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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




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?


The Fifth

Tom Service savours the sound of the fifth - an interval with many meanings, from mystic drone to military bugle call. He's joined by Early Music expert Jeremy Llewellyn who explains the significance of the fifth in medieval music, related to The Music of the Spheres and used to invoke the Almighty in religious chant; and by composer David Bruce, who describes how composers today find fresh uses for this primal sound. Tom finds the open, ringing sound of the fifth in all sorts of music, from...


Truck Driver Modulation

Today on The Listening Service Tom gets into gear for the truck driver modulation - crunching from one key to another, and not worrying overly about the musical synchromesh. There's not too much attention paid to the proper rules of harmony in today's programme, which celebrates the emotional and dramatic impact of the well-placed sudden key change. From Bruckner to Bon Jovi, Mahler to Michael Jackson, and less alliteratively, from Schubert to Bill Withers via Barry Manilow, we may love to...


Igor Stravinsky: Understood Best by Children and Animals

"My music is best understood by children and animals," pronounced Igor Stravinsky, no doubt with a twinkle in his eye. According to his critics (and jealous colleagues), Stravinsky's composing consisted of picking up any old second-hand musical baubles he fancied, like a restless musical magpie - sometimes he even had the effrontery to leave them virtually unchanged. Frustratingly, audiences seemed to lap it up. To make matters worse, when it came to explaining his music, Igor liked nothing...


The Listening Service recorded live at Hay Festival

In this special edition of The Listening Service recorded live at this year's Hay Festival, Tom Service explores the parallels between great children's literature and music written for young people. From Debussy to Prokofiev, Bizet to Britten - childhood has fascinated some of the greatest composers - how does their approach compare to children's writers and illustrators? What can we learn from music written by youngsters themselves and what lessons can be learned from music, pictures and...


Syncopation Syncopation Syncopation

What's the secret musical ingredient that music from salsa to Saturday Night Fever, from Charlie Parker to George Gershwin, from Johann Sebastian Bach to Leonard Bernstein, from ragtime to funk and disco, not to mention baroque sarabandes, has in common? The answer is that they all swoon to the sounds of syncopation: to rhythms that dance against, as well as with, the beat - to make us tap our fingers and toes, to get us dancing. On today's The Listening Service: what are the secrets of...


What does ancient history really sound like?

From Paleolithic caves to Roman arenas, we know that music was made, and even what instruments were played - but what did the music sound like? Tom attempts to find out, with help from flautist Anna Friederike Potengowski, composer Neil Brand, and media historian David Hendy. Journey with them from the prehistoric to ancient Rome, via the "modern stone age" town of Bedrock.


The Sea

Join Tom on a Listening Service voyage across our oceans to discover why music has long been inspired by the sea - from Sibelius and Mendelssohn to John Luther Adams and the Beatles - how have composers tried to capture the ocean in their music? Is it even possible? Meanwhile, Tom discovers music that is literally created by the sea itself from Blackpool to the Arctic, and dives down into the sounds of coral reefs with the marine biologist Helen Scales to hear the noisy vibrant reality of...