When Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei unveiled the first practical telescope in 1609 it changed the way people considered their place in the world. In 2009, the Canadian Baroque chamber orchestra Tafelmusik devised The Galileo Project to mark the 400th anniversary of that invention and explore the musical and cultural context for Galileo's important discoveries.
This semi-staged multimedia show weaves together the music of Galileo's time with images from the Hubble telescope and the narration of writings by important scientific figures including Galileo and Isaac Newton. The show has been seen around the world but, until it finds its way to New York, a new CD and DVD release gives us a chance to experience this unique fusion of arts, science and culture.
The set comes with a 90-minute DVD featuring the fully staged performance but you can just as easily sample the music-only CD soundtrack, which includes rich slices of Vivaldi, Lully, Rameau, Monteverdi, Purcell, Handel and Telemann, along with some of their lesser known contemporaries.
As the set's liner notes discuss, the links between Galileo and music of his era are not purely coincidental. Claudio Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo was published in Venice in 1609, the year that Galileo traveled from Padua to Venice to offer his newly created telescope to the Venetian Dodge. Monteverdi and Galileo became friends (Galileo himself played the lute) and the scientist helped the composer procure a Cremonese violin. Galileo’s nephew, Michelangelo Galilei, composed a lute solo that's featured here along with two rollicking excerpts from Orfeo.
The orchestra also recreates portions of a 1719 Dresden Festival of the Planets. This grand, month-long royal wedding ceremony employed both Handel and Telemann and celebrated each of the known planets -- Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn -- through operas, balls and other events.
The program begins and ends with reflections on the ancient concept of “Music of the Spheres,” notably Bach’s joyous Sinfonia, "How brightly shines the morning star," and Vivaldi's Concerto for Two Violins in A major, Op. 3 no. 5. Get a free download of the latter performance above.
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra
The Galileo Project
Available at Arkivmusic.com