Symphony in C: A Carbon Symphony Debuts

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra is creating a debut recording of composer David Earl’s Symphony in C: A Carbon Symphony to be available on Spotify and other music streaming platforms in December 2019. Earl completed the symphony in March 2019 after being inspired by an early manuscript for Robert Hazen’s book, Symphony in C: Carbon and the Evolution of (Almost) Everything. The book and symphony celebrate carbon with movements inspired by four classic elements of Greek mythology – earth, air, fire, and water.

Debut Recording of “Symphony in C: A Carbon Symphony” by David Earl

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra is bringing composer David Earl’s 2019 creation, Symphony in C: A Carbon Symphony, to musical life for the very first time. Following live recording sessions on 24-25 October 2019 in Glasgow Scotland (which will host the UN Climate Change Summit in November 2020), a recorded version will be available to the public in December.  Earl completed the symphony in March 2019 after being inspired in 2018 by the manuscript for Robert Hazen’s book, Symphony in C: Carbon and the Evolution of (Almost) Everything. In the book, published in May 2019, Hazen framed the complex and integral role of elemental carbon in life and on Earth as a symphony with movements inspired by four classic elements of Greek mythology – earth, air, fire, and water. 

Symphony in C score

Audio clips from Symphony in C: A Carbon Symphony
 

"Earth"

"Water"

RSNO brass

Music Inspired by Science

Both David Earl and Bob Hazen (Carnegie Institution for Science, USA) appreciate the intermingling of art, music, nature, and science. Earl, who is also a concert pianist and master instructor, is originally from South Africa and loves the outdoors, rocks, and landscapes. He finds the cosmos fascinating and sees science as a springboard. Hazen, although primarily a scientist, writer, and educator, was also a professional trumpet player for more than 40 years and can view and communicate science with the sensibilities of a musician. Earl became aware of Hazen’s manuscript and pending book through a mutual friend in Cambridge, United Kingdom.

In 2019, Hazen and Earl began to explore options for the new symphony to be performed and recorded. Both became excited when Earl identified an opportunity with the renowned Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) with its rich 128-year history. A partnership among Earl, Hazen, the Deep Carbon Observatory, and RSNO has since led to the debut of Symphony in C: A Carbon Symphony. The RSNO recording is currently being edited and is scheduled for release in December 2019. It will be published and available on Spotify and other music streaming platforms. 

According to Earl, “The Carbon Symphony recording sessions went extremely well and I am delighted at the outcome. It was certainly a thrilling experience sitting in on the RSNO sessions, and I was lucky to have a fine young conductor, Ben Gernon, at the helm.” 

Ben Gernon
Ben Gernon conducts the RSNO's performance of Symphony in C: A Carbon Symphony. Credit: RSNO

In addition to providing an overarching theme, the critical and ongoing role of carbon also inspired the symphony's central motif, "C-A-D-B" (where "D" is often represented as "Re" in the musical scale). That catchy C-A-D-B note pattern occurs in many guises throughout the work. 

The opening movement, "Carbon, the element of Earth" is in classical sonata form. It begins fortissimo and "poco allegro, molto agitato"— a reference to the Big Bang origins of the first carbon atoms. The movement explores the CADB motif at many tempos and many registers throughout the orchestra, symbolic of the diversity of the many forms of carbon in Earth.

The second movement represents "Carbon, the element of Air." It begins pianissimo and agitated, but transforms into a lyrical andante cantabile—an aria-like meditation.

The third movement Scherzo explores "Carbon, the element of Fire," appropriately marked "Allegro con fuoco." The richly orchestrated movement evokes the many practical uses of carbon, from energy and fuels, to myriad materials in our daily lives.

The fourth and final movement is "Carbon and the element of Water." The "adagio misterioso" introduction represents the ancient world before life's emergence. Faster tempi and variations evoke life's dramatic evolution, ultimately leading to a final heart-pounding finale.

David Earl Recording
David Earl looks on during the recording session. Credit: RSNO

The RSNO recording will contribute to finale activities for the 2019 “Year of Carbon,” as designated by the Geological Society of London, and will inspire the next phase of carbon research following DCO’s decade of discovery. On the same days (24-25 October) that RSNO musicians were giving skilled artistic expression to Earl’s carbon symphony, at the heart of the UK’s first UNESCO Creative City of Music that is Glasgow, nearly 300 international scientists were discussing deep carbon science on the other side of the Atlantic in Washington, DC at the international conference, Deep Carbon 2019: Launching the Next Decade of Deep Carbon Science.

RSNO team
Matthew Bennett (Producer), Hedd Mofett-Jones (Sound Engineer), Ben Gernon (Conductor) and David Earl (Composer). Credit: RSNO

 


 

RSNO logoAll images courtesy of the RSNO.

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