The Primeval Atom

Violin, Trombone, Percussion, iPad
Completed: 3/5/12; Premiered: 4/1/12
Unpublished – Contact the composer


It is always risky to try to portray someone else’s life in music; doubly so if that someone else is responsible for a theory of the universe that the composer probably doesn’t completely understand! Nevertheless…

This composition is dedicated to Georges Lemaître, the father of the Big Bang Theory (the actual theory, not the sitcom). The piece is divided into three movements, each of which has two or three sections.

Movement I: “Youth”

This movement begins with quotes from Gregorian chant, meant to reflect Lemaître’s Jesuit upbringing, and ends with musical reflections on his artillery service in the Belgian Army during World War I. The chant chosen for quotation is the Dies Irae, representing the Day of Wrath. This seemed like an appropriate way to begin a piece that will close with The Big Bang.

Movement II: “Studies”

Lemaître studied physics and math, receiving his doctorate in 1920. He was ordained a priest three years later, then went on to post-doctoral studies in cosmology. The music attempts to reference each of these areas of study, sometimes subtly and sometimes with tongue firmly in cheek.

Movement III: “The Big Bang”

This movement is meant to represent the theory for which Lemaître is remembered. It begins with a section that has no fixed meter or rhythms, representing the period before the Big Bang, when “time didn’t exist as we know it.” This is followed by the Bang itself, a rather brief but monumental experience leading to the long expansion, estimated by some to be at 13.7 billion years and counting. Fortunately, the music does not attempt a literal representation of this timeline! Instead, the various themes from throughout the composition are brought back and combined to represent the totality of the universe.