90 Minutes Circling the Earth
for orchestra (1998)
2 (picc.).2 (cor).2 (bass cl.).2 (contr.) timp+2 strings
duration: 5’
GRT • 055


CD available
100 Years, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, A Celebration in Music
MSO, Brett Kelly (cond.)
ABC Classics

score available from
Australian Music Centre

program note
90 Minutes is the time it takes for a space shuttle to circle the Earth. This piece is inspired by observations made by astronauts from various countries regarding what the Earth looks like from outer space. Of particular interest to me was the notion of 'sunset' and 'sunrise':

"The sun truly 'comes up like thunder', and it sets just as fast. Each sunrise and sunset lasts only a few seconds. But in that time you see at least eight different bands of color come and go, from a brilliant red to the brightest and deepest blue. And you see sixteen sunrises and sixteen sunsets every day you're in space. No sunrise or sunset is ever the same."
Joseph Allen - USA

I am fascinated by 'alternative' time-frames and music can be an effective vehicle for bending normal 'Earth' time. Consequently, my piece takes about 5 minutes to represent a 90-minute space flight that visually encompasses a full 24-hour 'Earth' day. The piece begins in the Night cycle, floating through the immense blackness and isolation:

"We entered into shadow. Contact with Moscow was gone. Japan floated by beneath us and I could clearly see its cities ablaze with lights. We left Japan behind to face the dark emptiness of the Pacific Ocean. No moon. Only stars, bright and far away. Very slowly, agonizingly, half an hour passed, and with that, dawn on Earth. First, a slim greenish-blue line on the farthest horizon turning within a couple of minutes into a rainbow that hugged the Earth and in turn exploded into a golden Sun. You're out of your mind, I told myself, hanging onto a ship in space, and to your life, and getting ready to admire a sunrise."
Valeri Ryumin - USSR

The sudden event of Dawn ushers in the Day cycle:

"We orbit and float in our space gondola and watch the oceans and islands and green hills of the continents pass by at five miles per second.... the breathtaking speed of the ship is in odd and confusing contrast to the feel of perpetually floating within the spaceship... Are you speeding past oceans and continents, or are you just hovering and watching them move beside you?"
Jospeh Allen - USA

Finally comes Sunset:

"the minutes of the evening twilight are fabulous. The hull of the station is lit by the golden rays of the sun. The daylight part of the Earth with its pink clouds and evening haze above the surface is still visible while our spacecraft is already sailing into the blackness of night."
Vladimir Vasyutin - USSR

During the writing of 90 Minutes Circling the Earth (subtitled ‘hymn to freedom’) I became an uncle and the dedication of the work to my new-born niece, Megan, is reflected in the final observation:

"When the history of our galaxy is written...if the planet Earth gets mentioned at all, it won't be because its inhabitants visited their own moon. The first step, like a new-born's first cry, would be automatically assumed. What will be worth recording is what kind of civilisation we Earthlings created and whether or not we ventured out to other parts of the Galaxy. Were we wanderers? Human history so far indicates we are indeed. It's human nature to stretch, to go, to see, to understand. Exploration is not a choice, really, it's an imperative. “
Michael Collins - USA

“As we sat under a setting sun, we were shot into space with Stuart Greenbaum’s ‘90 minutes Circling the Earth: Hymn to Freedom’. Greenbaum’s piece offered tantalising juxtaposition between cinematic strings and pop rock percussion.”
Jenna Schroder, Artshub, February 2023

available on resources page