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Nature has inspired humanity for as long as stars have shone in the night sky and the orbit of the earth has caused the seasons. Long before Linnaeus assigned official names and categories to all the living things, many other people gave organisms names and wondered about their relatedness. Millennia before we understood the structure and implications of DNA or first saw our own planet from space, people pondered the vastness of a universe they could only imagine and the complexity of life they undoubtedly knew they could only begin to grasp.
Although nature can be daunting, erratic, and bogglingly complex to analyze, this same recondite, awesome nature has inspired portrayals in many forms of art. One of those, written by Goethe, would enable Siegmund von Hausegger a century later to complete this symphony harnessing the power of the imagination to envision and to escape.
Like Richard Strauss’s large and lofty Alpine Symphony, this work employs a gigantic orchestra with piccolo, French and English horns, two harps, pipe organ, and chorus in order to paint a vast musical picture of nature’s incomprehensible grandeur. When there’s a need to present cosmic, metaphysical, and teleological discourse, and you hear an example that’s written like this one, it’s hard to believe any artistic movement could possibly express it better than late German romanticism.
Siegmund von Hausegger tells us, “my composing was not controlled by a purely musical incentive, but rather almost always by a poetic idea, an impression of nature, or a human experience.”
The first recording of the Nature Symphony was made only in late 2005-early 2006, and it troubles me to believe the world somehow went on for nearly a century without this music available. You just may feel like that after hearing what I already have and can merely attempt to describe. But once you do, let me warn you: next comes the frustration and vanity of trying to describe such an experience to others.
The Nature Symphony is available in SACD sound on CPO 777 237. It has never been performed in the United States, and the recording sessions would represent the first performances since before World War 2–that is, since the composer himself was still alive.
Once you too have encountered this titanic expression of experience, transcendence, and knowledge all brought into one ecstatic celebration of life, you may believe the best tribute to this combination of Goethe, von Hausegger, and the creative work of conductor Ari Rasilainen and company comes from astronomer Maria Mitchell:
We especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but it is somewhat beauty and poetry. There will come with the greater love of science greater love to one another. Living more nearly to Nature is living farther from the world and from its follies, but nearer to the world’s people; it is to be of them, with them, and for them, and especially for their improvement. We cannot see how impartially Nature gives of her riches to all, without loving all, and helping all; and if we cannot learn through Nature’s laws the certainty of spiritual truths, we can at least learn to promote spiritual growth while we are together, and live in a trusting hope of a greater growth in the future.
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