Edward Cowie · Rutherford’s Lights

Release: 2011, UHR

Richard Casey, piano


Edward Cowie - Rutherford's Lights

03. Compounding of Simple Vibrations

23. Plane Wave (in an Isotropic Non-conductor)

Rutherford’s Lights is a cycle of 24 pieces for solo piano, but is arranged into 2 books with 12 pieces each. These pieces attempt a ‘relocation’ of the phenomenon of light and it’s connection with colour. Unlike many of my earlier ‘landscape-inspired’ works, it is the theories of light in their most abstract and mathematical forms that have formed the initial drive for the music. Next, however, I took these theories (together with many of their beautiful and illustrative practical experiments and proofs), and connected them with observations of these properties of light in the natural world.

I made 24 elaborate drawings of each theoretical element of light, which served (as usual) as a kind of bridge between ‘study and practice’ that invariably helps me to compose music. Light is both simple and tremendously complex. Indeed, Preston’s Theory of Light, which I used as a source for my studies, deals with a progression of theories of light from relatively simple phenomena to highly complex ones. Rutherford’s Lights is an epic 75 minute sonic journey that traces the progression from simplicity to complexity (and sometimes back again).

It is music for imaging to… a music that is intended to stimulate listeners in the invention of their own connections with the sense of light and sound. In an ideal setting, each of my 24 drawings should/could be back-projected behind the performer. Although this IS a continuous cycle of pieces, any number of them can be played as smaller ‘suites’; even a single movement during a concert. All tempi are indicative only!

I am deeply indebted to my close friend, the physicist Sir Michael Berry FRS, for his patience and inspiration in helping me to make this music happen, and of course to the pianist Richard Casey, whose support for the project has been unstinting and whose fabulous talent as a musician has also played a huge part.

Rutherford’s Lights was commissioned with the aid of funds provided by the Institute of Physics.

  1. Wave Motion
  2. Relation of Pitch to Colour
  3. Compounding of Simple Vibrations
  4. Measure the Intensity of Light
  5. Measure of Curvature
  6. Reflection of Any Wave on Any Surface
  7. The Principal of Least Time
  8. The Energy Equation
  9. Minimum Deviation 1
  10. Limit to the Number of Fringes
  11. Multiple Reflections
  12. Rings with a White Centre
  13. The Colour of Skylight
  14. Foucault’s Prism
  15. Wollaston’s Prism
  16. Plane Polarisation
  17. Elliptical Polarisation
  18. Natural Light
  19. General Expression for the Deviation
  20. Minimum Deviation 2
  21. Dispersion
  22. Radiation of Electromagnetic Waves
  23. Plane Wave (in an Isotropic Non-conductor)
  24. Particular Solution