Music of the Heavens


“Artists are dreamers, and they are driven by the unknown and the urge to discover. Space is the ultimate exploration.” - Nick Rhodes
Music influenced by the concept of outer space has appeared throughout history, from Pythagoras’s “music of the spheres” to Holst’s “The Planets” to David Bowie and other modern artists. Join Active Minds for a musical journey across the heavens.

Key Lecture Points

  • Artists are captivated by the idea of outer space because it represents the largest possible theme, engenders creativity and imagination, and is a metaphor for the unknown. Authors, filmmakers, painters and musicians all have created works that evoke or describe or imagine outer space. This presentation is heavy on musical examples!
  • The Ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras believed in the “music of the spheres,” correctly realizing that music is rooted in math, as is the solar system, though theorizing about the “music” produced by the movement of planets. This concept was furthered by Kepler and other scholars up through the Renaissance.
  • In classical music, composers like Haydn, Langgaard, and Holst all explored music meant to imagine or represent aspects of outer space. Examples include the opera buffo “Il mondo della luna,” the symphonic work “The Planets,” and the opera “Aniara.”
  • Modern popular musicians, especially those who came of age during the space race, have been even more enamored of the idea of space exploration. Some songs evoke the nature of and myths about certain planets. Some songs use the universe as a metaphor for something huge, unfathomable, and mysterious. Some are more pointed, telling stories about imaginary space travelers. Examples include Russ Garcia, the Beatles, David Bowie, and Queen.
  • The Moon and the stars have been the subject of many a song about romance and destiny, and the Earth often represents being grounded or something expansive. Other artists have directly addressed climate change and environmentalism in songs about our planet. Examples include Frank Sinatra and Coldplay.
  • Some musicians have even used actual sounds recorded in space in their music.

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think so many artists are captivated by outer space? Think of your favorite science fiction novel or movie and consider the vast opportunity for imagination.
  • How are visual artists like painters constrained more than filmmakers, authors, or musicians in creating works about outer space?
  • What elements make for “good” music for a science fiction movie? Or for a musical piece that sounds “space-y”?
  • Why do imaginary stories (novels, films, songs like “Rocketman”) about space travelers intrigue us so much as audiences?
  • Reflect on how the Moon and stars represent fate and love and emotions.