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Darwin: Into the unknown (working title)

A new work of classical music celebrating the life and work of Charles Darwin is scheduled by British composer Michael Stimpson for 2009.

Written as three separate sections, each for different performers, the individual pieces are planned to illustrate aspects of evolution within their form, melody, harmonies and rhythm as they consider facets of Darwin’s life.

Three separate concert programmes are being developed, with Michael’s composition forming the centrepiece of each. It is planned that each concert will be performed several times during 2009 in different locations. It is also hoped that the three concerts will be performed within a festival to demonstrate how the pieces evolve, resonate and interweave.

The Man Who Walked With Henslow

The first piece, The Man Who Walked With Henslow, is a work for violin and piano exploring Darwin’s early life, placed within a concert programme of works for violin and piano from the same time period (1807-1830).

The first work evolves to a string quartet inspired by Darwin’s sea journeys. This piece, String Quartet No.2 (The Beagle), is set in a concert of works connected to other countries visited on the voyage.

The final development, Transmutations, is a work for a string orchestra exploring Darwin’s later life and beyond, with complementary works by other British composers.

Exceptional Performers

The Philharmonia Orchestra (Strings), The Maggini Quartet, Philippe Graffin (violin) and Elizabeth Burley (piano) are involved in the early stages of the project as it is intended that they will be the première performers of the three individual sections of the work.

Regional involvement

There are plans to première the individual sections in locations relevant to their subject matter – in Shrewsbury (childhood), Plymouth (departure point of the Beagle) and London (maturity). Complementary educational projects, talks and discussions are also being developed.

Further suggestions and involvements concerning the project are welcome. For more information, see Michael Stimpson's website or contact his assistant, Fiona Markey.


‘There is grandeur in this view of life... from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.’ Charles Darwin