The Starry Messenger

For orchestra.
3(pic).3(Eh).2.Ebcl(bcl) / / T 3P / hp / piano / strings
Duration approx 10 minutes.
Composed Summer 2001.

The Starry Messenger was commissioned by the Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra as an opener for the 2001 season, which happened to coincide with their 75th anniversary. As a point of interest, the Terre Haute Symphony is the oldest continuously operating orchestra in the state of Indiana, a fact we are rather proud of.

I began the piece with a gesture that had been at the back of my mind for several years; a short, violent explosion of dissonance, which sets into motion a long stream of rapidly flowing pianissimo notes, gradually expanding in pitch range, volume, and textural complexity. I have since wondered if I was subconsciously inspired by the idea of the Big Bang, the creation of the universe in a huge explosion of energy followed by a constant expansion.

It is entirely plausible that I was influenced by the fact that I knew my piece would be sharing the program with Holst’s The Planets, a work I’ve known and loved since I was quite young. Also, since astronomy has always been an interest of mine, it’s easy to understand that inspiration would strike from that direction.

On a purely musical level, the work unfolds as a moto perpetuo, built on a stream of sixteenth notes, broken only during a brief climactic passage near the middle, and at the end as the momentum gradually fades away into the vast infinity of space.

The scientifically literate will recognize The Starry Messenger as the title of one of Galileo’s most important scientific books. Despite the poetic nature of the title, the book itself is rather dry, dealing mainly with Galileo’s improvements to the telescope, and the surprising things he discovered when he trained the new instrument on the heavens, discoveries that paved the way for a completely new understanding of the universe.

My appropriation of Galileo’s title owes itself to an unlikely coincidence. While I was working on the piece, I was also reading a biography of Galileo, which I had received as a Christmas present from my parents. It struck me that The Starry Messenger was far to poetic a title to be used on a seriously scientific work. Something about it, though, seemed to resonate with the orchestral work I was writing, and I decided to borrow it.

In 2006, The Starry Messenger was recorded by the Prague Radio Symphony as part of ERM Media’s series of recordings Masterworks of the New Era. It was released on volume 12 of the series in 2008. The recording below is taken from that release.

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2 Responses to The Starry Messenger

  1. Jill H says:

    I found myself thinking about war when I listened to this piece for whatever that is worth. The beginning startled me but that’s not always a bad thing,it get’s you to focus your attention.

  2. admin says:

    I’m glad you liked it. It’s interesting that it made you think of war; everyone seems to hear something different in it. One person told me it reminded him of an extraterretrial messenger riding a beam of light into the stratosphere, shouting with joy at the wild ride. I liked that.

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