THE CONQUEST OF SPACE op.381 (February 1988)

An orchestral overture work commissioned to celebrate the launch of the European satellite, ASTRA
Published by: Highbridge Music Ltd
Commissioned by: Astra - to celebrate the launching of the European satellite
Instrumentation: 3(III=Picc).3(III=CA),3(III=bcl,cbcl),2,cbn. 6,3,(plus 3off-stage trpts optional),3,1. Timp 1 player(4), 4pc (t-t,tri,cym,sus.cym,bd,glock,metal block,vib,xyl,sd,claves). hp pno/celeste,ondes martenot and orchestra (str. incl. solo violin), SATB chorus(optional), organ(optional).

[Key to Abbreviations]
Note on Lyrics: Lyrics for the (optional) chorus by Howard Blake
Duration: 14:22
First Performance:

Composer's note: The work came about through my recording contract with Sony. Executive Ian Groves suggested to Astra Communications that I could write a huge orchestral piece to accompany the actual launch of the rocket from Nassau to be watched worldwide by satellite links. Directors of Astra came over from Luxembourg to visit me in my studio in 1987 and a work for large orchestra lasting about 15 minutes was agreed upon. When I had completed it a recording was made on 23 July 1988 at Abbey Road with The Sinfonia of London which I conducted, the engineer being  Mike Ross. On the night of the projected launching a lavish dinner took place at The Queen Elizabeth Suite in Westminster with many invited guests, including myself, interviewed on TV by Angela Rippon. Unfortunately a cloud appeared over the launching pad and although many of us stayed into the small hours it eventually became obvious that the launch would not happen that night. The piece, described by orchestrator Larry Ashmore as 'the biggest commercial ever written' was never played. However some four years later it did prove able to stand up as a concert work and was given its first performance in Kenwood with synchronised fireworks!

First concert performance at Kenwood Lakeside on August 1 1992 The Wren Orchestra conducted by Stanley Black.

Sheet Music Available
Full score for hire
Orchestral parts for hire
Recordings Available

The Sinfonia of London conducted by Howard Blake, Abbey Road Studios 23.7.1988

First released on CBS/Sony 1988 as a track on the album 'Granpa'.titled 'The Conquest of Space

Re-released April 2006. Highbridge Music CD 6002 (under license from SME Subsidiary BV) on CD titled 'Granpa'


Press release issued at the time of the Astra satellite launch in 1988:

'The Conquest of Space' was commissioned by ASTRA, Europe's first 16-channel satellite TV station, to celebrate the launch of the Astra satellite. The music evokes the immensity of space, the excitement of the rocket launch and an expression of hope for universal peace.

The composer Howard Blake decided to adopt the formality of sonata form to reflect the global importance of the occasion, but the overture also has an underlying scenario rather in the manner of Tchaikovsky's 'Romeo and Juliet' or Mendelssohn's 'Fingal's Cave'.

The work begins with a great fanfare depicting a space rocket against a dramatic, cosmic sky. The fanfare subsides to a mysterious stillness evoking a silent night full of stars and a rocket launch pad silhouetted against the pale light of dawn. A pulse indicates time passing and the approaching countdown.

The music surges and quickens, as if scientists are assembling and preparing for the launch. The signal to commence is given and the countdown begins with its crescendo of anticipation and excitement. The first theme represents the launch of the rocket ascending at huge velocity. The rocket casts off its various stages and slows, settling into an orbit which gives it a view of Europe and the whole universe. The second theme is a 'song' played on the Ondes Martenot accompanied by three solo strings, cello and contrabass clarinet. Its eery  electronic 'voice' represents a voice from outer space and yet has a feeling if humanity - like the voice of a human child.

 Staccato brass chords suggest beams from the satellite being cast across the countries of Europe one after another. Gradually the whole of Europe is filled with light. The themes change and sweep and intermingle, building together into another great crescendo.

The rocket theme returns in a shortend version, then the song, but this time the full orchestra adopts it like (or actually with) a massed choir joining in an anthem. It builds to a massive finale with a great 'Chorus of the Universe' bringing the work to a thrilling conclusion.


26th March 1994 The Syracuse Symphony, New York Community Foundation Inc., conducted by Peter Rubardt, Cruise Hinds Concert Theatre, Syracuse, NY, USA
1st August 1992 The Wren Orchestra conducted by Stanley Black, Kenwood Lakeside, English Heritage Concert

Related Works

'Astra' op.391 (November 1988)
Music for a TV and cinema advertising film to launch the communications satellite

Related Autobiography Chapters

The Astra satellite goes into orbit with Overture 'The Conquest of Space' (1988)

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