Catapulting into Classical

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Antarctica: Its Symphonies

Steam rising from Mount Erebus, Earth's southernmost active volcano, Antarctica.

Steam rising from Mount Erebus, Earth’s southernmost active volcano, Antarctica. Photo credit: Eric Christian/NASA

The continent of Antarctica is an unknown land to most people.  It is one of Earth’s last frontiers.  It is dangerous.  It is unforgiving.  And it is starkly beautiful.

Antarctica has been the source of inspiration for a number of musical compositions. Here, I’d like to highlight two Antarctic symphonies.

Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote the score for the 1948 film Scott of the Antarctic.  He then used this material in the composition of his Sinfonia Antartica (Symphony No 7). Here is the complete symphony.

Peter Maxwell Davies was selected to compose music with an Antarctic theme to mark the 50th anniversary of the Sinfonia Antartica.  After an excursion to Antarctica, Davies wrote his Antarctic Symphony (Symphony No 8).

Davies mentioned how strongly he was affected by the roar of cracking ice and an avalanche that he experienced during the expedition, describing the avalanche as “a whisper and a hiss that paradoxically seemed to be more profoundly quiet than the previous silence.”  You can read Davies’s notes on the Antarctic Symphony in the link.

This video of a calving glacier is not from Antarctica, but it might give you a sense of the wonder and, perhaps, terror, of the sounds that Davies heard, interpreted, and incorporated in his symphony.

And now, here is Davies’s Antarctic Symphony.