Monday, December 13, 2010

12/13 Beethoven in Outer Space

(Rarest Beethoven record ever.)
In 1977, two Voyager space probes were launched into the greater universe, and with each of them was a "Golden Record", basically a message to aliens attempting to prove that we're intelligent (and worthy of gifts).  It includes everything from chemical formulas to Ancient Sumerian greetings to a message from Jimmy Carter.  It also includes 90 minutes of music including "Johnny B Goode", mariachi music, Pygmy girls' initiation songs and of course, Beethoven. In fact the final track on this "Earth's Greatest Hits" is from Beethoven's String Quartet Opus 130, the "Cavatina" movement. This is the piece that Beethoven said caused tears to well up in his eyes just thinking about it. For the next 40,000 years (or so) this record will be Beethoven's "das lied von der erde" (that's of course a reference to Gustav Mahler's "Song of the Earth").

I've tried analyzing it a couple times and I was originally going to post some annotations but - this is one time where analysis seems to be missing the point. I'll just summarize by saying that I think it's basically in A,A1,B,A2 form and that the sections kind of meld together, so it's very difficult to divide the measures up into "sections". The B section is the "up" part and picks up some energy before reverting back to cosmic profundity...

String Quartet 13 in Bb, Op.130 (1826) Movement V: Cavatina: Adagio molto espressivo
The Guarneri Quartet

Music on Voyager's Golden Record - TRACKLIST.

If you want to hear the actual music on this Golden Oldie go HERE and click on the spacecraft, then the small Gold record, then the big Gold Record, then the circle-thingy on the upper left (I'm assuming that's a design for a space turntable).

Go HERE to see an interactive Flash presentation about Voyager's Golden Record.
Voyager main page with loads of interesting info.
Video Collage by bloconovo:

Was Beethoven an alien?  ;)


  1. Thanks for posting this , Ed. I remember when the Voyagers were launched with this "golden record"---and I knew there was music of Beethoven on it, but assumed then that it was the 5th Symphony (1st mvmt). I wonder who decided to use the Cavatina? A high level of sensitivity, whoever it was.

  2. Actually the 5th is on it too, somewhere in the middle. I just listened to the whole thing yesterday and boy, it really misrepresents what our music sounds like today - maybe that's a good thing ;)

    I believe Carl Sagan led a group which decided the tracklist.