Astronomer Martin Rees on Mendelssohn, Strauss and Outer Space
Sunday, December 04, 2011
One of the foremost astronomers, Martin Rees is known for his pioneering work on the beginnings of the universe and for trying to decipher whether there really is life in outer space. He serves as the Astronomer Royal, the personal astronomer to the Queen of England, a position only 15 astronomers have held since 1675.
In this interview with host Gilbert Kaplan, Rees reveals:
• He gave up his piano studies after encountering Chopin’s “Military” Polonaise: “Got stuck after the first few bars."
• He especially appreciates choral music.
• He does not appreciate performances on period instruments but prefers modern instruments and music that uses “the power of those instruments to the full.”
• His music selections include “Octet for Strings” which Mendelssohn wrote when he was barely 16-years-old, and at the other extreme, Strauss’ “Four Last Songs” composed when he was already 84. Other composers include Elgar and Faure.
• His musical fantasy: to be a composer because they are “judged posthumously by their best work, whereas performers are often judged by their latest performances.” His second fantasy would be to become a conductor.
Felix Mendelssohn: Octet for Strings in E flat major, Op. 20. Scherzo. Emerson String Quartet. DG B0003888.
Frederic Chopin: Polonaise No. 3 in A “Military.” Arthur Rubinstein. RCA 9026-63048-2.
Stephen Paulus: “Hymn to the Eternal Flame.” Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge. Stephen Layton. Hyperion CDA67832.
Gabriel Fauré: Requiem “In Paradisum.” New Philharmonia Orchestra. Choir of King’s College, Cambridge. Sir David Willcocks. John Wells, organ. EMI 3 79989 2.
Edward Elgar: Sea Pictures, Op. 37 “Sabbath Morning at Sea” [Excerpt]. London Philharmonic Orchestra. Vernon Handley. Janet Baker, contralto. LPO 0046.
Vangelis: Chariots of Fire. Polygram 800 020-2.
Richard Strauss: Four Last Songs “Beim Schlafengehn”. Houston Symphony Orchestra. Christoph Eschenbach. Renée Fleming, soprano. RCA 9026-68539-2.