Joseph Haydn's oratorio tells the story of God creating the world – the very first New Year’s Day, if you like!

The Creation was written between 1797 and 1798 and considered by many to be Haydn's masterpiece. The oratorio depicts and celebrates the creation of the world as described in the Book of Genesis and Paradise Lost.

Story Behind Josephy Haydn's the "Farewell" Symphony

It was written for Haydn's patron, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, while he, Haydn and the court orchestra were at the Prince's summer palace in Eszterháza. 

The stay there had been longer than expected, and most of the musicians had been forced to leave their wives back at home in Eisenstadt, so in the last movement of the symphony, Haydn subtly hinted to his patron that perhaps he might like to allow the musicians to return home: during the final adagio each musician stops playing, snuffs out the candle on his music stand, and leaves in turn, so that at the end, there are just two muted violins left (played by Haydn himself and the concertmaster, Alois Luigi Tomasini).

Esterházy seems to have understood the message: the court returned to Eisenstadt the day following the performance

Your Musical Tastes Reflect Your Thinking Style

 Are you good at putting yourself in someone else’s shoes? Then there’s a good chance that you enjoy R&B. If, instead, you are drawn to take things apart to understand how they work, you likely prefer punk music.

That’s the conclusion of a new study on how musical tastes relate to cognition. “We wanted to address this longstanding question, Why do people like the music that they do?” says study author David Greenberg. “Because you could have one person, for example, who loves Metallica or Rage Against the Machine and then another who would rather listen to Joni Mitchell or Bob Dylan.”

The study, published in July, 2015, in the online journal PLOS ONE, shows that the way someone thinks – his or her cognitive style – is a better predictor of the songs they’ll like than is their personality type.

Music and Mind

Personality measures are commonly used in psychological studies. Traditional tests measure five major personality traits: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, and openness to experience. Previous music research has focused on connections with these characteristics.

However, another way of looking at people’s minds is via so-called cognitive style, which ranges from empathetic to systemizing. Empathizers, on the one hand, are strongly interested in understanding others’ emotions and thoughts. At the other extreme, systemizers are more adept at identifying patterns and analyzing systems.

For the study, over 4,000 participants completed online questionnaires rating their agreement with such statements as “I can pick up quickly if someone says one thing but means another” or “If I were buying a stereo, I would want to know about its precise technical features.” Based on their answers, participants were scored somewhere on the spectrum from empathizer to systemizer. (You can take the test yourself here.)

The participants then listened to 50 musical excerpts, across a range of genres and musical dimensions. They ranked them on a scale from 1 (dislike extremely) to 9 (like extremely).

When they analyzed these results researchers found that empathizers were more likely to enjoy mellow music, such as R&B/soul, adult contemporary, and soft rock. Meanwhile, systemizers enjoyed more intense music, including punk, heavy metal, and hard rock. These traits better predicted musical tastes than any of the five standard personality traits.

And the findings held true even at very granular levels within a given musical genre. For example, highly empathetic individuals preferred mellow rock over intense rock, selecting Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” over “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys. The opposite was true for the systemizers.

Emotion and Analysis

The findings make sense in light of how we relate to music, both connecting with it emotionally and analyzing its composition. Empathetic individuals were inclined towards songs that were relaxing and melancholy, while systemizers enjoyed the fast-paced and complex examples.

Daniel Levitin, a musician, neuroscientist, and author of This is Your Brain on Music, feels that this study fits nicely into our broader understanding of how personal qualities shape our artistic inclinations. “This is situated within a series of studies that are pointing to the relationship of personalities and now brain styles… to an underlying aesthetic sense,” said Levitin. “Things that seem to have nothing to do with music can help us better understand musical preferences.”

 Top image by arvitalyaa/ Shutterstock

Read more DiscoverMagazine.com 

Lang Lang on Franz Liszt

Happy Birthday Franz Liszt Born Today in 1811


Excerpt from 2011 NPR Interview with Guy Raz:

Illustration of Franz Liszt. The Hungarian composer and pianist revolutionized the art of performance.RAZ: Lang Lang is a world-renowned concert pianist, and his love of Liszt is well-known. As a matter of fact, his new album is called "Liszt: My Piano Hero." He first heard Liszt's music as a 2-year-old while watching a famous television duo.

LANG LANG: "Tom and Jerry," and they were playing the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, and I got fascinated.

RAZ: So you're watching "Tom and Jerry" play Liszt.

LANG: Yeah.

RAZ: Oh, actually, Liszt was playing behind them rather.

LANG: Yeah, and I thought it was such exciting music. So he really lead me into a professional pianist.
RAZ: What is it about Liszt's style that appeals to you so much as a performer?

LANG: He is a real piano god, so he make piano sound like entire orchestra. And he has this amazing technique like nobody else. At the same time, he brings passion and love and heart.

RAZ: You have said, Lang Lang, that as a composer, Liszt actually opened the door to modern music. How so?

LANG: The piano as an instrument was pretty weak that time. So Liszt is totally a monster at the piano. You know, he create such difficult pieces. So he always destroy pianos during the concerts.

RAZ: He actually destroyed them? He broke them?

LANG: Yeah. And because of his technique and his incredible power, piano as an instrument had a revolution and became much better instrument and much more solid.

RAZ: It's rare that Liszt comes up in, you know, top 10 lists of great composers of all time or - and I'm wondering why you think that is?

LANG: He focus a lot on piano music, not on many other instruments. Not like Beethoven or Mozart or Tchaikovsky, you know? They are more - they grow not only great piano work, but also symphonic work, tremor music - a bit like Paganini, you know? I mean, Paganini is famous for violin only, and Liszt is that type of composer - for piano

RAZ: And Paganini influenced Liszt's playing as well, right?

LANG: Absolutely. Liszt - when Liszt was a kid, he saw Paganini playing at violin, and he said that I'd like to be the Paganini on a piano.

RAZ: Some of this music sounds like actually - sounds like a workout. Does playing Liszt actually take a physical toll on you?

LANG: Absolutely. Playing Liszt, you need to put all your emotions and also very physical. I mean, his music - Paganini - it used La Campanella. It's very, very demanding. I mean, I exercise before I record this album.

RAZ: Lang Lang, I know you're performing Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Philadelphia Orchestra tonight. And I'm looking through your - the liner notes of your new CD, and there's a photograph of you at the piano looking pretty good, man. You got like lasers coming out of your fingers at the piano. So I'm wondering, do you expect any Lang Lang-o-mania to break out tonight?

LANG: It will be quite hard, and the piece is very hard. So maybe you will see laser light but through music.

RAZ: You got any bodyguards on stage, or are there going to be, you know, audience members jumping up on stage to get locks of your hair?

LANG: Well, you know, for Philadelphia, I think we are pretty safe.

RAZ: That's Lang Lang. He's one of the most in demand concert pianists in the world. His new album is called "Liszt: My Piano Hero." And his hero, Franz Liszt, was born 200 years ago today. Lang Lang, thank you so much.

LANG: Thank you. Thank you, Guy.

More Bizarre Musical Instruments


The Kaisatsuko was invented by Yuichi Onoue of Tokyo, Japan. The Kaisatsuko does not use a bow to vibrate its two strings, usually employed with fiddle-like instruments. Instead, a small hand crank spins a nylon wheel, which vibrates the two steel strings, producing a sustained drone sound of both strings. The rotating wheel acts like a mechanical bow, a technique similar to the the Hurdy Gurdy, invented before the 11th century.

