Our Sun in the Music of Haydn, Debussy, Hartke and Respighi
Our Sun’s power—over our very being and in our imaginations—has historically come more from what we didn’t know and were willing to speculate. At a distance of ninety-three million miles from Earth it gives us life, warming us in its light and charring us in its heat. If knowledge is really power, why has increasing knowledge about the Sun left us feeling less powerful? The closer we get—in optics or in flight—the more we wonder, worship, and sigh.
In choosing to contemplate the Sun in our Winter Festival Forum and Concert, whether in music, poetry, or nature, we increasingly come full circle—not just in a single day, or throughout the life cycle—but in making us one with the rest of humanity, who in various centuries wondered, worshiped, and sighed even as we do today.
Haydn String Quartet in B–flat major, Hob. III:78, “Sunrise”
Debussy La Mer (arr. for Piano Four Hands)
Hartke The King of the Sun: Tableaux for Piano Quartet
Respighi Il Tramonto (The Sunset), for Voice and String Quartet
The best introduction to our Musical Helios concert will be in the free forum at 1:30 pm in Kresge Auditorium. Leon Golub, a senior astrophysicist from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, will be joined by MIT’s climate scientist Kerry Emanuel to speak about the Sun as we now know it, and its effect on the Earth and storms like those depicted in Debussy’s La Mer. Michael Scott Cuthbert, MIT’s medievalist and musicologist, will speak about Stephen Hartke’s The King of the Sun (1988) and how it is based on a poem and music mis-attributed to Flemish composer Johannes Ciconia (c. 1370–1412) and related to paintings by 17th-century Dutchman Jan Steen as well as 20th-century Catalan Joan Miró.
Le Ray au Soleyl
Le ray au soleyl qui dret som karmeyne
En soy bracant la douce tortorelle
Laquel compagnon onques renovelle
A bon droyt sembla que en toy perfect reyne
The ray of sunlight, in whose true enchantment
sleeps the sweet turtledove–in his embrace–
ever rejuvenating that beloved one;
faithfully makes his appearance in your kingdom
After the sun has risen and played on the waves in Debussy, and Hartke has whimsically played on the meaning of ‘Ray’ of sunlight to ‘Rey’, or King, our program concludes with the sigh of grief at the loss of love and life captured so vividly in the 1816 poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley and set in translation for voice and string quartet by Respighi one hundred years later.