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Musical Explorations of the Messier Catalogue of Star Clusters and Nebulae

8 Feb 2014, 15:23 UTC
Musical Explorations of the Messier Catalogue of Star Clusters and Nebulae
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I have always been a musician with a passion for astronomy, and this sense of connection to stars, nebulae, and distant galaxies has often sparked my musical compositions. One of my most important works immediately following my 1979 graduation from Juilliard was a piece for brass quintet, Starry Messenger, that was inspired by Galileo’s Nuncius Siderus. Years later, my Ph.D. dissertation consisted, in part, of an orchestral symphony entitled Terrestrial, Celestial. I went on to compose Alpha Centuri (for harpsichord and chamber ensemble) and a series of choral works on astronomical themes: StarSongs, Guide to the Winter Sky, Celestial Winter, Celestial Spring, and Regarding Eclipses.

In the late 1990s, I became captivated by the Hubble Space Telescope’s images of Messier Objects. Charles Messier (1730-1817) was a French astronomer who compiled a list, or “catalogue,” of approximately 110 diffuse objects in the night sky, objects which in Messier’s day were often confused for comets but are now recognized to be star clusters, nebulae, immense star “clouds,” and remote galaxies. His catalogue is still in common use today.

The Hubble Space Telescope’s exquisite renderings of Messier Objects revealed vistas of extraordinary color and beauty along with ...

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