Musical Saw

A musical saw, also called a singing saw, is the application of a hand saw as a musical instrument. The sound created is an ethereal tone, very similar to the theremin, or a woman’s clear voice. The musical saw is classified as an idiophone under the Hornbostel-Sachs system of musical instrument classification. Alfred Schnittke used the musical saw in a number of his works.


The bazantar is a five string double bass with 29 sympathetic and 4 drone strings and has a melodic range of five octaves. It is designed as a separate housing for sympathetic strings (to deal with the increased string tension) mountable on a double bass or cello, modified to hold drone strings.


The cymbalum, cymbalom, cimbalom (most common spelling), ?ambal, tsymbaly, tsimbl, santouri, or santur is a type of hammered dulcimer found mainly in the music of Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Greece and Iran. In Czechoslovakia it was also known as a cimbal. One composer who made use of the cimbalom was Zoltán Kodály. His orchestral suite, Háry János, made extensive use of the instrument and helped make it well known outside Eastern Europe. Igor Stravinsky was also an enthusiast, and he owned one, and included one in his ballet Renard.

Stalacpipe Organ

Located deep in the Luray Caverns in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley is the Great Stalacpipe Organ, the worlds largest musical instrument. Stalactites covering 3 1/2 acres of the surrounding caverns produce tones of symphonic quality when electronically tapped by rubber-tipped mallets. This most unique, one-of-a-kind instrument was invented in 1954 by Mr. LeIand W. Sprinkle of Springfield, Virginia, a mathematician and electronic scientist at the Pentagon.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube, Odd Music

Read more at Listverse

Encore! Dr. Fuddle Celebrates Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's 100th Anniversary

Encore! Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s anniversary concert returns.

Some 700 ticketholders will attend the Tower of Talent concert, marking Children’s 100th anniversary, at the Alliance Stage/Woodruff Arts Center at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6, sponsored by Tower Beer, Wine & Spirits, owned by benefactor Michael Greenbaum.

Photo by Marcia Caller

Jaffe Robyn Spizman Gerson joins Michael Greenbaum, the owner of Tower Beer, Wine & Spirits, and Warren Woodruff, the author of “Dr. Fuddle and the Gold Baton.”

The event is coordinated by Robyn Spizman Gerson and inspired by musicologist and beloved classical music teacher Dr. Warren Woodruff and his book “Dr. Fuddle and the Gold Baton” (soon to be a major movie).

Gerson has assembled a world-class team of talent by pulling together Woodruff, Thomas Ludwig of the Beethoven Chamber Orchestra, Lynn Stallings of the Atlanta Workshop Players and Maniya Barredo of the Metropolitan Ballet Theatre to raise the curtain for  “Beethoven to Broadway” to benefit Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

The idea was initiated and fully funded by Greenbaum, who is dedicated to a legacy of support for medically fragile children.

“During the High Holiday time of self-reflection, I thought about the passion for my own grandchildren and others who are less fortunate,” he said. “I have enough to live on and the rest to do good with. My father stepped up to the plate to help others ever so quietly. That is my legacy. Music is healing. And as Dr. Woodruff says, ‘One note can make a difference’ for these medically fragile children.”

Melisa Morrow, a CHOA development officer, said, “Greenbaum’s generosity thus far has developed in his honor a rehab room where families can stay while recovering children learn how to function. We’re currently evaluating this year’s Greenbaum project.  It may involve advancing technology. Greenbaum knows that CHOA is a nonprofit where all children are treated equally.”

“We’ve already sold 500 tickets and secured 50-plus world-class children ages 6 to 16 performing an amazing program of orchestral strings, pianos and dancing,” Gerson said. “Greenbaum is generously covering 100 percent of the expenses so all revenues can go directly to the children. He is an angel in disguise.”

She added: “This is one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever done. We’ve raised WAY over half a million dollars in just two years. One of the many impressive performers is 8-year-old Angelica Hale, who received a kidney from her mom. Her Streisand-esqe emotion is amazing; she recently sang the national anthem at the U.S. Open. The children are appearing on Channel 11 with astounding responses for a sneak peek.”

The chairs for the event include Marianne Garber, Alvaro Arauz and Linda Suvalsky, who are backed by such generous supporters as Sara Blaine and Mendel Rotenberg of eSBe Designs, who created a bracelet in honor of Children’s Healthcare.

“So many people have been touched by Children’s … from a broken arm to a heart transplant,” Gerson said. “The bottom line is you’ll want to bring the family to this event. These kids will knock your socks off.”

The VIP reception before the show is sold out, but a few more spots could be reserved for generous contributors. Regular-admission tickets are $30.

What: Tower of Talent
Where: Alliance Theatre, 1280 Peachtree St., Midtown
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6
Tickets: $30 standard, $75 VIP; www.choa.org/toweroftalent

Reposted from Atlanta Jewish Times

Why classical music facilitates brain growth

When we do the scientific breakdown, we have learned that listening to music represents a complex cognitive function inside the human mind, which then induces many neuronal and physiological changes. However, beyond that not much is known specifically about the molecular state of the mind under the effects of listening to music, as well as the molecular effects of music as a whole.

Now, A Finnish study group has come together to explore and discover how classical music affects the expression of gene profiles of both musically experienced and inexperienced participants. All of the participants in the study listened to Mozart’s violin concern Nr 3, G-major, K.216 that lasts approx. 20 minutes.

musicgeometry1Listening to music enhanced the activity of genes involved in dopamine secretion and transport, synaptic function, learning and memory. One of the most up-regulated genes, synuclein-alpha (SNCA) is a known risk gene for Parkinson’s disease that is located in the strongest linkage region of musical aptitude. SNCA is also known to contribute to song learning in songbirds.

The up-regulation of several genes that are known to be responsible for song learning and singing in songbirds suggest a shared evolutionary background of sound perception between vocalizing birds and humans”, says Dr. Irma Järvelä, the leader of the study. - ScienceDaily

This past week in science, researchers discovered the evidence of HGT, which stands for Horizontal Gene Transfer. It described that many of our genes are actually NOT our own in origin, but came from our environment in some way shape and form. Could this mean there is an evolutionary bridge between Songbirds and Humans? Perhaps it was the songbirds song that caused the brain-growth in humans to adapt to ideas of music and song. It’s even possible that music was created by early-man listening to the first songbirds and emulating them! To top this story off, it must be noted that this discovery also came with a bit of a twist.“

"The effect was only detectable in musically experienced participants, suggesting the importance of familiarity and experience in mediating music-induced effects”, researchers remark.

geometry_of_music5How fascinating! At the very core, the effect of mental stimulation only happened with musically experienced participants.

This leads me to believe that when you first listen to new music, you might not experience much of a mental effect at all, because you are still building the mental pathways for you to understand what you’re hearing. The more you listen to it, the clearer and more fuller your listening experience is.

Listening to music is about the bridge between the left brain and the right brain. How deeply you resonate with the music relies on how well you listen to it.

Article source: Science Daily

Source: The Spirit Science

4 Ways to Use Music as Medicine

Human beings are governed by rhythms. From our pulsing heartbeat, to the cadence of our speech patterns, to when we fall asleep and wake up—countless rhythms drive our existence.

Perhaps this is why we are so mesmerized by music.

“From lullabies to funeral songs, music is a part of our lives from the moment we enter the world, until the moment we leave it,” says Diane Snyder-Cowan, director of the Elisabeth Prentiss Bereavement Center for Hospice of the Western Reserve.

