The Music of Cosmos

The Music of CosmosSelections from the score of the PBS television series COSMOS by Carl Sagan

The COSMOS television series premiered in the United States and Japan in 1980, beginning its presentation to an estimated world-wide viewing audience of 150 million people, 3% of the global population. In its portrayal of cosmic evolution, of our deep connections with the universe, COSMOS seems to have struck a responsive chord in many. A persistent theme in the deluge of letters we have received is delight in the music of COSMOS. This record is a response to thousands of requests.

Human music is an expression of our thoughts and our feelings, a combination that is the distinction of our species. We dedicate this record to the musicians of Planet Earth.

— Carl Sagan

In COSMOS the “choice of music and musical sequences is superb” — Gideon Waldrp, Dean, Juilliard School of Music

“The musical content of COSMOS seemed to create a message of its own: almost as though it were the collective intelligence of the universe pleasantly calling our attention to the lessons at hand.” That comment from a self-styled “over-the-road truck driver” expresses, simply and eloquently, our intentions in selecting music for the thirteen hours of the COSMOS television series.

As with the golden phonograph record placed on board the Voyager spacecraft, bearing a sampling of “Earth’s Greatest Hits,” we included a variety of musical traditions and genres. Many hours were spent exploring the music of unfamiliar composers and performers and considering how old favorites would enhance the thoughtful words and rich visuals of the series.

Finding the music for COSMOS was in itself a voyage of discovery. We hope you will share in that experience, enjoy the music of this album, and then sample the original works from which these pieces were excerpted. It was always our intention that, in COSMOS, the images and the music would be as important as the words, and that the series would speak to that part of us in which the heart and mind are one.

Side A:


    1. Heaven and Hell, Part I by Vangelis

      The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was. We ourselves are made of starstuff. We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.

    2. Symphony No. 11 by Dmitri Shostakovich

      Yet the Earth is embedded in fifteen billion years of cosmic time. It is fifteen billion light years to the cosmic horizon. Our planet is a mere speck of matter circling one star in the obscure backwaters of a typical galaxy of four hundred billion suns. The immensities of space and time encompass enormous emptiness, spectacular beauty and, perhaps, many other intelligent beings who wonder as we do.

    3. Alpha by Vangelis

      The process which led to those other intelligences began simply, we think, with the organic molecules that are plentiful in the gas and dust between the stars, molecules also readily formed in early planetary history. Life here, on our little island in the cosmic ocean, is a testament to the possibilities hidden in hydrogen atoms, given fifteen billion years of cosmic evolution.

  2. LIFE (11:26)

    1. Depicting the Cranes in Their Nest Japanese Traditional

      Given worlds enough, and time, what is the likelihood that life is unique to Earth? As yet we know only the thin reedy tune of life on one world. As we prepare for future explorations, we wonder and speculate about other possible voices in the cosmic fugue.

    2. Canon á 3 on a Ground in D by Johann Pachelbel

      This generation has been the first to fathom the workings of DNA, the master molecule at the heart of every cell and every living thing on Earth. DNA, in its encoded library of genetic information and its slight but significant modifications through mutation, is the composer, performer and instrument of all life on Earth.

    3. The Four Seasons (Spring) by Antonio Vivaldi

      To human perceptions, this process of evolution is slow. But over cosmic time, it has worked wonders. The origin and diversification of life on Earth has transformed and beautified the planet, a flourishing to be protected and cherished.

    4. The Sea Named “Solaris” by J.S. Bach—Isao Tomita

      For some species, life has evolved intelligence and some degree of consciousness. That consciousness enables us to reach back in time, contemplate our origins, and appreciate those first steps our ancestors took to chart the heavens—the course that leads to cosmic citizenship.


    1. Partita No. 3 by J.S. Bach

      The same laws of nature determine the fall of an apple on Earth, the flight of an interplanetary spacecraft and the stately dance of galaxies billions of light years distant. The same chemical elements, the same laws of quantum mechanics apply everywhere in the Cosmos. These regularities are described by a mathematics as elegant and precise as a partita for solo violin by J.S. Bach.

Side B:

  1. EXPLORATION (7:25)

    1. Symphony No. 19 by Alan Hovhaness

      We are an exploratory species. The first planet we explored, naturally, was our own…in great sailing ships, metaphors for later expeditions of discovery across the sea of space.

    2. Legacy by Synergy

      In our generation we have encountered phenomena far more exotic than any treasures brought back from distant lands on Earth—black holes, gravitational whirlpools where light is trapped; pulsars spinning thirty times a second, like cosmic lighthouses; dark clouds of gas and dust, sargasso seas of organic matter where stars are born.

    3. Russian Easter Festival Overture by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov

      The first ships to sail the seas of space have been robot emissaries, designed to reconnoiter the nearby planets. But some, like Voyager, will sail on, outwards bound and indestructible in the vacuum of space.

    4. Inside the Heart of the Universe by Toru Takemitsu

      If we do not destroy ourselves, future generations will one day make planetfall on some as yet unimaginably different world—perhaps with a nighttime view of an entire galaxy rising; perhaps with a multi-colored nebula in the sky.

  2. CATACLYSM (6:50)

    1. Fly Night Bird by Roy Buchanan

      From our studies of other planets, we derive a renewed sense of appreciation for the Earth. But through the short-sighted misuse of our technologies, by the stockpiling of nuclear weapons, we risk destroying our civilization.

    2. Beaubourg, Part II by Vangelis

      There is no refuge from change in the Cosmos. The colossal explosions of supernovas, stars that tear themselves to shreds, are both a death throe and a birth pang. The star and any nearby planets are destroyed. But heavy elements are made in the explosion, the building blocks of new worlds and new life. The shrouds of stars—the clouds of gas in a supernova remnant—are the swaddling clothes of further cosmic evolution.

    3. The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky

      The mysteries of the universe are limitless. Only in the last few moments of cosmic time have we begun to learn how to solve them. We have a choice: we can user our new knowledge to send our spacecraft to the planets and the stars in the pursuit of knowledge, or we can use it to end our tenure on this world.

  3. AFFIRMATION (8:27)

    1. Entends-tu les Chiens Aboyer? by Vangelis

      There are a hundred billion galaxies and a billion trillion stars. We witness a Cosmos resplendent with beauty and perhaps rippling with life—an awesome reminder of the power and subtlety of the laws of nature and the triumph of cosmic evolution.

    2. Bulgarian Shepherdess Song Traditional

      These contemplations of the Cosmos stir us—looking outwards to the grandest of mysteries returns us to ourselves. As our understanding deepens, so does our awe.

    3. Heaven and Hell, Part I (Reprise) by Vangelis

      Science is a collective enterprise that binds the generations in an ongoing venture to discover the nature of the universe. We embody the local eyes and ears and thoughts of the Cosmos. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves, but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.

Liner notes by Geoffrey Haines-Stiles and Ann Druyan. Based on the script of COSMOS, the TV series, written by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan and Steven Soter.

RCA ABL1-4003

(I couldn’t tell you how many times I’d pull this one out of the closet and listen to it when I was a kid. In fact, I remember this album more clearly than the actual television show. Just laying back and letting the gorgeous music transport me out into space, exploring distant galaxies…it’s a superbly done album.)

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