These are the pieces of classical music that NASA sent into space
Bach, Mozart, Stravinsky… it’s a pretty good mix. Find out what earthly creations from the great composers have made it into orbit.
In The Sunday Times, Brian Appleyard interviews three surviving men who have walked on the moon - a club that is looking increasingly exclusive as time goes on. But there are some composers who somehow managed to make it even further…
How do you sum up the musical achievements of the human race into just one record? This was the challenge faced by a committee of scientists and world leaders working on the Voyager space mission in 1977. The resulting ‘Golden Record’ was loaded onto the craft and sent drifting into deep space - a message in a bottle, hoping to reach out to other intelligent life.
The music included on the disc had to bear the burden of the entire history of humanity’s music, so what did they choose and why?
The Timeless Logic of J.S. Bach
Considered by many to be the crowning composer of all time, the music of Bach demonstrates humanity’s appreciation of balance and symmetry. Perhaps unsurprisingly, two pieces of Bach made the cut; the first movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F:
...and the Gavotte En Rondeau from the Partita No. 3 in E major for Violin:
The Rule Breaking of Stravinsky
If the human race only finds beauty in order and logic, then how can you explain the visceral popularity of a composer like Stravinsky? The Sacrificial Dance from The Rite of Spring, tells a very different story from that of Bach; that human beings innovate by bending and breaking rules.
The Raw Emotion of Beethoven
One of the defining characteristics of the human race is our empathy with each other. As well as being one of the most enduring pieces of music in history, the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony bursts with raw human emotion:
The Gymnastic Capabilities of the Human Voice
W.A. Mozart was another dead cert. when choosing the most iconic classical music to represent the human race. The inimitable ‘Queen Of The Night’ Aria from Die Zauberflöte, (sung on the NASA disc by Edda Moser), may well be the first human voice heard by an extraterrestrial.
The Folk Culture of Georgia
Lots of the music on the disc showcases the pinnacle of humanity’s musical achievement, but the committee also wanted to give context and included the Georgian folk song Tchakrulo to show the roots from which our music developed.
The record attempts to give a snapshot of the whole human race, so it includes voice recordings and greetings in 55 different languages. However, the ultimate language which transcends boundaries has always been music, so perhaps that is a good place to start...
“We step out of our solar system into the universe seeking only peace and friendship, to teach if we are called upon, to be taught if we are fortunate.”