Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Music of the Sphere-Studiers

In my last post I mentioned William Herschel, well-known in astronomy circles as the discoverer of the planet Uranus. What is probably not as well known, however (I didn't know it until last week), is that Herschel, before he became interested in astronomy, was actually a professional musician and composer, writing a total of 24 symphonies and numerous concertos and other works.

Herschel lived from 1738 to 1822, pretty much the entirety of the Classical period (so-called to distinguish it from the preceding Baroque and the following Romantic periods). Although born in what would become Germany, he moved to England at the age of nineteen where he spent over a dozen years performing and composing music before becoming interested in astronomy. Recordings of his work are very rare; at the moment there are only one or two CDs of his music available online, but I was able to pick one up on Amazon that contained 6 of his symphonies.

Listening to them, I can say that he was quite an accomplished composer. It's always impossible to say with these things, but I think that if he hadn't become interested in astronomy he might have become famous as a composer. His music is definitely of the Classical type, a bit less complex than the Baroque, though it still sounds somewhat Baroque in places (which makes sense since he was writing most of it near the transition from Baroque to Classical). Strangely, it often reminds me in places of Handel, another German-born musician who later immigrated to England. (Given that Handel is probably my favorite composer, I'm just fine with the occasional resemblance.) All in all, Herschel's music (or at least symphonies 2, 8, 12-14, and 17) is quite good, and I would highly recommend it to any lovers of good music out there.

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