She describes a phenomenon called, “entrainment,” whereby people’s biological rhythms become synchronized with the music they’re listening to.

Entrainment exerts such a powerful force that simply listening to and focusing on soothing music can actually help a person enter a more relaxed state of physical and mental functioning. Once people enter this state, they’re better able to physically and mentally process things—from medications to emotions.

A professional music therapist, Snyder-Cowan is part of a specially-trained group of care providers who use melodies to achieve a particular treatment goal. “Music therapy is all about the intentional use of music to bring about a particular change; whether that change is therapeutic, emotional or spiritual,” she says.

Melodies may be better than meds

Music therapists work in a variety of different settings, from hospitals to halfway houses.

In some cases, music may even be more powerful than more traditional medical interventions, such as prescriptions and physical therapy.

Here are a few studies that demonstrate how Mozart may trump medicine:

Singing helps the stroke-stricken to speak sooner: A study conducted on a group of Finnish stroke sufferers found that listening to their favorite tunes while recovering helped them regain their ability to recognize words and communicate. When compared to stroke sufferers who listened to audiobooks or nothing at all, those that listened to music for a few hours a day experienced a much faster recovery of their verbal skills. The music listeners were also less likely to be depressed and confused, two common post-stroke side effects.

Pulsing pitches set pace for people with Parkinson’s:
Numerous studies have indicated that music therapy can allow people with Parkinson’s to regain some of their overall functioning. In certain cases, music may even prove more effective at helping a Parkinson’s sufferer move better than traditional physical therapy techniques, according to an Italian study published in, “Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine.” Music therapy also upped the quality of life and overall feelings of happiness reported by those dealing with the disease.

Classical compositions have calming cardiovascular effects: German researchers discovered that people recovering from open-heart surgery had lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, after listening to classical music. Relaxing refrains also helped patients calm down pre-surgery. In some cases, listening to music before an operation was more effective in getting a person to relax than commonly-prescribed anti-anxiety medications.

Melodic intervention to manage grief

Music therapists also work with hospice care providers to assist a dying person and his family as they go through the grieving process.

Depending on the unique needs and wishes of the ailing individual and her family, a music therapist can perform services, such as helping to create a compilation CD of songs that have special meaning to the dying person to give as a legacy gift, composing a song about the person’s life, and selecting and playing particular melodies meant to ease their emotional and physical pain as they transition out of this life.

Read more at Care.2

Fascinating Stories Behind Musical Compositions

Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Most people know the Barber of Seville through Gioachino Rossini’s opera. However, most non-music students would not know that in Rossini’s lifetime, the composer Giovanni Paisiello had written another Il Barbiere di Siviglia. It was a big hit in the musical community, and was hailed as Paisiello’s magnum opus. In 1816, when Rossini’s Barber was premiered, the supporters of the old Barber attended the premiere, booing loudly so that none of Rossini’s music could be heard, even sneaking a cat onto the stage. However, time has filtered out Paisiello’s Barber and Rossini emerged triumphant.

Messa da Requiem

Maestro Rossini died in 1868. To honor his contributions to the Italian opera scene, the also great opera composer Giuseppe Verdi grouped together the leading Italian composers to write a movement each of a Requiem Mass, to be published as the Messa per Rossini. However, just 9 days before the premiere, the project fell through. The disappointed Verdi, who had written the Libera Me movement, ended his friendship with the conductor. 4 years later, when the writer Alessandro Manzoni died, Verdi utilized the Libera Me and wrote the remaining movements of the Requiem Mass, forming his fiery and fearsome Messa da Requiem.

Das Lied von der Erde

In Mahler’s time, there was a persistent fear amongst composers of the Curse of the Ninth. Beethoven died with only 9 symphonies completed, and several other composers such as Bruckner and Dvorak has also only have 9 symphonies. In Schoenberg’s words, “It seems as if something might be imparted to us in the Tenth which we ought not yet to know, for which we are not ready.” Mahler was especially terrified of writing his own 9th. Therefore, after his 8th, he combined two of his most proficient forms, the symphony and the art song, and created a “Symphonic Song-cycle”. This is the Das Lied von der Erde, the song of the Earth. With this, Mahler proceeded to writing his 9th, believing to have broken the curse. Unfortunately, he died with his 10th incomplete.

Missa Papae Marcelli

The third session of the Council of Trent was held in 1562-1563. This council was called by the Vatican to reform itself as a counter to Martin Luther’s Reformation. Amongst the many reforms, polyphony was scheduled to be abolished in churches, reverting back to the monophonic Gregorian Chant. In Canon 8, it stated that “the entire manner of singing in musical modes should be calculated not to afford vain delight to the ear”. This is a reaction towards the extremely complicated polyphonic church music that exists in the time. Although it is more aesthetically pleasing, the words sung could no longer be distinguished, and the church felt that it brought religion out of the mass. Palestrina, according to legend, then wrote the Missa Papae Marcelli to demonstrate how polyphony can also be clear. This astounding usage of polyphony convinced the Council to accept polyphony in churches.

The Well-Tempered Clavier

Now that we can play all the keys on a piano, we take it for granted. Back in the Renaissance-Baroque era, all keyboards were tuned to equal temperament. That is that every note has a specific frequency. In so doing, an A on C major would be different from an A on D major. This meant that only certain keys could be played on one keyboard. Well-tempered tuning was introduced to solve this problem. A compromise was made so that, even though slightly out of tune, all keys could be played on a keyboard. This tuning survived to this very day. However, in Bach’s time, composers were still comfortable only in the more conservative keys. To this, Bach wrote the two books of the Well-Tempered Clavier, writing a prelude and fugue for every key, from C major to G-sharp minor. With this 48 preludes and fugues in the 24 possible keys, Bach demonstrated the merits of the more obscure keys.

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Can music offer the key to treating dementia?

Woody Geist started to show signs of Alzheimers at the age of 67. By the time he was 80, plaques had invaded large areas of his brain. His memory was so limited he could remember little about his life, and nothing about what to do with a tube of toothpaste.

All of which made it all the more remarkable that he could remember the baritone part to almost every song he had ever sung. For more than 40 years, he had been part of a successful 12-man a cappella singing group, the Grunyons. At the age of 80, he couldn't find his way to the stage to give a performance, but once he was up there in front of an audience he was he pitch perfect; and when he sang, he came alive. No one watching was in any doubt that not only could Woody sing the notes, he could also convey the feeling and meaning of the songs.

Woody Geist's story, told by Oliver Sacks in his book Musicophilia, is not an isolated case. In most cases of dementia, regardless of whether or not people have had musical training, they retain their capacity to sing, play, whistle, tap, click, clap, drum and dance long after much of the rest of their cognitive apparatus is deeply compromised. Music is often the very last thing to go, especially the embodied memory of music to which people dance or tap out a rhythm. Music anchors patients, Sacks says, in a way that nothing else can, reconnecting them to that sense of self which is in danger of slipping through their fingers. So it can also connect them to other people from whom they often feel estranged.

This is because music is deeply ingrained in the way our brains have developed. Evolutionary psychologists, neuroscientists and experts in music cognition have not yet come up with an entirely convincing argument as to why human brains are so attuned to music. But a growing body of work, much of it only conducted over the last three decades using new techniques for seeing inside the brain while music is being played, suggests that our brains are fundamentally musical. That is why our capacity to play, enjoy and feel music can outlast the deterioration that dementia and other debilitating conditions bring with them.

