Sunday morning music

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:

  1. Tubular Bells – 1973;
  2. The Orchestral Tubular Bells – 1974;
  3. Tubular Bells 2003 – a remastered edition of the 1973 album with some newly recorded elements;
  4. Tubular Bells II – 1992;
  5. Tubular Bells III – 1998;
  6. 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.



  1. Been a fan of Mike Oldfield since a friend of mine introduced me to Five Miles Out, unfortunately AFTER the tour had hit Philly. Another friend had collected a bunch of his EP releases, which contained music of his not released anywhere else. My greatest regret was losing, through the stupidity of not knowing what I had, the original cut of Platinum, with the track "Sally, I'm just a Gorilla" instead of "I've got music" edited into the continuity with an axe.

  2. Predating Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (recorded 1972 and released 1973) is a highly obscure album from 1969 with his sister Sally who was five years his senior. It was called Children of the Sun. But a year earlier that even that, Sally and Mike were cutting demos together. According to the Sally Oldfield Wiki article, Mick Jagger was present at some of those sessions and may have had some input. Tubular Bells didn’t spring full grown from nowhere as suggested by contemporary sources. Incidentally Tubular Bells was the Virgin Label’s first release and when the 1973 smash hit movie, The Exorcist used a cut from the album, Oldfield was catapulted to fame.

    Nowadays Children of the Sun is being touted “folk” but its roots are in the early pagan/Wiccan/Newage movement. I turned this rare LP in the late ‘70s, which was fortunate because it wasn’t imported much into the US. I had to find it at a record shop that dealt with esoteric European music that wasn’t mainline. Before computers and Amazon, it took a lot of research and having deeply knowledgeable people at music shops if you wanted to find something scarce or half remembered. I haven’t heard the re later Sallyangie Children of the Sun reissue, so I can’t compare the two. As I recall, the original has an impromptu, garage band kind of sound that was not well engineered, but it has been decades since I last heard it.

    I’m surprised that you don’t list Oldfield’s breakout album, Five Miles out, which departs from the Tubular Bells meme. One reason for Oldfield’s popularity is the chromatic textures created by his intensive multitracking, which was in its infancy in the early 70s. I find that the baroque structure of some of his longer pieces gives his works a more classical feeling, most obvious in Ommadawn at the time. But then again I was listening to a lot of Bach at the time as well.

    Anyway thanks for bringing back some old memories of musical exploration in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I enjoy your blog very much and your Sunday music suggestions. CCF

  3. I transferred Tubular Bells from LP to Cassette (I SO miss the '70s) that I could listen to the whole thing w/o flipping the record over.
    Also great for long distance cruising … until you realize you've overshot your exit by 50 miles.

  4. Oldfield is always sort of left out of most "great guitarists" polls, probably because he never made much of an effort to conquer the US after Tubular Bells, focusing all his attention on Europe only.

  5. Heh. I had a professor who would play 'Tubular Bells" on repeat when he was meeting with undergraduates. Yes, because of the movie usage. Yes, he was a little off plumb. Yes, a few of the older undergrads or horror buffs got seriously creeped out.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *