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Planets, Outer Space, and Aliens Playlist

November 7, 2013

The space age has inspired many musicians to write music inspired by our efforts to understand our solar system and universe. But people have always looked up to the stars, and so the idea is not very new to classical music. Here’s a short list to start you off.

  1. Fanfare from Also Sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spake Zarathustra, Richard Strauss), soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey
    Classical musicians love to point out that this excerpt had a life before it became identified with the famous space adventure movie. But Strauss intended the fanfare to be cosmic, so it couldn’t have found a more appropriate home.
  2. “Earth” from The Planetarium by Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly.
    Partially improvised, this work is a combination of space music and Stevens’ own spacey vocal stylings. The songs are inspired by the different planets.
  3. “The Asteroid Field” by John Williams, from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
    Only problem with escaping from the evil Empire through an asteroid field? Giant, metal-eating, space worms.
  4. Komarov’s Fall by Brett Dean.
    This piece recounts the tragedy of Russian Cosmonaut Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov, whose spaceship fell to Earth during re-entry in 1967.
  5. “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka by Antonin Dvorak. Anna Netrebko, soprano, Vienna Philharmonic, Gianandrea Noseda, conductor.
    Know the story of The Little Mermaid? Close enough: In this aria, Rusalka asks the moon to tell the human prince that she loves him (because she can’t speak to him.)
  6. “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” from The Planets by Gustav Holst. Royal Scottish National Orchestra, David Lloyd-Jones, conductor.
    Holst only knew about seven planets when he created his famous orchestral suite. And he was mainly concerned with their significance in the Zodiac, which is why Jupiter brings jollity.
  7. “Under Stars” from Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks.
    Brian Eno was a musical explorer who became a pioneer of “ambient music,” which is close to “space music” or New Age music. So he was the logical, go-to guy for a soundtrack to a documentary about the Apollo mission. He describes his inspiration as the “idea of zero-gravity country music.”
  8. “Space Oddity” by David Bowie, on the album Best of David Bowie.
    Bowie collaborated with Eno on several albums, and this is his contribution to the music of the space age. It was in the news recently when Canadian astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield recorded it on the International Space Station.
  9. “Pulsar” by KODO and Isao Tomita, from the album Nasca Fantasy
    Electronics wizard Isao Tomita has been fascinated by all things space age, and this song is based on actual science — dense neutron stars that emit regular radio pulses. The piece begins with a musicalization of a radio wave pulse.

Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.