Music is so ubiquitous, especially with the advent of MP3 players and music streaming services, that it's easy to take it for granted. We just assume we should be able to hear music and make sense of it, as naturally as we breathe. Yet when we hear a piece of music, whether its Mahler's 5th symphony or Mumford & Sons, our ears and brains are automatically undertaking a heroically complex task.

First, we have to distinguish the music from all the other random sounds that surround us, picking out just those that matter for the music to make sense.


Music lends itself to sense-making because, as the composer Edgard Varèse said, "music is organised sound". The basic components of that organisation are loudness, pitch, rhythm, tempo, melody, harmony and timbre. The octave creates a structure from which much else flows. As our ears take in these different aspects of the sound, the task of processing them is farmed out to different parts of the brain to work in parallel. Perceiving pitch, for example, involves separating the pitch streams coming from different voices and instruments. A sense of harmony is needed to find the fundamental pitch of several notes. Then we need to link all the pitches together in time to create a coherent melody, synthesising and reintegrating it in real time, while also relating that to what has just gone before and forming an expectation of what will come next. When we are listening to music we are sketching out a sense of the future.

Several aspects of the way the brain processes music are special. Compare music, for example, with how we see light and colour. Isaac Newton was the first to point out that light has no colour. The colours we see are put together in our brains as they interpret the oscillation of light waves that hit our retinas. What we perceive as colour is not made up of colour: when we see red nothing red enters our brains from the outside world.

Not so with music, as neuroscientist Daniel Levitin explains in his paean to the power of music, This is Your Brain on Music: "If I put electrodes in your visual cortex [the part of the brain at the back of your head concerned with seeing], and I then showed you a red tomato, there is no group of neurons that will cause my electrodes to turn red. But if I put electrodes in your auditory cortex and play a pure tone in your ears at 440Hz, there are neurons in your auditory cortex that will fire at precisely that frequency, causing the electrode to emit electrical activity at 440Hz." In other words, what goes into our ears comes out of our brains at the same frequency.

The brain is divided into two hemispheres that are broadly specialised into different tasks. The busy, analytical, calculating and instrumental left hemisphere isolates, focuses and plans action; the open, metaphorical and interpretive right side of the brain is how we feel for the world and become part of the flow of experiences around us. Creativity is often associated with the right side of the brain; rational, calculated action with the left. Special musical ability is often associated with a larger right hemisphere.

Music does not follow this division. It is structured and systematic. It can be understood almost as a set of formal mathematical equations of tones, frequencies, oscillations and tempos, which can be measured: this is classic, analytical left brain territory. Yet music is also free-flowing, moving, expressive and emotional, open to endless ambiguity and interpretation. Professor and polymath Raymond Tallis has argued that music relies on the regular repetition of a few common ingredients combined with endless deviation and variation, creating a highly structured kind of freedom. Professor Isabelle Peretz and her team of neuropsychologists at the University of Montreal have found that the brain's two hemispheres are closely entwined in making sense of music: the right finds the global pattern of pitch contour which provides a melody's shape; while the left busily works away calculating the detailed steps involved. One remarkable feature of musicians' brains may be an unusually high degree of integration and interplay between the hemispheres.

As science writer Philip Ball argues in The Music Instinct, music is unlike language: it has no dedicated mental circuitry localised in a few areas. Making sense of music is a whole-brain activity: "No other activity seems to use so many parts of the brain at once, nor to promote their integration." When the brain is listening to music it engages the motor centres that govern movement; the primal emotion centres that govern feeling; the language modules that process syntax and semantics; and the cerebellum that helps to keep time. One of the reasons we are so drawn to music is that it is perfectly designed to allow us to make the fullest possible use of our brains.

The fact that the brain seems to have developed with and through musical activity helps to explain why music has such significance for people with dementia who steadily lose so much of what we count as normal mental capacity. It is because of the way music engages our memories, emotions and bodies that our appreciation of it is the last thing to go as dementia takes hold.


Without memory there could be no music. Music engages our memory more fully and powerfully than almost any other experience. Any act of listening to music is simultaneously an act of remembering: we make sense of music by framing it in the context of what we have already heard. As the American composer Aaron Copland said: "It is insufficient merely to hear music in terms of the separate moments at which it exists. You must be able to relate what you hear at any given moment to what has just happened before and what is about to come afterwards." Philip Ball puts it this way: "When we listen to a melody unfold we hear each note in the light of many remembered things: what the previous note was, whether the melodic contour is going up or down, whether we've heard this phrase (or one like it) before in the piece, whether it seems like a response to that phrase or a completely new idea. We remember the key and are thus alert for signs that it is changing. We remember this is, say, the symphony's second movement. We may even be recalling some of the composer's other works, or those of another composer or performer."

Thanks to our amazing musical memories, we can recognise a piece of music despite hearing only the smallest of snippets. Glenn Schellenberg, a cognitive scientist at the University of Toronto, played people excerpts from Top 40 songs lasting no more than a second. Respondents were then given a list of songs and asked to match them to the music. Working with just the timbre of the music – the kind of sound it made – most of them could match most of the songs.

We can even recognise a piece when it has been transposed into a different key and tempo, which is how we can identify I Heard It Through the Grapevine as the same song whether it's sung by Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight, the Kaiser Chiefs, the Slits or the Flying Pickets. As we listen to music we are constantly relating what we hear to a vast store of musical memories which we can conjure almost at will, replaying music in our minds almost as effectively as hearing it. (Sometimes, annoyingly, we find we cannot get rid of songs known as earworms that our brains seem determined to replay despite our not really wanting them to.)

Given the feats of memory required by listening to music, it should perhaps be no surprise that music should unlock such powerful memories for people with dementia, giving people access to moods, thoughts and associations long thought to have disappeared. One explanation, given at last year’s Musical Brain Conference in London by Professor Jessica Grahn of Western University in Ontario, is that musical memory is largely procedural and uses different areas of the brain from those we use to recall knowledge and events: the kinds of memories that slip away with Alzheimers.

But music is also memorable because we are better able to recall experiences freighted with emotion. Not only is there no music without memory, but thanks to music's emotional charge, long-dormant memories can be reactivated, as Daniel Levitin explains: "As soon as we hear a song that we haven't heard since a particular time in our lives, the floodgates of memory open and we are immersed in memories. The song acts as a unique cue, a key to unlocking all the experiences associated with the memory for the song, its time and place."

The link between music and memory lies in the amygdala, the seat of emotion which sits close to the hippocampus, where memories are stored and retrieved. The amygdala is closely involved in coding memories with emotional power. Levitin's experiments show that when music is playing, the amygdala is working constantly in a way that it doesn't when it's just listening to random collections of sounds. Music is good for our memories because it has a powerful impact on our feelings.

The psychologist Caroll C Pratt, writing in 1931, tried to describe how music achieved this when he said: "Music sounds like the way emotions feel." No one who has found themselves mentally skipping along after a few bars of Pharrell Williams's Happy needs to be told that music can lift our moods: it can make us ecstatic, excited, celebratory and giddy. But music can also still us, make us reflect and wonder, feel sad and sombre, unsettled and thoughtful, even reduce us to tears, in a way that no other art form does on a regular basis. People who get a lump in the throat listening to Mahler or John Martyn do not generally dissolve in tears at the National Gallery. Music is the art form most likely to make us cry, according to Michael Trimble, emeritus professor of behavioural neurology at University College London. In Why Humans Like to Cry: Tragedy, Evolution and the Brain, he says that our capacity to cry out of empathy, sympathy and emotion, rather than out of pain, is essential to our being human: "Music captures the emotions, destroys composure and binds listeners in communal rapture," he says, more effectively than any other form of art.

