Stephen Hawking Picks the Music (and One Novel) He’d Spend Eternity With: Stream the Playlist Online

Image by NASA, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

In Aspen, Col­orado they hold a music fes­ti­val every year and, in 1995, Stephen Hawking—who joined the cos­mos this week—was there. This is where he first heard Fran­cis Poulenc’s Glo­ria, con­sid­ered by many the composer’s mas­ter­piece.

“You can sit in your office in the physics cen­tre there and hear the music with­out ever buy­ing a tick­et,” he said. “But on this occa­sion I was actu­al­ly in the tent to hear the Glo­ria. It is one of a small num­ber of works I con­sid­er great music.”

In 1992, the physi­cist was a guest on BBC Radio4’s long-run­ning “Desert Island Discs” pro­gram to nar­row down a list of music he’d take to the myth­i­cal island. Except for two pop songs, he chose clas­si­cal works. You can lis­ten to a Spo­ti­fy playlist we’ve made con­tain­ing the works below, or lis­ten to the full inter­view with excerpts of the music here.

“I first became aware of clas­si­cal music when I was 15,” he said in a Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty inter­view. “LPs had recent­ly appeared in Britain. I ripped out the mech­a­nism of our old wind-up gramo­phone and put in a turntable and a three-valve ampli­fi­er. I made a speak­er cab­i­net from an old book case, with a sheet of chip-board on the front. The whole sys­tem looked pret­ty crude, but it didn’t sound too bad.”

“At the time LPs were very expen­sive so I couldn’t afford any of them on a school­boy bud­get. But I bought Stravinsky’s Sym­pho­ny Of Psalms because it was on sale as a 10” LP, which were being phased out. The record was rather scratched, but I fell in love with the third move­ment, which makes up more than half the sym­pho­ny.” How­ev­er, on the BBC broad­cast, he says the first record he bought was Brahms’ Vio­lin Con­cer­to in D Major, and he made that one of his Island selec­tions.

The whole broad­cast is worth lis­ten­ing to for Hawking’s very per­son­al con­nec­tions to all his choic­es, from Wag­n­er to the Bea­t­les to his all-time favorite, Mozart’s Requiem. Final­ly the show also asks for Hawking’s favorite book—George Eliot’s Mid­dle­march—and a Lux­u­ry Choice, for which he choos­es creme brulee.

His two main plea­sures in life, he said, are physics and music.

But his final choice is the most poignant and sums up a life well lived, espe­cial­ly since doc­tors told him he had two years left…in 1963. He proved them wrong, and then some. As Edith Piaf sings, “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Lighter Side of Stephen Hawk­ing: The Physi­cist Cracks Jokes and a Smile with John Oliv­er

The Big Ideas of Stephen Hawk­ing Explained with Sim­ple Ani­ma­tion
Stephen Hawking’s Lec­tures on Black Holes Now Ful­ly Ani­mat­ed with Chalk­board Illus­tra­tions

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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