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A programme rethinking music. Tom Service presents a journey of imagination and insight, exploring how music works

A programme rethinking music. Tom Service presents a journey of imagination and insight, exploring how music works
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A programme rethinking music. Tom Service presents a journey of imagination and insight, exploring how music works




What counts as "classical music"?

What do we actually mean when we talk about "classical music"?


What's the Point of the Conductor?

The Listening Service had a question from a listener : "When I see the musicians playing, they seem to be looking at their sheet music, not the conductor. Can an orchestra not function perfectly well without a conductor? If I'm intensely moved by a piece of orchestral music, is it not the musicians which moved me? Why must I applaud some arbitrary conductor, who never touched a single instrument throughout the entire performance?" Tom Service rises to the challenge and looks at the role of...


Beethoven's Ninth Symphony

Tom Service explores arguably the most famous piece of music in the world: the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. It's a piece which has been appropriated by everyone from the European Union, to the writer Anthony Burgess, who used it as an unsettling counterpoint to the murderous exploits of the characters in his novel A Clockwork Orange. Tom asks whether Beethoven's original vision of a musical utopia has actually turned out to be far more dangerous than the composer could ever...


The Magical Forest

Enter the magical musical world of the forest. It's charming, mysterious, beautiful and scary. Tom Service is your guide as he explores the magical role of the forest in music, from the Romantic charms of Schubert songs to the nightmarish spirits of Weber's Freischütz opera, and beyond to the symbolic psychological forests of Schoenberg's Erwartung and Sibelius's Tapiola. He also talks to sound artist Jez Riley French about his close-up recordings of forests, which bring us the truly wild...


The Cowpat Controversy

The line-up of early Twentieth Century English composers includes great figures such as Holst, Vaughan Williams, Arnold Bax and Frederick Delius. Since the 1950's these composers have been dogged by a casual and unkind slur against their work, namely by referring to it as 'cowpat music'. Tom Service argues that, far from producing shallow and whimsical pastoral scores, the music produced by this English movement is among the most profound and communicative of the last century, rarely far...



A rollercoaster of a show as Tom experiences how music gets our hearts racing. How do composers from Bach to Jarvis Cocker manipulate speed in music? How can a slow movement by Sibelius be 'faster' than 'speedcore' dance music? Tom takes us inside the mechanics of speed, and discovers that Sibelius controls our heart rate in symphonic music in the same way that a DJ in Ibiza does as their set unfolds. Just to put his theories to the test, Tom rides a roller coaster with the composer Anna...


Technical Mastery

From the dawn of human music-making, all instrumental music has been made via technology, whether bone flutes, violins, pianos, tape or synthesisers. Is new musical technology driven by the needs of composers and musicians or are they dazzled by its possibilities before they can really get to grips with it? How has cheap technology impacted on music, now that laptops have done for expensive studios and choosy producers. Do the infinite possibilities of today's digital technology limit...


In space no-one can hear you sing...

Space. A place few men or women have gone before ... but plenty of composers have. The universe has inspired musicians for hundreds of years and consequently we all know what space music sounds like. Or do we? From Holst and David Bowie to John Williams via Ligeti, Thomas Ades and the Beastie Boys, Tom Service dons his spacesuit on a mission to explore why cosmic-inspired music sounds the way it does, and discovers how space science is just as inspired by music as musicians are by space. En...


Maxing out on Minimalism

Less really is more on today’s The Listening Service: we’re maxing out on minimalism, that most popular but also most divisive and most misunderstood of all 20th century musical movements. Music that either makes you bliss out or brings you out in hives - it's the sound of that rhythmic repetitive music by a quartet of American composers - Steve Reich, Philip Glass, LaMonte Young, and Terry Riley, who have defined the movement, the style, even the genre of minimalism. Take a chord, a...


Searching for Paradise - 2018 Proms Special

Humanity has used music to commune with the sacred for as long as we have been human: from the caves of Chauvet, tens of thousands of years ago, to the churches, temples, and synagogues of today, we have sung and hymned and played our connection with our God(s). Something else has happened in modern Western society: as organised religion has waned, a cult of music has developed, in which we don't just use music to worship, but worship music and musicians as carriers of a divine spark. With...


Virtuosity - 2018 Proms Special

What does it mean to be good? If you're a virtuoso pianist, violinist, cellist, does that mean you can play faster than everybody else - or better? What does it mean to be a virtuoso? Are you in league with the devil, as 19th-century critics said about the violinist Paganini, or are you able to communicate more movingly, more emotionally, more humanly than other players? In association with Prom 3 2018 - BBC Young Musician 40th Anniversary


Endings - 2018 Proms Special

Tom Service looks at how pieces of music end, and asks what endings mean. Are they mere framing devices, or can they suggest weightier thoughts of triumph, or conversely, of death? And what of the fading away so prevalent in pop music? From Beethoven's insistent affirmations to Tchaikovsky's bleak despair, from Haydn's witty farewells to Human League's intimations of eternity, the ways that music ends are as various as music itself. Released in association with Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 6 –...


Colour and Music - 2018 Proms Special

Tom Service investigates the link between music and colour ahead of Prom 45 and Stravinsky’s colourful folk-ballet Petrushka. A piece of music can be 'dark' or 'bright' or we could be singing the 'Blues' - but what does that mean? Professor Jamie Ward - an expert in synaesthesia - is on hand to help. Tom delves into a world of musical colour from Messiaen and Copland, Scriabin and Ravel to David Bowie and Beyoncé to discover whether music can ever be colourful.


Britten's Sea Interludes - 2018 Proms Special

The sea in all its musical majesty


Folk Music - 2018 Proms Special

Tom delves in to folk music’s mysterious history before Prom 27, celebrating folk music across Britain and Ireland with Sam Lee and The Unthanks.


Mahler's 8th Symphony - 2018 Proms Special

Dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight


Devilish Musical Pacts

Dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight, Tom Service signs his soul in blood as he explores musical versions of the Faust story - including Mahler's epic setting of Goethe's Faust in his eighth symphony. Guest Matthew Sweet lends his devilish expertise on Faustian films, from Bedazzled to The Witches of Eastwick. Recorded earlier today at Imperial College, London, as a prelude to tonight's Proms performance of Mahler's Symphony No.8.


Pioneers of Sound - Proms 2018 Special

Why synths are so cool


Orchestral Manoeuvres

As the world's greatest celebration of orchestras and orchestral music that is the BBC Proms gets underway, Tom Service attempts to shed some light on three centuries of orchestral manoeuvres... When did orchestras begin and why? Why do they have standardised sections of strings, woodwind, brass and percussion? Why did they seem to get bigger and bigger as the 19th century turned into the 20th? Why have so many of the great composers spent so much of their time writing for them? Are they...


Beginnings - Proms 2018 Special

Music – where do we start?