Music seems to reflect the ups and downs of our emotional lives in the abstract because it is usually not about anything in particular, as the philosopher Roger Scruton argues in Understanding Music: Philosophy and Interpretation. Music is about itself, Scruton argues, its meaning is not tethered to a thing in the world and so it becomes boundless. We find music emotional because of the way is swells and contracts, retreats and advances, pauses in mid-air before plummeting away from us, twisting and turning like a rollercoaster. Often it can seem to become complex and almost cacophonous before resolving into culminating harmony and closure.

A good deal of that emotional charge comes from the way composers manage to engage our expectations, drawing us in with a regularity and rhythm, only to confound and surprise us. Since Leonard Meyer's 1956 book Emotion and the Meaning of Music, much of the modern study of how music engages and releases emotions has focused on how a piece builds up a sense of anticipation of what is to come, which is in turn delayed or deferred before finally being resolved. As a result, our brains need not just to be alert, but open to the unexpected. Good music is never utterly predictable. It leads us astray and we trust it to do so; we have to give ourselves over to it. Or to put it another way, we play music and then the music plays with us. In Music and the Mind, psychoanalyst Anthony Storr described this journey of contrasts and even conflicts, of hopes raised, dashed and then revived. "We cannot hear musical movement without seeking points of stability and closure, points to which the movement is tending or from which it is diverging and to which it might at some point come home."

Experts in musical cognition are currently unpicking some of the underlying neural interplay involved in this process. Thomas Eerola, professor of musical cognition at Durham University, has built a computer that "gives you a very rough estimation of the arousing qualities of music on the vertical axis, and the continuum between negative and positive on the horizontal axis.” Eerola told the Musical Brain symposium. “So for anger you would need high dynamics, lots of dissonance, an ambiguous key, pulse clarity, spectral spread. Or if you want scary music it would have very high dynamics, very sharp attacks, hugely ambiguous key and high register." Eerola acknowledges his simple model fails to cope with the complex range of feelings conjured up by listening to Shostakovitch or Mahler.

Neuroscientist Robert Zatorre, at McGill University in Montreal, is using advanced brain imaging techniques to understand the neural pathways involved in generating these emotions. Zatorre’s research has found that the amygdala, which controls emotional rewards, is activated by uplifting music, while those brain regions associated with negative emotions, like fear and anxiety, are deactivated. Moreover, music is designed to elicit strong emotions in us without committing us to do anything about it. We can fear but do not have to flee; we can feel brave and bold but not actually fight; we can feel warm and romantic without making love to the person next to us. A bit like dreaming, music allows the brain to work through a whole range of feelings almost as a form of simulation.

For people with dementia, the emotional charge of music has an added attraction. When people start losing track of their memory of facts, events and names, it can often feel as if life becomes a long series of anxiety-inducing tests, which they fear they are increasingly doomed to fail. By comparison, listening to music is a largely stress-free activity, open to many interpretations. There is no right and wrong emotional reaction to a piece of music. Someone with dementia might not be able to follow the thread of a Shakespeare play; but they can be as moved by listening to a choir singing Palestrina as anyone.

Our feeling for music of course is not just in our heads; it's in the way our brains work with our bodies. Our capacity to keep the beat and to predict the rhythmic flow of music comes from our cerebellum, popularly known as the 'reptilian brain' because it is the oldest part of the human brain and we share it with other species. The cerebellum helps to track the movement of, say, a walking animal; and it also helps us keep track of the beat of a song. Recently, a team of neurologists led by Jeremy Schmahmann at Harvard, used autopsies, neuroimaging and studies of other species to find that the cerebellum – which accounts for up to 80 per cent of the brain's neurons but only 10 per cent of its weight – is closely connected to the emotional centre, the amygdala. Music creates a virtuous circle between how we feel, how we remember and how we move. That is why music is so powerful for people with dementia.

Dementia often isolates people, leaving them feeling trapped in their own world, often going over the same ground, not quite able to remember what they have already done. Music's power to connect and bind, and to create shared experiences, is especially powerful for people who find it hard to communicate in other ways, through language and writing.

Oliver Sacks saw this first hand in the work of music therapists at the Beth Abraham hospital: "It is astonishing to see mute, isolated, confused individuals warm to music, recognise it as familiar, and start to sing, start to bond with a therapist. It is even more astonishing to see a dozen deeply demented people – all in worlds or non-worlds of their own, seemingly incapable of any coherent reactions, let alone interactions – and how they respond to a music therapist who begins to play music in front of them." Sacks saw torpid patients become alert and aware; agitated people grow calmer; the frozen ones begin to move; the silent ones break into song. Many of them started to cry and others to dance.

The bonding properties of song become even more powerful when people dance. "Rhythm can restore… a primal sense of movement and life," says Sacks. It has an impact on mood, behaviour and even cognitive performance, which often lasts long after the music has stopped.

As our society ages and more people succumb to forms of dementia, one of the most effective responses will be to connect with them through music.. Ageing societies facing widescale dementia should be investing heavily in mass music making, to make it normal for people of all generations and states of awareness to make music together as they do in pre-industrial societies. So we might need to go backwards to innovate, recovering older traditions of folk and communal music-making; and to become less embarrassed by playing music with one another, no matter how bad we think we are.

The transformative effects of music therapy need to be more widely recognised, not just for coping with dementia but in response to all kinds of trauma, according to Ian Ritchie, artistic director of the Musical Brain conference. Music and movement classes, currently mainly designed for the under-threes, should also be widely available for the over-65s. Drumming groups and steel bands made up of older people should be popping up all over the country, along with choirs, dance troupes, discos, tea dances and grey raves.

We will also need to get over a lot of snobbery and performance anxiety associated with music, which deters people from having a go, even if they can only play two notes on the trombone.

One of the many letters Oliver Sacks received describing the transformative impact of music on people with dementia came from Kathryn Koubek, recounting the experience of her father then in his late nineties: "His talk became disconnected; his thoughts strayed; his memory was fragmented and confused. I made a modest investment in a portable CD player. When the talk became distracted I would simply put in a beloved piece of classical music, press the play button and watch the transformation. My father's world became logical and it became clear. He could follow every note… There was no confusion here, no missteps, no getting lost and, most amazing, no forgetting. This was familiar territory. This was home, more than all the homes he had ever lived in."

For people with dementia, music may provide the last place where they feel alive, cherished, safe and themselves: utterly lost in, and at home in, music.

Reposted from The Long and Short of It

The Composer and his Muse: Leoš Janáček and Kamila Stösslová,

In the Moravian spa town of Luhacovice, where Leos Janácek holidayed every year, one of twentieth-century music’s greatest love stories was born.

Leoš Janáček was a Czech composer, musical theorist, folklorist, publicist and teacher. He was inspired by Moravian and other Slavic folk music to create an original, modern musical style.

