Australian composer Brett Dean’s short work Komarov’s Fall was written as part of the Berlin Philharmonic’s “Ad Astra” project: Simon Rattle invited four composers to provide “asteroids” to accompany a performance of Holst’s The Planets.
Opinions on the astrological significance of Asteroid 1836 Komarov appear to be lacking. It was discovered in 1971 and named for Vladimir Mikhaylovich Komarov, who has a significant place in extraterrestrial history if not in metaphysics. He was selected for training on the Soviet space programme in 1960, and became the first cosmonaut to go into space twice. This achievement is overshadowed by his other, more dismal claim to fame: on his second trip in 1967 on board the Soyuz 1 craft, he became the first man to die in space.
As he waited to die in his failing spacecraft, his wife spoke to him by radio, as did the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, Aleksei Kosygin, who told that his country was proud of him. Komarov’s reply was inaudible. Rumours persist that he died cursing the designers of the spacecraft and the flight controllers. The Soyuz mission had been hastily assembled and many corners had been cut. Engineers are said to have reported 200 faults to their superiors, but their concerns were overruled. In the wake of the United States’ disastrous Apollo 1 flight, the Soviet authorities were determined to push ahead in the race to be the first nation on the moon and to provide a conspicuous feat to celebrate the anniversary of Lenin’s birth.
In 1969 the last action of Neil Armstrong before he left the moon’s surface was to leave a memorial on the surface. This commemorates Komarov, Yuri Gagarin (who had died in 1968 not in space but in a plane crash) and the crew of the ill-fated Apollo 1 mission.
Against a background inspired by the sounds of recorded telemetry signals, jagged textures reflect Komarov’s increasingly frantic radio messages to the control centre. A brief lyrical passage at the heart evokes his wife’s farewell, before the frenzy is suddenly cut off and there is only the cold silence of space.