The Devotional Hymns to Darwin that Inspired Dan Brown

If you are one of the millions expecting to either buy, download or receive Dan Brown’s new book “Origin” for a Christmas (or Solstice) present this year, why not listen in on the music that inspired it?

The “Missa Charles Darwin” by Gregory Brown (who happens to be Dan Brown’s brother) is a beautiful work of composition and vocalizing (by the New York Polyphony quartet) that pleases the ear with a sacred tone but delivers a secular twist. Based on the standard five-movement structure of the Latin Mass, the “Missa Charles Darwin” would sound right at home in a cloister or cathedral, but the lines of scripture have been replaced with excerpts from “On The Origin of Species, The Descent of Man,” and other nuggets of correspondence from the pen of Darwin. The libretto, which comes boxed along with the CD, reveals what your science teacher probably tried to tell you. Along with being a world-shaking natural scientist, Darwin was an excellent writer who knew how to craft a sound bite — more than a century before that term came into existence.

The evolutionary link to Dan Brown’s new text — apart from the puzzle of genetics that created two such minds in the same nuclear family — is exhibited in the book “Origin,” where an entire chapter is devoted to Gregory Brown’s composition. It’s expanded in this note from the composer’s website: “At its core, the “Missa Charles Darwin” is the product of centuries of cultural evolution. It is built on the standard five-movement form, its harmonic and musical vocabulary is informed by ‘ancestral’ precedent, and its function — like all musical settings of text — is to augment the expressive power of language.”

This synthesis of the spirit-awakening power of sacred music and the mind-expanding work of the scientific method makes the “Missa” into something new and wondrous to behold. While it’s not a “hopeful monster” (a neo-Darwinian term for the birth of a new species), it’s at least a promising new sprout on the evolutionary tree of art.

The boxed set captures the excitement of the original performances of the “Missa” at the Marine Biological Laboratory in 2011, repackaged to coincide with the release of Dan Brown’s latest book.

Categories: Music & Movies

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