In 1917, the 63-year-old Czech composer met and began his lifelong, inspirational and unrequited passion for Kamila Stösslová, who neither sought nor rejected his devotion. It was Kamila, and not his wife Zdenka, who was responsible for Janácek’s late flowering and the inspiration for the female leads in his operas Kát’a Kabanová (“I always placed your image on K’at’a Kabanova as I was writing the opera; you know that it is your work,” he told her in a letter), The Makropoulos Case and The Cunning Little Vixen. He even envisioned his Glagolitic as a nuptial mass for himself and Kamila. Although it appears the relationship was never consummated, Janácek’s devotion and Kamila’s role as muse is documented in more than 700 letters exchanged over a period of 11 years.

Janáček pleaded for first-name terms in their correspondence. In 1927 she
Janáček with his wife Zdenka, in 1881
finally agreed and signed herself "Tvá Kamila" (Your Kamila) in a letter, which Zdenka found. This revelation provoked a furious quarrel between Zdenka and Janáček, though their living arrangements did not change – Janáček seems to have persuaded her to stay. In 1928, the year of his death, Janáček confessed his intention to publicize his feelings for Stösslová. Max Brod had to dissuade him. Janáček's contemporaries and collaborators described him as mistrustful and reserved, but capable of obsessive passion for those he loved. His overwhelming passion for Stösslová was sincere but verged upon self-destruction. Their letters remain an important source for Janáček's artistic intentions and inspiration. His letters to his long-suffering wife are, by contrast, mundanely descriptive. Zdenka seems to have destroyed all hers to Janáček. Only a few postcards survive.

Kamila & Leos Janacek,1927
On 29 January 1928 Janáček wrote: "I've begun to work on a quartet; I'll give it the name Love Letters." Two days later he added, "Now I've begun to write something nice. Our life will be in it. It will be called 'Love Letters'. I think that it will sound delightful. […] A special instrument will particularly hold the whole thing together. It's called the viola d'amore--the viola of love. Oh, how I'm looking forward to it! In that work I'll be always only with you! […] Full of that yearning as there at your place, in that heaven of ours!" "So I'm working hard--it's as if I'm living through everything beautiful once again--working on these Love Letters." When he wrote more later, the name of the quartet had changed: "And Kamila, it will be beautiful, strange, unrestrained, inspired, a composition beyond all the usual conventions! Together I think that we'll triumph! […] this piece, Intimate Letters, was written in fire. […] The composition will be dedicated to you; you're the reason for it […]"

This final work was a musical record of their relationship. "The first movement I did already in Hukvaldy. The impression when I saw you for the first time! I'm now working on the second movement. I think that it will flare up in the Luhačovice heat." And then: "I'm writing the third of the 'Love Letters'. For it to be very cheerful and then dissolve into a vision which would resemble your image, transparent, as if in the mist. In which there should be the suspicion of motherhood."

Late in their relationship Janáček gave to Kamila an album in which he wrote music and reminiscences of their times together. The first entry, from 2 October 1927: “So read how we have simply dreamt up our life.” Janáček left the album in Písek so that Kamila could read it and remember him in his absence. At one point Janáček threatened to burn it, but Kamila persuaded him not to. She brought the album to their last meeting in Hukvaldy. The last entry, from two days before he died, reads:

    And I kissed you.
    And you are sitting beside me and I am happy and at peace.
    In such a way do the days pass for the angels.

Sources: WikipediaLimelight Magazine.com, Quilldrivers

Fascinating Stories Behind Classical Music Compositions

Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony

Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 (sometimes identified as No. 7) really is unfinished. A symphony traditionally has four movements; Schubert completed two movements but then abandoned the project for reasons that are not clear. However, he did sketch a third movement. Various composers have “completed” the symphony based on that sketch, and their interpretation of the first two movements, but for all intents and purposes, Symphony No. 8 remains truly unfinished.

Dvorak’s 9th Symphony

This beloved symphony is better known as “From the New World” or “New World” because the famed Czech composer from Bohemia composed this masterpiece in 1893, while he was staying in America. However, the nickname is somewhat misleading, because while he composed it in America (a.k.a. the New World), it’s not an exclusively American symphony. While American Indian and black American themes inspired the symphony, it has as much, if not more, influences from his native Bohemia. Leonard Bernstein said it best when he described the 9th as “multinational.”

Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man

During World War II, the conductor of the Cincinnati Orchestra asked Aaron Copland to create a fanfare to be used to introduce concerts. The conductor had suggested a salute to the common soldier, after similar pieces created by English composers during the First World War, but Copland, instead, sought to make a salute to the Four Freedoms (freedom from fear, want, religion and speech & expression). Finally, he settled on making a salute to the common man. At the orchestra leader’s suggestion, it premiered during income tax season in 1943. Copland later turned the Fanfare into the theme for the fourth movement of his Third Symphony. The now-familiar Fanfare can be heard at rock concerts, the Olympics and political campaign events.

Mendelssohn’s Wedding March

Sometimes, it’s hard to fathom that tunes such as “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “Happy Birthday” were actually composed. Even the “wha-wha-waaaah” played on the trumpet was composed! Such is the case with Felix Mendelssohn’s wedding march, part of his incidental music for his A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Most people would recognize this march as the music played for a newly-married couple’s recessional.

Handel’s Water Music & Royal Fireworks Suites

Georges Frederic Handel composed three suites to accompany England’s George I, as he and his companions sailed on the Thames River. Handel premiered his compositions in 1717, and, supposedly, the king loved the pieces so much that he had the 50 musicians play them continuously for hours. (That had to hurt.) Thirty years later, Handel composed the Royal Fireworks Suite at the behest of the court of George II, to promote the unpopular treaty ending the War of Spanish Succession. Humorously, during the first official performance of the Fireworks Suite, an elaborate stage built for the show caught fire.

Reposted from Listverse.com

Musical Motifs in 'Tosca'

Front cover of the original 1899 libretto

Puccini's Tosca, one of the most popular operas in the repertoire ever since its January 14, 1900 premiere, is a violent drama based on Victorien Sardou's hit play La Tosca, which was written as a star vehicle for the famous French actress Sarah Bernhardt. In the translation from play to opera, the action was tightened, the characters were "Italianized," and most of the political motivation was cut. The action of the play and the opera takes place in Rome between noon of June 17, 1800 and dawn the following day, during which time all of the major characters die violent deaths. 
Sarah Bernhardt in the role of Tosca in play by Victorian Sardou , in 1899 ,

Puccini saw Sardou's play when it was touring Italy in 1889 and, after some vacillation, obtained the rights to turn the work into an opera in 1895. The dramatic force of Tosca and its characters continues to fascinate both performers and audiences, and the work remains one of the most frequently performed operas.

Anthony Tommasini, classical music critic of The New York Times, demonstrates how Puccini's use of motifs with various characters and elements in "Tosca" enhance the emotional power of the work.

The wonderful and moving aria "Vissi d'arte"  is the aria from act 2. It is sung by Floria Tosca as she thinks of her fate, how the life of her beloved, Mario Cavaradossi, is at the mercy of Baron Scarpia and why God has seemingly abandoned her.

Six of the best: pieces of classical music for Easter

1. Johann Sebastian Bach: St Matthew Passion

The St Matthew Passion is a masterpiece that many people know well, but few tire of hearing. One of only two JS Bach passion settings still in existence (the St John is the only other to have survived), the piece was originally performed in Leipzig on Good Friday 1727, although the score as we know it dates from 1743-6.

