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Tuesday 16 October: 7:30pm - 8:30pm

Fitzwilliam College, Auditorium, Storey’s Way, CB3 0DG

Composers were being inspired by the night sky long before Holst's famous 'Planets' suite, first performed one hundred years ago in 1918. The idea of a ‘Music of the spheres’ dates back to Pythagoras, and has had a long lineage, even as part of formal scientific thinking in the 17th century; notably in Johannes Kepler’s Harmonices Mundi (1619).

One example of music from Kepler's era dealing with the heavens is a set of keyboard suites by Danish baroque composer Dieterich Buxtehude (c.1637/39-1707). These are mentioned by the leading German music writer Johann Mattheson (1681-1764) as a cycle of seven suites depicting the nature of the then-known planets, but these pieces are generally thought to be lost, along with much of the composer’s keyboard music.

There are 19 surviving keyboard suites by Buxtehude, and it is likely that these include some or even all of the music from his lost Planets cycle. A comparison of the music and keys assigned to the planets by Kepler (1619) shows the possibility of a conjectural fit with these suites: Saturn (D minor), Jupiter (G minor), Mars (F major), Earth (G), Venus (E) and Mercury (A minor), e.g. suites 6, 16, 13, 17, 12 and 18; the seventh ‘planet’ of Buxtehude’s cycle may have been the moon.

We therefore present a conjectural reconstruction of Buxtehude's supposedly lost cycle of planet suites, performed on harpsichord by Francis Knights (Fitzwilliam College) and placed in their historical and astronomical context by Dr Simon Mitton (Department of History and Philosophy of Science).

Booking Information

No need to book.


Lift, Hearing loop, Step-free access, Accessible toilet

Additional Information

Age: 12+, Performance, Arrive on time, Free