Butler University; Carthage College; Illinois State University; Florida State University; Kansas State University; Louisiana State University; Mansfield University; Oklahoma State University; Roosevelt University; St. Charles East High School; "The President's Own" United States Marine Band; University of Arkansas; University of Massachusetts Amherst; University of Minnesota at Twin Cities; University of Nevada, Las Vegas; University of Nevada, Reno; University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire; and the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee.
The first time I saw an alpenglow, I had no idea what it was. It was the late 1980s, and I was a music camp at the base of the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. A few of us got up in the middle of the night so we could hike to a vantage point at the foot of Longs Peak, to watch the sun rise without any trees obstructing our view. Even though we had a few more minutes to go before the sun breached the horizon, when I looked up at the face of Longs Peak, it was glowing intensely with a most beautiful peach-pink color. This enchanting vision lasted only about ten minutes, after which the color faded as the sun rose. Throughout the next thirty years, whenever I returned to the Rocky Mountain National Park, I would occasionally catch this pre-dawn light show in all its glory.
An alpenglow is an optical phenomenon that is visible on high altitude mountains. It happens twice daily, right before the sun rises and right after it sets. The earth’s atmosphere scatters the sun’s light, allowing particular wavelengths of light through and blanketing the mountains in rich hues of peach, pink, red, and purple.
Alpenglow opens with First Light. This movement begins in the pre-dawn hour. The music starts simply and slowly, then grows increasingly animated as the sky lightens and the horizon shimmers with color. The movement explodes in a massive flurry of activity when the blazing sun pulls itself across the horizon. In Arc of the Sun, we follow the sun as it energetically leaps and surges upwards in the sky. The music moves steadily upwards as it keeps pace with the sun’s progress, then crests as the sun reaches its zenith. As the sun bends back down towards the earth, the music follows suit, getting lower in range and slower as the sun nears the horizon. In Radiant Glow, the sun slips under the horizon, giving way to a most radiant alpenglow. As the alpenglow fades and twilight envelops the earth, stars shimmer in the night sky.
Photo of alpenglow in Denali National Park. National Park Service photo, public domain.
Taken by Emily Mesner.