The Listening Service


Rethink music with The Listening Service. Tom Service presents a journey of imagination and insight, exploring how music works


United Kingdom




Rethink music with The Listening Service. Tom Service presents a journey of imagination and insight, exploring how music works




Symphonic Steampunk: Saint-Saëns's Organ Symphony

"I gave everything to it I was able to give. What I have here accomplished, I will never achieve again." So said child prodigy, virtuoso pianist, intellectual, conductor and composer Camille Saint-Saëns about his wildly successful 1873 ‘Organ Symphony’. Famously featured in the 1995 porcine Disney film Babe, it’s still immensely popular today. But where did it come from? What was Saint-Saëns trying to achieve and how influenced was he by his Parisian contemporaries? With organist Anna...


On the March: Pomp, Circumstance and Dam Busters

The musical and military features of the march seem pretty unpromising terrain for composers - you’ve got to constrain your creativity to two-time, easy to remember tunes that keep pace in strict time. And yet the form of the march allows for more creativity than those strictures might suggest. Tom falls in with composers including Elgar, Coates, Sousa, Strauss, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven to discover how the march can beat the drum for many different ideas and emotions. With historian, Prof...


David Lang: The Little Match Girl Passion

Tom Service delves into David Lang's secular take on the Christian Passion: The Little Match Girl Passion. Winning the Pulitzer Prize in 2008, the work, scored for chorus and percussion, and lasting barely more than half an hour, takes inspiration from both Bach's St Matthew Passion and Hans Christian Andersen's famous children's story, The Little Match Girl.


Also Sprach Zarathustra: Strauss’s New Dawn

Made famous by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra which was composed by a young Richard Strauss in 1896 is much more than just two minutes of cosmic fanfare. Based on Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical novel inspired by the ancient Iranian prophet Zoroaster, its nine sections explore everything from passion, science, joy and death, to learning, convalescing, dancing and night wandering… But as a new year dawns how do the drama, power and epic...


Britten's Choral Christmas

Tom Service delves into the music of Benjamin Britten and explores the unusual stories behind some of his best-loved festive works, including St Nicolas and A Ceremony of Carols.


Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune: Half Man, Half Myth, All Debussy

Tom Service plunges into the heady sound world of Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. "The flute of the faun brought new breath to the art of music" according to composer Pierre Boulez - how does Debussy do it? A ten-minute piece of music that apparently broke all the existing rules of harmony and yet is as minutely detailed as any miniature. And what do flautists make of the famous opening solo - we hear from principal flute player with the London Symphony Orchestra, Gareth Davies,...


Kurt Weill and The Threepenny Opera

Tom Service takes a musical dive into the decadent sound world of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's epoque-making The Threepenny Opera.


Steve Reich's Different Trains: Minimalism and Memory

Tom explores Steve Reich’s 1988 work Different Trains, its use of sampling and speech melodies, and its evocation of the Holocaust. Our witness is the author and journalist Jonathan Freedland. Producer: Ruth Thomson


The Hebrides Overture: Mendelssohn's melodious cave

Tom Service explores the story behind the very first orchestral tone poem and one of the best-loved pieces in classical music: Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture. Cave expert Prof Stuart Jeffrey shares his insights into Fingal's cave (which inspired Mendelssohn to write his overture), from its many famous visitors over the years to its extraordinary - and sometimes disconcerting - acoustic.


Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis by Vaughan Williams - musical time travel

Tom Service experiences musical time travel as he listens to "Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis" by Ralph Vaughan Williams, with its magical interplay of ancient and modern. And film music expert Neil Brand examines how this and other classical adagios have been used to great effect in Hollywood blockbusters.


Musical Ecstasy

Tom Service explores musical ecstasy from techno to classical, dissecting 'Ecstasio' by the British composer Thomas Ades and talking to the Dutch composer and DJ Junkie XL


Stormy Weather

Tom Service explores how and why storms and extreme weather events have inspired classical composers from Beethoven to Britten. With meteorologist, space physicist, and double bass player Dr Karen Aplin. Producer: Ruth Thomson


The Enchantment of Chant

The immense power of chant to transform both the listener and the chanter has ensured the survival of this ancient musical form. Starting with the Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, Tom explores how chant has resonated across a thousand years of music, taking in American Hopi and Buddhist chants and the Hildegurls, a 21st century reading of Hildegard's music.



Tom Service waves his magic wand to explore the connections between music and magic, discovering how an 18th century German poet, 19th century French composer, and 20th century cartoon mouse, cast a spell over audiences everywhere in The Sorcerer's Apprentice. With magician, performer, and academic Naomi Paxton on what happens when a trick goes wrong... Producer: Ruth Thomson


TV Themes

Tom Service explores television themes with Oscar-winning composer Anne Dudley, who wrote the music for Poldark, Black Narcissus, and Jeeves and Wooster.


The Music of Sound

Did music begin in ancient cave systems? How did medieval cathedrals inspire musical developments? What effect does a particular concert hall have on the music heard there, or the music on the design of the concert hall? And what can we do with our 21st-century ability to change our acoustic environment at the touch of a button? Tom Service looks at the relationship between music and its surroundings, and how that relationship has developed over the centuries.


What's the point of cadenzas?

Tom Service is joined at the 2022 Hay Festival by the American pianist, writer and self confessed 'classical music nerd of the highest order' Jeremy Denk, to explore cadenzas - virtuosic solo improvisations - with help from Freddie Mercury, John Coltrane and J.S Bach.


Royal Music

Royal music throughout the ages. Tom Service asks: what makes it sound royal, and why? And is there really such a thing as a royal sound world? Royal music doesn’t have to be heraldic, ranging from the pomp and ceremony of Elgar; to the intimacy of lutenists like Dowland writing in the court of Christian IV in Denmark; to the secret music of the Kyoto imperial court, performed exclusively for royal ears. Composers over the centuries and millennia have written for kings, queens, princes and...


Can music be funny?

Tom Service on the art of classical music comedy. And it's not necessarily all about timing - see also parody, pastiche, absurdities, incongruity, subverting of expectations and sometimes, just good old funny noises... With musician and comedian Vikki Stone.


The Musical Recycling Plant

For centuries, composers have re-used music from their earlier works in their new ones. But why? Were they simply pressed for time, or might there be another reason? And what do these 'recycled' versions sounds like? Does music become diluted and weaker with each reincarnation, or could the opposite be true? Together with expert musical recycler Saul Eisenberg of The Junk Orchestra, Tom Service explores this 'green' musical practice. Dom Wells (producer)