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The Listening Service

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

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How to Sing Classical - Vibrato!

Good vibrations or horrible wobbling? Why do singers use vibrato?Tom Service goes to the wobbling heart of the matter of vibrato in singing. Why does it induce such visceral reactions - love and hate? Is it a matter of classical-singing artifice or is it a welcome and naturally occurring phenomenon in the healthy workings of our vocal cords, in the way our bodies make the sounds we call singing?

30mins

4 Nov 2020

Rank #1

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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 have imagined.

29mins

28 Oct 2018

Rank #2

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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.

28mins

14 May 2018

Rank #3

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Mahler

Mahler's music - Huge eighty minute long symphonies, enormous orchestral forces, it should be thought of as the epitome of a complex cerebral classical music culture, surely?Not if Mahler has anything to do with it.Tom Service discovers how Mahler is the first non-classical Classical composer, how he happily harvested his tunes from everwhere from folk songs and children's rhymes to the landscape and nature, and how we as listeners are the most crucial part of them all and why he wanted every one of us to hear his music differently.

28mins

10 Dec 2017

Rank #4

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Drones

Tom Service discovers endless variety in music based on a drone - from rustic dance to mystic religious ecstasy. Medieval Christian music used a drone to provide support for their liturgical chants; old country dances went with a swing to the drone of bagpipes and hurdy-gurdy. Much Indian classical music builds elaborate melodic variations over a drone. Minimalist composer Lamonte Young has a never-ending drone piece playing in his loft in New York; and rock band The Velvet Underground brought psychedelic drones into the pop scene of the late 1960s.Tom talks to Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell about the drones on her bagpipes, and to American minimalist composer Phill Niblock about his use of microtonal drones in his music.

28mins

2 Jul 2017

Rank #5

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Drums

Tom Service considers drums - one of the most ancient and primitive instruments, yet capable of great sophistication in the context of the classical orchestra or a jazz band. He discusses contemporary composition for drums with percussionist Serge Vuille, and looks at non-western drum traditions with Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adewale.

28mins

8 Apr 2018

Rank #6

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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.

29mins

12 Aug 2018

Rank #7

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Mahler's 8th Symphony - 2018 Proms Special

Dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight

28mins

23 Jul 2018

Rank #8

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Background Music

Tom tunes into the background, exploring what background music really is; telling the surprising story of the Muzak corporation, and discovering that there's a range of background functions that music can have: from the 'furniture music' of Erik Satie to the Stimulus Progression albums used in Lyndon B Johnson's White House. Daniel Barenboim, Julian Lloyd-Webber and Brian Eno help explain the power of and problems with background music.

28mins

11 Dec 2016

Rank #9

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Tristan und Isolde

How do you listen to a four-hour opera? Tom Service considers the extraordinary impact of Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde, a medieval romance that became in Wagner's hands a highly-charged erotic drama of unfulfilled longing. It scandalised and over-excited early audiences in the 1860s, and it still has a profound effect on listeners. How come? Tom explores the influence of the philosopher Schopenhauer on Wagner's thinking, and how the composer's own love-life may have influenced this piece. And musicologist Kenneth Hamilton takes Tom through the radical musical structures in this piece, which somehow manage to remain unresolved over long stretches of music. Did one special chord really change music forever?

28mins

3 Oct 2016

Rank #10

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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.

29mins

29 Jul 2018

Rank #11

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Chasing a Fugue

Tom Service looks at music in flight - the miraculous musical form that is the fugue, where melodies chase each other, work against each other and come together in a supremely logical and often exhilarating fusion. How does it work, why is it important and can we learn to love the fugue in the 21st century? Tom tries his hand at playing Bach's Fugue in C minor from Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier, a challenge to many a piano exam student, gets tips on tackling fugues from virtuoso harpsichord player Mahan Esfahani, and comes across a very contemporary take on the art of learning about fugue. Lady Gaga is involved...

28mins

10 Jul 2016

Rank #12

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Virtuosity

Virtuosity: what does it mean to be good? Really, really good? If you're a virtuoso pianist, violinist, cellist, does that mean you can play faster than everybody else - or better? From Liszt to Paganini, Horowitz to Lang Lang, 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? With Tom Service.

