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7 of the Best Symphonies and Orchestral Works for Stargazing

July 3, 2024

7 of the Best Symphonies and Orchestral Works for Stargazing

There’s something undeniably magical about gazing up at a star-studded night sky and feeling like a tiny speck amidst the wonders of the universe. Classical music, with its ability to evoke deep emotions and paint vivid pictures through sound, can be the perfect accompaniment for a night of stargazing. Here are a few symphonies and orchestral works that are guaranteed to transport you to the cosmos:

Image of the Milky Way with Colorado Symphony's Mozart & Now badge overlay

Symphony No. 41 in C Major (Jupiter) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

This beloved symphony by Mozart is aptly nicknamed Jupiter for its grandeur and majesty. The symphony is in four movements, each with its own distinct character and rhythm. The opening movement is bold and celebratory, mirroring the sense of awe one feels beneath a sprawling night sky. The following movements offer a beautiful balance of peaceful serenity and playful, bouncing energy, much like the twinkling of distant stars.

Image of night sky with silhouetted trees overplayed with a patch for Holst's The Planets with the Colorado Symphony

The Planets by Gustav Holst

This iconic suite by Holst takes listeners on a guided tour of our solar system through classical music. Each distinct movement is dedicated to a specific planet and its corresponding Roman deity. From the ominous power of “Mars, the Bringer of War” to the ethereal beauty of “Venus, the Bringer of Peace,” Holst masterfully captures the unique character of each celestial body. The Planets is known for its colorful orchestration and use of unusual instruments, like the celesta and the gong.

Starry night sky with silhouetted trees overplayed with a badge for Dvorak's New World Symphony with the Colorado Symphony

Symphony No. 9 in E minor (From the New World) by Antonín Dvořák

While not explicitly about space, Dvořák’s New World Symphony evokes a sense of vastness and wonder that mimics the scope and feeling of gazing at a starry night sky. The history of the piece reflects this connection. Dvořák’s 1893 trip to the United States, during which he encountered the wide open spaces of the prairie, inspired him to compose the symphony. Later, astronaut Neil Armstrong took a tape recording of the New World Symphony into space during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. The expansive melodies and delicate string components create a feeling of yearning for something more—much like the human desire to understand our vast universe.

Full moon shines over dark trees. Representing Debussy's "Clair de Lune," one of the best orchestral pieces for stargazing

Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy

Perhaps one of the most well-known pieces of stargazing music, “clair de lune” translates directly to “moonlight” in French. This iconic masterpiece by Debussy is known for its shimmering, dreamlike quality, conjuring impressionistic images of a moonlit sky. The piece features delicate piano work and twinkling arpeggios that work together to create an ethereal soundscape. There’s a reason Clair de Lune has been a fan-favorite for centuries: it’s ideal for quiet contemplation under the stars or slipping into a deep, restful sleep.

Image of Darth Vader from The Empire Strikes Back

The Imperial March (from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back) by John Williams

While this piece may not evoke feelings of calm or peace, it certainly captures the excitement and danger of outer space. The Imperial March, sometimes referred to as “Darth Vader’s Theme” from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, is one of the most recognizable film themes ever composed. Powerful brass and percussion drive the melody and evoke a sense of unwavering power, perfectly capturing the evil Galactic Empire from the beloved film series. If you’re looking for a more relaxed stargazing vibe, try John Williams’ other classics: Star Wars (Main Theme) or Yoda’s Theme.

Image of a moon over the mountains in Colorado, representing Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," one of the best pieces of music for stargazing

Piano Sonata No. 14 by Ludwig van Beethoven

This popular work is often referred to as Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”, but the original composition was actually titled Sonata quasi una fantasia, or “sonata almost a fantasy” in English. The nickname “Moonlight Sonata” is said to come from the German music critic and poet Ludwig Rellstab, who compared Beethoven’s dark and dreamy chords to the image of moonlight reflecting on the surface of a lake. The first movement of the piece, with its quiet, introspective melody, creates a sense of peace and mystery. The later movements build with increasing intensity, like a comet bursting forth across the sky.

Image from the movie Interstellar with music by Hans Zimmer. Picture of Earth and a satellite.

Cornfield Chase (from Interstellar) by Hans Zimmer

Famed film composer Hans Zimmer received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score for his work on Christopher Nolan’s groundbreaking film Interstellar, and rightfully so. Cornfield Chase, the main theme from Interstellar, is a masterclass in juxtaposing tension and release through music. The piece opens with a sense of unease that quickly explodes into a frenzy of sound, mirroring the harrowing journey of the astronaut Cooper (played by Matthew McConaughey in the film). Cornfield Chase is not just a thrilling action sequence; it’s a powerful exploration of fear, determination, and the awe-inspiring mystery of the cosmos.

These are just a few suggestions to get you started. As you explore the vast world of classical and orchestral music, you’re sure to discover countless other pieces that enhance the experience of stargazing. So step outside with some headphones, or head to Red Rocks Amphitheatre to experience the Colorado Symphony under the stars, and let music guide you on a celestial adventure.