Now and again, a composer comes along who transcends the boundaries between different genres of music, and appeals to a widely varying audience. Mike Oldfield is one such artist. From his 1973 debut album, Tubular Bells, which he recorded when he was only 19 years old, to his most recent new (rather than derivative) album, Man on the Rocks, he’s produced an amazing variety of works that are often very different to each other, but all incorporate themes and elements from different genres of music and blend them all into a more or less harmonious whole. In some cases, he’s revisited earlier versions of the music and updated them to reflect his more mature outlook and greater musical experience. The classic example of this, of course, is his “first love”, Tubular Bells. It now exists in multiple versions, some close to the original, some derivative works, greatly expanded and modified to reflect new concepts:
- Tubular Bells – 1973;
- The Orchestral Tubular Bells – 1974;
- Tubular Bells 2003 – a remastered edition of the 1973 album with some newly recorded elements;
- Tubular Bells II – 1992;
- Tubular Bells III – 1998;
- The Millennium Bell – 1999.
In 2008, Mike released ‘Music Of The Spheres‘, an album that not only appealed to his ‘regular’ listeners, but rocketed to the top of the UK classical charts as well. Its various elements reflect many musical themes from Mike’s earlier albums, transcribed for full orchestra and choir, and updated to blend with his more mature and much further developed musicology. (For example, the first piece, ‘Harbinger‘, is clearly derived from the opening sequence of the original ‘Tubular Bells’ album, but in a much more developed, lyrical form.) Mike uses a choir, and invited New Zealand singer Hayley Westenra to handle the solo voice role, which she does with great distinction.
(The term ‘music of the spheres’ refers to the philosophical concept traditionally known as ‘Musica universalis‘. Wikipedia notes that this “regards proportions in the movements of celestial bodies—the Sun, Moon, and planets—as a form of musica (the Medieval Latin term for music). This ‘music’ is not usually thought to be literally audible, but a harmonic, mathematical or religious concept. The idea continued to appeal to thinkers about music until the end of the Renaissance, influencing scholars of many kinds, including humanists.”)
A full, uninterrupted version of ‘Music Of The Spheres’ is not available on YouTube. However, there is a partial performance of the live orchestral debut of the piece in Bilbao, Spain, in 2008, performed by the Basque National Orchestra. Mike Oldfield is (of course!) on classical guitar, and Hayley Westenra also sings in person. The music is interspersed with interview snippets with Mike Oldfield. I’ve chosen to use that today, to give you a flavor of the piece as a whole. You’ll find more tracks on YouTube.
Turn up your volume, and enjoy!
If your pocket runs a little deeper, I recommend buying the expanded ‘live’ edition of the album. It contains not only the studio recording, but also the live Bilbao recording that you hear in the excerpts above. They lend a new and interesting tone to the piece.