28mins

22 Jan 2017

Rank #13

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The Listening Service Extra 8 of 12 - Alban Berg

We listen to Schoenberg’s praise of his pupil, Alban Berg - and his surprise that this “soft-hearted young man” could write an opera of the ferocity and tragedy of Wozzeck.'When Alban Berg, in 1904, came to me he was a very tall youngster and extremely timid… I was greatly surprised when this soft-hearted, timid young man had the courage to engage in a venture which seemed to invite misfortune: namely to compose Wozzeck, a drama of such extraordinary tragedy that it seemed forbidding to music. And even more: it contained scenes of everyday life which were contrary to the concept of the opera which still lived on stylized costumes and conventionalized characters. He succeeded. Wozzeck was one of the greatest successes of opera…He succeeded with his opera like he had succeeded in his insistence on studying with me. Making the belief in ideas one's own destiny is the substance of are made the great man.' - Arnold Schoenberg, 1949Archive audio and photos with kind permission of Arnold Schönberg Center, Wien

3mins

29 Dec 2016

Rank #14

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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 hate this technique, but join Tom as he stands up for the key change (like Westlife).With Dr. Dai Griffiths, Senior Lecturer in Music at Oxford Brookes University, and novelist Elizabeth Day.

29mins

24 Jun 2018

Rank #15

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The Synthesizer. Hannah Peel, Peter Zinovieff

Tom Service investigates the rise of the synthesizer. How did this initially crude assemblage of electrical components develop in a few decades to become one of the most ubiquitous and flexible of musical instruments? He consults Peter Zinovieff, inventor of the first British commercially available synthesizer (the VCS3, made in his garden shed in Putney); and also young composer/performer Hannah Peel, who likes to work with the sound of vintage analogue synths.

28mins

12 Nov 2017

Rank #16

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Transcendence

Tom Service considers how music can be transcendent. From Wagner's sublime harmonies in Tristan und Isolde, to the hypnotic drumming of shamans, what is it about some kinds of music that can take us to a higher plane? He considers music for contemplation (such as church music by Messiaen, and Fauré's Requiem which you can hear in tonight's Prom); music for dancing to oblivion (the techno "Trance" genre, whirling dervishes); music evoking ecstasy (Scriabin, Gospel music); and he discusses the ancient practises of shamans in various cultures, with ethnomusicologist Keith Howard.Presented in front of a live audience at Imperial College, London, before tonight's Prom.

31mins

18 Jul 2016

Rank #17

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Why is music addicted to bass?

Can you imagine a piece of music without its bass line? Or going out dancing with no bass to move to?Whether it's an epic symphony or a club classic - we love listening to the bass. But what actually is 'bass'? How is it that we can often feel it as much as hear it? And why is it that every genre of music seems to need it.Tom Service goes on a whistlestop tour of bass through the musical ages: from Bach to Boulez, via reggae to rock n roll, Stevie Wonder to Dizzee Rascal. He discovers what links whales and horror movies in the world of bass. And he enlists the help of neuroscientist Dr Laurel Trainor to find out how we're hardwired into the bass as humans and whether it might even be true that the bigger the bass, the more we like each other.

28mins

18 Sep 2016

Rank #18

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Improvisation

Tom Service considers the art of musical improvisation. When pianist Lenny Tristano first recorded free improvisations in 1949, his record company didn't want to release them. Today, Free Improvisation is a well-established genre. But can improvising ever be "free"? Tom discusses with musician and writer David Toop and improvising bassist Joëlle Leandre.Improvisation is a fundamental part of music-making - it even has a place in Western classical music, such as the freely invented cadenza in a piano concerto. Other musical traditions are fundamentally based in improvising, such as the classical Indian tradition, and jazz. In the 1950s, Free Improvisation developed from experiments in extending jazz, as an attempt to make music spontaneously with no reference to any style or tradition. David Toop has written a book about improvising, and Joelle Leandre has had a long career as a free improviser, playing with a wide variety of musicians around the world. But, she says, "we cannot be free...".

28mins

13 Nov 2016

Rank #19

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The Listening Service Extra 11 of 12 - Twelve-tone music and its reception

We hear Schoenberg on the reception of his music in America, Europe.'When in 1933 I came to America I was a very renowned composer, even so that Mr. Goebbels himself in his "Der Angriff" reprimanded me for leaving Germany. Thanks to the attitude of most American conductors and under the leadership of Toscanini, Koussevitzky, and of Walter, suppression of my works soon began with the effect that the number of my performances sunk to an extremely low point. A year ago I had counted in Europe alone about a hundred performances of my works. There was also opposition and violent propoganda against my music in Europe. But musical education was high enough to meet the opposition of the illiterate. Therefore there existed a satisfactory number of first class musicians who at once were able to recognize that logic, order, and organization will be greatly promoted by application of the method of composing with twelve tones.' - Arnold Schoenberg, 1949Archive audio and photos with kind permission of Arnold Schönberg Center, Wien

3mins

29 Dec 2016

Rank #20