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

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




Beethoven Unleashed: Getting to grips with Beethoven

Beethoven: deaf for most of his life, unbearable egotist, flagrant opportunist and musical anarchist whose music reaches the heights of ecstasy. Where do you start with this bundle of contradictions, probably the most admired composer in Western music, whose works have unfailingly filled concert halls for over 200 years? Tom Service goes in search of what makes Beethoven Beethoven and suggests a few key pieces to help unlock the man and his music. David Papp (producer)



Tom Service considers the texture of music. We often talk about the pitches and the rhythms in a piece of music, but how does it strike the ear? Is it rough or smooth, dense or transparent? And how are such textures achieved? He talks to composer Anna Meredith about how she creates excitement through combining different layers of orchestral sound; and to arranger Iain Farrington about how to preserve the textures of a Mahler symphony when it's arranged for only a dozen musicians.


How to love new music

All noise and no tunes? Why is contemporary classical music often thought of as hard work and how can we learn to love it? With music from Beethoven to Birtwistle to Burna Boy and Stormzy, new music fan Tom Service has words of encouragement.



The office party... unwelcome relatives... indigestion... alcoholic overindulgence... hideous decorations... Among all the inevitable woes that accompany the festive season, Yuletide music is surely one of the most annoying and pervasive. But what are its origins, its essential ingredients and intrinsic worth? And has the commercial always been a major element of most Christmas music? On a mission to find out, Tom Service has been listening to a lot of it, so you don't have to. Including...


Why backing vocals matter

Every "sha-la-la-la" and every "wo-o-wo-oh"...Tom Service brings the backing singers of both the pop and opera worlds to the fore. With backing singers David Combes and Izzy Chase, and Royal Opera House chorus member, Rebecca Lodge.


The Great Highland Bagpipe

From shortbread tins to the Royal Mile, rugby games and highland weddings, the bagpipes have long been a symbol of Scottish identity: but where did they come from, what are they for, and who writes their music? With pipers Simon McKerrell and Brighde Chaimbeul Tom Service explores their history against the backdrop of global piping traditions from Sweden to Macedonia, Spain and Hungary. What's the difference between the ceol mhor and the ceol beag? Are modern pipes more likely to be made...


How to compose music

So you want to write a piece of music? Where do you start? And then how do you carry on? How much music theory do you need to know? Or can you get away with knowing very little about music? Tom Service offers encouragement with the help of composers Brian Irvine and Cheryl Frances-Hoad.


The Real Red Priest

Can we get beyond The Four Seasons? Was he really a priest? Did he write the same concerto several hundred times? Antonio Vivaldi wrote arguably the most famous piece of classical music of all time but his reputation has suffered as a result. Some accuse him of churning out the same concerto multiple times at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice where he taught music and performed alongside orchestras and choirs of female musicians, much to the titillation of travelling tourists of the day....


Turn up the volume, dial up the drama

From loud to soft, even louder and even softer, dynamics are crucial to the dramatic effect of music. Tom Service discovers just how loud and soft classical music can be, and pop music that is louder still. Is it all about loudness or are the quiet moments more evocative? With the Royal College of Music’s Head of Composition, William Mival and BBC Sound engineer Matilda Macari gives an insight into just how loud the music that we're hearing through our radios is. Produced by Calantha...


The Simple Truth

Isaac Newton's 'Truth is ever to be found in simplicity...' has often been echoed in music by many of the great composers down the ages. But during the 20th and 21st centuries, akin to movements in the visual arts, some composers have pared down their music to a few seemingly basic elements. But how difficult is it to achieve meaningful musical simplicity and what's the difference between that and mind-numbingly banal simple-is-as-simple-does? With the help of composer Howard Skempton and...


Prog Rock - apotheosis or nadir?

Tom Service looks at Progressive Rock, to find out whether it was an apotheosis of rock music, thanks to the influence of classical music, the virtuosity of the performers and the ambition of its structures - or was it a folly of hopelessly over-reaching naivety and vapid pomposity? For a short period in the early 1970s, rock bands such as Yes, Genesis, ELP and King Crimson were boldly experimenting with their music, devising complex pieces that bore little relation to the simple pop song,...


Al-Andalus: What makes music sound Spanish?

Tom Service looks for the essence of Spain in the music of later centuries. Why was so much "Spanish" music written by Russian, French or German composers, and how do we recognise a "Spanish" sound in music now?


The Music of the Night

From nocturnes and nightmares to dreams and dances - music loves the night. Tom discovers the music and sounds found after the sun sets, from Wagner and Mozart to Faithless and Aerosmith via the songs of nightingales and crickets. He explores the nocturnal sounds of the natural world with sound recordist Ellie Williams and sees how composers like Bartok have tried to incorporate those sounds in their music. Music is full of dreamscapes as well as nightmares, so science writer Alice Robb is...


All the tunes

What links pre-War picker George Formby and Wagner, US rock duo The White Stripes and Bruckner, crooning legend Barry Manilow and Chopin? The surprising answer is that they've all shared tunes. Is that because, after 1,000 years of written music, there are no tunes left? What are the essential ingredients of a great tune and how difficult is it to write one? Tom Service seeks answers with the help of maths man Marcus du Sautoy and composer Jessica Curry. David Papp (producer)


Olivier Messiaen and the Interstellar Call!

In a live edition of The Listening Service, Tom Service hears and responds to composer Olivier Messiaen’s ‘Interstellar Call’, sent out in his epic "From the canyons to the stars..." The music is inspired by the wild beauty of Arizona, filled with birdsong and the sounds of nature, but also with a cosmic sense of awe - where does Messiaen's visionary work fit in the culture of the early 70s and in the present day?


Is complicated music better than simple music?

Tom Service looks at complexity in music. From Bach fugues to contemporary pop production, musicians and composers love to elaborate ideas to the limits of their imaginations. But when we listen, we only have one chance to hear all that's going on in their music. According to physicist Marvin Minsky, the human brain can only register a maximum of three different musical ideas going on at the same time. So how do we manage to enjoy listening to the rich counterpoint of a Mozart symphony, a...


Why do babies love music?

Why do we seem to love music from the day we're born? Are we born musical or do we learn it along the way? Whether it's melodies by Mozart, Queen, nursery rhymes or Baby Shark, music seems to captivate our babies - but what is it about these tunes that they're enjoying? Tom is joined by infant psychology expert Dr Laurel Trainor to find out how babies really interact with music - what are they hearing in the womb? Do they have musical preferences? Does participating in music have any...


Better than background music?

From ancient Greek drama until today, music has often been an integral part of the theatre and it's where many concert hall staples - think Beethoven's Egmont... Schubert's Rosamunde... Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream.... Grieg's Peer Gynt - began life. But does the very act of collaboration make incidental music a sort of anaemic, second rate cousin to symphonies, string quartets and sonatas? To help find answers, Tom Service enlists the help of theatre director Elle While and...


Countertenors - classical rock gods!

From Frankie Valli and Jimmy Somerville to Andreas Scholl and Iestyn Davies - Tom Service celebrates the male singers hitting the high notes. Why do they do it? How do they do it? And why is it so uniquely thrilling a sound? And it's not about singing like a woman! With inside knowledge from countertenor Lawrence Zazzo.


What's the point of practice?

Does practice make perfect? And what is perfect practice? Tom Service asks whether anyone can become a good musician by just putting in the hours. Pianist James Rhodes talks about the role practice plays in his life, and Professor Brooke Macnamara reveals the true role practice plays in performance.