The work’s two halves were originally intended to be sung on either side of the Good Friday sermon - a test of the piety of the most ardent churchgoers (even performances without the sermon tend to last over two-and-a-half hours). So why do we love it so much? Could it be those intricate baroque figures that tug at the heartstrings? Or the effortless coupling of soli and chorus; of arioso with aria? Perhaps it’s simply the sheer number of terrific tunes that litter the work. John Eliot Gardiner's version with the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists remains one of our all-time favourite recordings of the work.

2. Thomas Tallis: Lamentations of Jeremiah the Prophet

Tallis composed his Lamentations around 1565-70, when he was in his early sixties. Setting Holy Week bible lessons to music was a trend that had developed on the Catholic continent during the early 1400s. Nevertheless, by the mid-16th century England had gamely caught up and the practice was enjoying a brief flourish of popularity. Alhough the jury is still out on Tallis' religious affiliations (he may have been Catholic at a time when this was politically inadvisable), the pieces could well have formed part of the Maundy Thursday liturgy in his lifetime.

These settings of verses from the Book of Jeremiah are among Tallis’s most expressive works. The composer used all the compositional techniques available to him to squeeze every last ounce of poignancy from the text. The five vocal lines imitate, suspend, clash and build towards the final section: 'Jerusalem, turn again to the Lord your God!'

3. Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Festival Overture

This 1888 overture is named for the Svetlïy prazdnik or ‘Bright holiday’, as Easter is known in Russia. An avowed atheist, Rimsky-Korsakov wrote that he wanted to capture 'the transition from the solemnity and mystery of the evening of Passion Saturday to the unbridled pagan-religious celebrations of Easter Sunday morning’. The piece paints vividly the explosion of light and colour at the end of a long, hard Russian winter.
Religious and pagan themes are entwined at the very heart of the work: Rimsky-Korsakov borrowed themes from the Obikhod, a collection of Orthodox chants that since 1848 had been a mandatory part of the liturgy for every church in Russia. These austere motifs shine through the wild textures of the orchestra, no more so than at 8’35 when a solo tenor trombone (‘a piena voce’) evokes the chanting of a priest.

4. James MacMillan: Seven Last Words from the Cross

MacMillan’s cantata for choir and string orchestra was commissioned by BBC Television and premiered in seven nightly episodes during Holy Week in 1994. The piece is a setting of the final sentences uttered by Jesus as he lay dying on the cross. The Aurora Orchestra’s Nicholas Collon recently described it as ‘one of the greatest sacred pieces written in the last 100 years’ - the writing is dramatic, emotionally-charged and extraordinarily moving.

Mantra-like settings of the gospel texts are well ornamented like many of Macmillan’s vocal works. The first movement is particularly moving with the plainsong-like chant of the sopranos and altos underpinned by savagely discordant murmurings in the strings.

Not one to listen to if you’re feeling fragile, though.

5. Gustav Mahler: Symphony No 2 ‘Resurrection’ 

 Mahler’s second symphony makes for great Passiontide listening. The journey from the tension of the first movements to the resolution of the finale mirrors Easter’s themes of destruction and redemption - hence the unofficial 'resurrection' title. The symphony took six years to complete and was first performed in 1895. Mahler always planned for the fifth movement to feature voices but lacked inspiration for a text until 1894, when he heard a setting of Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock’s Die Aufersterhung (‘The Resurrection) performed at the funeral of his colleague and mentor, Hans von Bülow. Mahler was deeply moved. ‘It struck me like lightning, this thing,’ he wrote to a friend, ‘and everything was revealed to me clear and plain.’ He borrowed the first eight lines of Klopstock’s poem and supplied a further twenty or so himself. Halfway through the final movement, the choir comes in with the words: ‘Rise again! Yes, rise again will you, my dust, after a short rest!’

6. Francis Poulenc: Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence

The critic Claude Rostand famously described Poulenc as ‘le moine et le voyou’ - half monk, half rascal. Though legendary in Parisian social circles as a bit of a dilettante, the death of a close friend in 1936 prompted Poulenc to make a religious pilgrimage that led to a dramatic personal transformation. While he retained something of the rascal throughout his career, much of the composer’s work after this time bears the hallmarks of a deep and abiding spirituality.

This set of four Lenten songs, completed in 1939, are among his most popular choral works; notable for their sense of restraint, they display a beauty and subtlety appropriate to their somewhat gloomy subject matter. Yet the songs are as dramatic as they are devotional.

Reposted From Classical Music.com

The Touching Story Behind Paraguay’s Landfill Orchestra

Back in 2012, I first told you about the amazing youth chamber orchestra from Cateura, Paraguay. The families from this small impoverished town, located alongside a vast landfill, can’t afford many luxuries — like buying instruments for their kids. But what they lack in money, they make up for in ingenuity and good spirit. The short documentary above gives you a glimpse of their touching story, showing how creative leaders in the community fashioned instruments with their own hands, turning oil cans into cellos, and aluminum bowls into violins.

But why stop with the short story, when you can get the longer story. Last week, a full blown film called Landfill Harmonic premiered at the SXSW Film Festival 2015. And now the film will be screened at selected film festivals while the producers try to find a distributor who can bring the production to a wider audience. And, in another piece of good news, Simon & Schuster announced that it plans to publish a picture book about the Recycled Orchestra. Look for Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay in March 2016.

Reposted from Open Culture

More OMG Moments in Classical Music!

What are the greatest moments in classical music history? The bits that make you immediately rewind and play them again? Simply, the most surprising, shocking, beautiful or weird bits in classical music? Here are 10 moments that will make you say 'OMG'…

 When all 40 voices come together in Spem in alium

Spem In Alium is a choral classic given a new audience thanks to a certain E.L. James, but we prefer to think of Thomas Tallis' piece as it was intended - a whacking great 40-part motet with one of the most breathtaking ensemble entries in the whole repertoire. Press play below to hear those 40 parts suddenly arrive all at once…

"Zaaadoook The Prieeest!"

You know how it is. You're just bumbling along, minding your own business, maybe there's some baroque music in the background… KAPOW! Mass choral entry! Something about a priest! Make sure you're sitting down for this one.

The Rite Of Spring causes a riot

Imagine being so maddened and confused by a piece of music that you start a riot. A bit like how parents of Justin Bieber fans must feel, maybe. Anyway, Igor Stravinsky's Rite Of Spring was the original authority-botherer, with its rhythmic and textural originality causing the audience at its premiere to turn into a gibbering rabble, 40 of whom were ejected from the theatre. Give the Augurs Of Spring section a listen and try to resist the urge to flip a table.

The Rite of Spring 1913

 When Ride Of The Valkyries turns up in Apocalypse Now

When he was composing Die Walküre , it's probable that Richard Wagner didn't have the Vietnam war in mind. However, since Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, this exhilarating music has become associated with exactly that. And helicopters. And explosions.

The high notes in the Queen Of The Night aria

As well as being an OMG moment, this is a "did I just hear that correctly?" moment. Actually, it's more like an "is that an alien singing, and why has my champagne flute exploded?" moment. Just listen.

See more at Classic Fm.com

Johann Sebastian Bach's "Brandenburg" Concertos


Few musical works are as loved--and as often performed--as the six "Brandenburg" Concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach. These six works display a lighter side of Bach's imperishable genius. Yet they came into being as an unexpected gift. That's what happened in 1721 when Bach presented the Margrave of Brandenburg with a bound manuscript containing six lively concertos for chamber orchestra, works based on an Italian Concerto Grosso style. The Margrave never thanked Bach for his work--or paid him. There's no way he could have known that this gift--later named the Brandenburg Concertos--would become a benchmark of Baroque music and still have the power to move people almost three centuries later.

