Brian Balmages (b. 1975) is a prolific American composer with several new works making their way into the repertoire at all levels, from elementary school bands to professional orchestras. His music has been performed all over the country, including at Carnegie Hall. He wrote his own program note about his 2007 composition Starscapes, to which I’ve added pictures of the constellations that inspired him:
Starscapes is a three-movement work based on various constellations and their Greek mythologies. Orion (The Hunter), the opening movement, is one of the most well-known constellations, visible in the northern sky during the winter in the northern hemisphere. While there are several versions of the Orion myth, typically it is agreed that he became the greatest hunter in the world and had incredible strength and stature. While no consensus exists on the means of his death, it is often suggested that he was killed by the sting of a small scorpion–an ironic death for such a champion. The movement opens with an introduction that paints a picture of a starry night, then portrays the majestic nature of Orion.
The second movement, Draco (The Dragon), depicts the most common myth that Draco inhabited a cave and killed Cadmus‘s attendants after they were asked to find fresh water as an offering to Jupiter. Cadmus went into the cave, discovered the dragon, and killed it with his spear. While there are many translations of Ovid‘s Metamorphoses, a particularly vivid one describes Draco as “the serpent of Mars, a creature with a wonderful golden crest; fire flashed from its eyes, its body was all puffed up from poison, and from its mouth, set with a triple row of teeth, flickered a three-forked tongue.”
The final movement, Pegasus (The Winged Horse), pays tribute to the constellation and famous myth of Pegasus. Pegasus was born as a result of the battle between Perseus and Medusa. After Perseus killed Medusa, drops of blood fell into the sea and mixed with the sea foam. The result was the birth of Pegasus, the brilliant white-winged horse. The movement portrays the galloping of the horse, then takes the listener on a journey through the skies with the magnificent creature.
Follow the links inserted into the text to learn more about anything else there.
The ancient Greeks saw found pictures of many different mythological characters and other things in the stars. For a list of some other constellations, click here.
Brian Balmages’s website, including bio and extensive works list with many recordings.
Brian Balmages profile at James Madison University, his alma mater (class of 1998).
A moving Baltimore Sun piece on a middle school concert in which Balmages was commissioned to write a piece in memory of slain band members.
A middle school band plays a fine performance of Starscapes:
Finally, you don’t want to miss the professional recording of this piece.