiers of European scientific thought were not limited to what is now northern Italy or the Low Countries, but had been spreading widely from Sicily and the Iberian peninsula to places like the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Copernicus lived in an area that had been contested territory between Poland and the Teutonic Knights, and in an era when the former was entering its Golden Age and the latter entering into final decline). I’ve actually heard seemingly educated people scoff that Poland never experienced the Renaissance – where the reality is that Poland was easily one of the best governed places of 16th century Europe. So much of the physical evidence was destroyed in three centuries of later warfare and national dismemberment (from the Deluge of the mid-17th century until our own times)

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