The Brandenburg Concertos are a highlight of one of the happiest and most productive periods in Bach's life. At the time he wrote them, Bach was the Kapellmeister--the music director--in the small town of Coethen, where he was composing music for the court. Since the Margrave of Brandenburg seems to have ignored Bach's gift of concertos, it's likely that Bach himself presided over the first performances at home in Coethen. They didn't have a name then; that didn't come until 150 years later, when Bach's biographer Philipp Spitta called them "Brandenburg" Concertos for the very first time, and the name stuck.

Even though he didn't call them the "Brandenburgs," Bach still thought of them as a set. What he did was compile them from short instrumental sinfonias and concerto movements he had already written. Then he re-worked the old music, often re-writing and elaborating where he saw fit. In doing so, Bach created something of a dramatic arc from the brilliant first concerto to the last, which evokes a spirited chase.

Each of the six concertos requires a different combination of instruments as well as some highly skilled soloists. 

The Margrave had his own small court orchestra in Berlin, but it was a group of mostly mediocre players. All the evidence suggests that these virtuosic Brandenburg concertos perfectly matched the talents of the musicians on hand in Coethen. So how did a provincial town get so many excellent musicians? Just before Johann Sebastian arrived in Coethen in 1717, a new king inherited the throne in Prussia. Friedrich Wilhelm I became known as the "Soldier King" because he was interested in the military strength of his kingdom, not in refined artistic pursuits. One of his first royal acts was to disband the prestigious Berlin court orchestra. That threw many musicians out of work, and as luck would have it, seven of the best ones were snatched up to work in Coethen by its music-loving Prince Leopold. That's why Bach found such a rich music scene when he started to work there. It gave him the luxury of writing for virtuosos and they let him push the boundraries of his creativity. Concerto No. 2, for example, has the trumpeter play high flourishes. No. 4 allows the solo violin to soar.

When Bach played chamber music, he usually took the viola part so he could sit--as he wrote in a letter--"in the middle of the harmony." But for the Concerto No. 5 he had a real inspiration. He switched to harpsichord, gave it a knock-out part and, in the process, invented the modern keyboard concerto. The writing is so advanced and so intricate for its time that scholars assume the Fifth Concerto is actually the last Brandenburg Concerto Bach wrote.

If the dazzling writing style of the Fifth Concerto points to a late composition date, the Sixth Concerto probably came first in chronological order. It's got a simple part for the viola da gamba, a forerunner of the cello, which Bach probably put there for his employer, Prince Leopold, to play. The Prince was wealthy man and a serious music lover but probably a performer of only modest talent. The Sixth is also unique in the set because Bach omitted the violins from the ensemble; the violas take the highest string part. All six Brandenburg Concertos reveal the ebullient side of Bach, and they're one of the most welcome gifts he left us.

More Bach less bite as classical music calm dogs

Two groups of dogs were observed for a study.

During the first week one group was kept in silence while the other had classical music played into their kennels.

Conditions were switched for the second week.

The results, published in the journal Physiology And Behaviour, showed that in both groups the dogs’ stress levels decreased significantly after listening to music.

The research was carried out by Gilly Mendes Ferreira, education and research manager for the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Glasgow University PhD student Amy Bowman.

Ms Mendes Ferreira said: “Male dogs responded better than female dogs and both groups spent less time standing and barking when the music was being played.

"Although by the end of the week their heart rates and behaviour associated with kennel stress had returned to normal, the initial findings are very encouraging and show that classical music does have a positive impact on the dogs’ welfare.

“The average length of stay for a dog in our care can range from one to three weeks for small dogs and pedigrees, while larger breeds can remain with us up to six months and some breeds over a year.

“We want to make each dog’s time with us as comfortable as possible and this research is at the very forefront of animal welfare.

“This is the first step in a longer line of research and we can now try other types of music to find out how dogs respond to different genres.

"We will then decide how best to roll this out in all of our rehoming centres.”

Ms Bowman added: “Previous studies have shown potential psychological and physiological benefits of auditory stimulation, particularly classical music.

“Our study showed a similar beneficial effect of classical music but it only lasted for a short period.

“The dogs became habituated to the music after as little as one day.

"It seems dogs, like humans, prefer to listen to a variety of music and not the same thing over and over again.”

Reposted from Express UK

'The Black Horn': Blowing Past Classical Music's Color Barriers

Robert Lee Watt Courtesy of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Robert Lee Watt fell in love with the French horn at an early age. He met a lot of resistance from people who thought his background and his race made a career with the instrument unlikely — but he went on to become the first African-American French hornist hired by a major symphony in the United States.

He became the assistant first French horn for the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1970, and stayed with the orchestra for 37 years. His memoir, The Black Horn, tells how he got there.

Watt grew up in New Jersey with a mother who played piano by ear and a father who played the trumpet. His dad was keen to have Watt follow in his footsteps and play popular music and jazz on the trumpet.

But then Watt discovered a French horn in the basement of the local community center, and asked his father what it was.

"He says, 'French horn — that's a middle instrument, it never gets the melody. And besides, it's for thin-lipped white boys. Your lips are too thick,' " Watt remembers.

Despite his father's dismissal of the French horn, Watt was drawn to the instrument.

"It gives me chills," Watt says. "It just really touched me."

Today, symphony auditions are "blind," featuring screens between musicians and the committee judging them. That wasn't the case back when Watt started his career, and he wasn't sure that, given his race, he'd even have a chance in auditions.

He tells NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates how one teacher encouraged him to audition anyway, and how he overcame skepticism within and outside the world of classical music.

Interview Highlights

On continuing his French horn career after attending the elite New England Conservatory of Music

I think it was toward the end of the third year, my teacher came to me and said "I think it's time for you to start looking for a job." And I said, "Doing what?" And he says, "Playing your horn, dummy." And so my teacher — who just passed away a few months ago, by the way, at age 100 — was very paternal for me.
Robert Lee Watt was a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for more than three decades. i

On racial tensions he faced in the Los Angeles Philharmonic

Most people were fine. They just — there were things that [were] what James Baldwin would call ignorant and innocent at the same time. ... I do remember meeting a concert pianist and he says he almost fainted when he saw me sitting there. He says, "You're so starkly black [against all the orchestra's white faces], there you were in the LA Philharmonic." ...

I had a nickname ... Boston Blackie. No one had ever called me that personally but many people came to tell me that that's how I was referred to.

And then there was a Chinese guy, very young, came up to me and he said, "Welcome. Bob, now that you're here, try and get as many black people where you are." He says, "That's how things change." And he became my first friend in the orchestra.

On what he wants people to take away from the book

One of the things that I think ... we're not honest enough about is, we tell young people that, "You can do anything you want, just put your mind to it." But that lofty paradigm defaults to: "You can do anything if we're comfortable with it."

In my hometown people would say things like, "You wanna play French horn, I see. Have you seen anyone else doing it?" I said, "No." ... That was the mentality in my hometown. If it's different, right away, you're going to get resistance.

Or, in the case of my father, it was fear. Because my father, I found out just before I went to conservatory, that he actually auditioned for Juilliard. He bolted out of the audition because he ... could play bands, he could read Sousa marches and he could play in the jazz band, but ... he wasn't classically trained trumpet. So it created a fear and a stigma, so when I come along a generation later saying, "I want to play French horn," he thought, "You think they're gonna take you? You'll see."