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Galileo's Letters Inspire a Musical Tribute

May 20, 2006 (All Things Considered)

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The life of Galileo — astronomer, musician, Renaissance man — is the subject of a new musical work.

Composer Glenn McClure created the hour-long oratorio "The Starry Messenger" after reading Galileo's Daughter, a book by science writer Dava Sobel that drew upon Galileo's correspondence with one of his two daughters.

McClure is a teacher as well as a composer. He happened upon the book by accident while looking for some airplane reading. Then he discovered that one of the students in a 10th-grade class he was visiting on Long Island — a student who asked piercing questions — was Sobel's son, Isaac.

And so, in a sense, the planets aligned.

The musical piece that resulted debuts Saturday in Rochester, N.Y., performed by the chamber choir Madrigalia. It conveys a daughter's love, which remained constant even as Galileo's scientific views created political and religious upheaval.

With shimmering cymbals and harmonic changes, the composer represents the sun replacing the Earth as the center of the universe in people's minds... a change that Galileo himself put into motion.

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