âThereâs this exploration of the edges of things,â Gregory Brown said in an interview in Boston. âWhether that edge is science and music, or religious and scientific, or sacred and secular.â
In a telephone interview, Dan Brown said that heâs âalways looking for big themes,â and when he first heard the mass performed in 2011 at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., âit got me thinking about creationism and this sort of battle between science and religion.â
He followed the idea until it became âOrigin,â a thriller â starring his signature protagonist, the Harvard âsymbologistâ Robert Langdon â about a brazen scientist whose discovery about the source of life on Earth and the future of humanity threatens to upend the worldâs religious order.
âMissa Charles Darwinâ appears late in the book, after a wild night for Langdon that begins with a clandestine encounter inside a Richard Serra sculpture and ends at a computing center that holds the key to lifeâs origins. He enters the center and hears Gregoryâs âChristian-style mass,â in which devout voices take their place alongside a celebration of natural selection.
âThis piece of art that fuses science and religion and makes them beautiful â I thought at that point in the novel, it was just this moment when you needed to rest and see that these two can intertwine,â Dan Brown said.
Spirituality and science often did overlap as the Brown brothers grew up. Their father, a math teacher, was an Escher obsessive who told them folk stories about clever mathematicians, and they turned pages for their mother, a church organist who provided Gregoryâs first exposure to sacred music. He, in turn, began college as an aspiring scientist, and traveled to the GalÃ¡pagos Islands, where he was awe-struck by a vermilion flycatcher and Lonesome George, the last known tortoise of his species.
âYou get the sense that it hasnât changed much since Darwin was there,â he said.
Studying geology also gave him a sense of the planetâs long, slow timeline. He ended up with âthis feeling about time and our place on Earth that Iâd never had before,â he said, which works its way into the âCredoâ movement of âMissa Charles Darwin.â
Halfway through college, he had a change of heart and pursued music. He later sang at Westminster Choir College and wrote vocal works that put him in contact with the Grammy-nominated quartet New York Polyphony, which gave the massâs first performance in 2011.
Craig Phillips, the groupâs bass, first had the idea for âMissa Charles Darwinâ and said he was inspired by âjust how beautiful, lyrical and poeticâ the prose is in âOn the Origin of Species.â
Mr. Phillips culled the text from Darwinâs writings. âItâs almost built for a musical setting,â he said. âItâs so lofty and majestic.â
Dan Brown didnât tell his brother that the mass had made its way into âOriginâ until he finished writing the chapter. He said that when he asked Gregory to give it a read â they are often sounding boards for each other â âhe came back sort of wide-eyed.â
Gregory gave his blessing, with a slight correction to how the music was described. Then he realized what kind of exposure this appearance in the novel could provide.
âWithin 24 hours wheels started turning for what this might do,â Dan Brown said. In the end, any money his brother makes from New York Polyphonyâs recently reissued recording of âMissa Charles Darwinâ will be donated to music education programs.
âOriginâ was released on Tuesday, and Gregory Brown said he is bracing for whatever happens.
âWhen youâre a composer, you write a piece and hope it gets one performance,â he said. âWhen it gets two, youâre lucky. But who knows what will come of this?â