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The Listening Service

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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Ravel's Bolero: A Piece without Music?

Tom Service explores Ravel's Bolero ? a classical chart-topper, concert-hall-filler and the soundtrack to Torvill and Dean's Olympic skating glory. Written in 1928, Ravel described it as a 'piece without music in it' and agreed with the lady at the Paris premiere who shouted 'rubbish! rubbish!' over the applause. But he also admitted that with Bolero he had gambled and won, making one of the most experimental and popular pieces of orchestral music ever composed.
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All the King's Music

Tom Service assesses the history of the Masters of the King's (or Queen's) Music - a pantheon of 21 names, some brilliant, some average, some really rather forgettable. What have the incumbents done with their time in the post, and how has the role changed in recent years? And how do they compare with their equivalents in literature, the Poets Laureate? With literary historian Oliver Tearle.
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Once upon a time... The Fairy-tale Operas of Judith Weir

Tom Service delves into the deep (and often dark) worlds of Judith Weir's fairy-tale and folk-inspired operas, including Blond Eckbert and The Vanishing Bridegroom.
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Wild Isles: Wild Music

Inspired by David Attenborough?s Wild Isles series, Tom Service goes in search of music that reflects British wildlife and wilderness, and our relationship with it. From the songs of Henry Purcell written whilst wolves still roamed the British Isles to orchestral representations of composers like Hamish MacCunn, Grace Williams and Ralph Vaughan Williams, and the score for Wild Isles itself, written by the Oscar nominated film composer George Fenton. But perhaps truly wild music isn?t music written about wild places: perhaps it's music which has a wildness of spirit, of process, or of uncontrollably organic construction, music that releases the untamed and the untameable, by composers like Peter Maxwell Davies, Brian Eno, and Chris Wood. But where do the real sounds of nature fit into all this ? the sounds of birdsong, bacteria, and fungi?? Our witness today is the award-winning author and naturalist Mark Cocker. Producer: Ruth Thomson
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Stravinsky, the puppet master: Petrushka

Tom Service takes you on a journey into the extraordinary world of Stravinsky's ballet Petrushka, based on an archetypal puppet myth that shares the story of Punch.
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Here Comes the Bride

Tom Service with a guide to music written for and performed at weddings.
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Bluebeard's Castle: Enter at Your Peril

Tom Service intrepidly explores Bluebeard's Castle - the one-act Symbolist opera by Hungarian composer Bela Bartok first performed in 1918 which features just two characters: Duke Bluebeard and his fourth wife Judith. Newly married, he brings her home to his murky castle for the very first time, where she finds a torture chamber, armoury, treasury, garden, and lake of tears. And unfortunately for Judith, it's not long before she discovers just what happened to those first three wives... With Harvard Professor of Folklore and Mythology Maria Tatar. Producer: Ruth Thomson
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Collage, writ large: Berio's Sinfonia

Tom Service explores Luciano Berio's Sinfonia - an iconic piece of the late 1960s modernism, scored for orchestra and eight amplified voices who speak, whisper and shout texts by Samuel Beckett and Claude Lévi-Strauss. This groundbreaking work also incorporates a mass of musical quotations, from Bach to Stockhausen and everything in between. Tom's witness is the virtuoso sitarist and composer Jasdeep Singh Degun, who like Berio, took Monteverdi's opera Orfeo and reinvented it. Produced by Dom Wells
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Mystery, rumour and deception: Mozart's Requiem

Tom Service examines Mozart's final masterpiece - a work shrouded in mystery, rumour and deception. He?s joined by Dr Kathryn Mannix, a specialist in palliative care, who considers the factors of creativity - and music-making in particular - at the end of life.
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The Listening Service - an odyssey through the musical universe with Tom Service. Join him on a journey of imagination and insight, exploring how music works. Today - repetition. It's been estimated that in 90 per cent of the music that we hear in our lives, we're hearing material that we've already listened to before, And if you think about the music you love the most - it's often built on repeated patterns, phrases and riffs. So why do we need our music to be so repetitive? Musicologist Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis is on hand as Tom finds out why repetition is hard wired into our musical brains. So join Tom as he presses repeat on music from Bach to Beyoncé, Haydn to Herbie Hancock, Stockhausen to Schubert. Tune in and rethink music with The Listening Service... Each week, Tom aims to open our ears to different ways of imagining a musical idea, a work, or a musical conundrum, on the premise that "to listen" is a decidedly active verb. How does music connect with us, make us feel that gamut of sensations from the fiercely passionate to the rationally intellectual, from the expressively poetic to the overwhelmingly visceral? What's happening in the pieces we love that takes us on that emotional rollercoaster? And what's going on in our brains when we hear them? When we listen - really listen - we're not just attending to the way that songs, symphonies, and string quartets work as collections of notes and melodies. We're also creating meanings and connections that reverberate powerfully with other worlds of ideas, of history and culture, as well as the widest range of musical genres. We're engaging the world with our ears. The Listening Service aims to help make those connections, to listen actively. First broadcast in May 2016.
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Symphonic Steampunk: Saint-Saëns's Organ Symphony

"I gave everything to it I was able to give. What I have here accomplished, I will never achieve again." So said child prodigy, virtuoso pianist, intellectual, conductor and composer Camille Saint-Saëns about his wildly successful 1873 ?Organ Symphony?. Famously featured in the 1995 porcine Disney film Babe, it?s still immensely popular today. But where did it come from? What was Saint-Saëns trying to achieve and how influenced was he by his Parisian contemporaries? With organist Anna Lapwood on the thrill of playing ?that chord? in the Royal Albert Hall at the BBC Proms. Producer: Ruth Thomson
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On the March: Pomp, Circumstance and Dam Busters

The musical and military features of the march seem pretty unpromising terrain for composers - you?ve got to constrain your creativity to two-time, easy to remember tunes that keep pace in strict time. And yet the form of the march allows for more creativity than those strictures might suggest. Tom falls in with composers including Elgar, Coates, Sousa, Strauss, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven to discover how the march can beat the drum for many different ideas and emotions. With historian, Prof Simon Heffer.
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David Lang: The Little Match Girl Passion

Tom Service delves into David Lang's secular take on the Christian Passion: The Little Match Girl Passion. Winning the Pulitzer Prize in 2008, the work, scored for chorus and percussion, and lasting barely more than half an hour, takes inspiration from both Bach's St Matthew Passion and Hans Christian Andersen's famous children's story, The Little Match Girl.
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Also Sprach Zarathustra: Strauss?s New Dawn

Made famous by Stanley Kubrick?s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra which was composed by a young Richard Strauss in 1896 is much more than just two minutes of cosmic fanfare. Based on Friedrich Nietzsche?s philosophical novel inspired by the ancient Iranian prophet Zoroaster, its nine sections explore everything from passion, science, joy and death, to learning, convalescing, dancing and night wandering? But as a new year dawns how do the drama, power and epic sound worlds of Also Sprach Zarathustra ask and answer the fundamental questions of the universe and our place in it? Tom is joined by our witness philosopher Katrina Mitcheson to find out. Producer: Ruth Thomson
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Britten's Choral Christmas

Tom Service delves into the music of Benjamin Britten and explores the unusual stories behind some of his best-loved festive works, including St Nicolas and A Ceremony of Carols.
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Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune: Half Man, Half Myth, All Debussy

Tom Service plunges into the heady sound world of Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. "The flute of the faun brought new breath to the art of music" according to composer Pierre Boulez - how does Debussy do it? A ten-minute piece of music that apparently broke all the existing rules of harmony and yet is as minutely detailed as any miniature. And what do flautists make of the famous opening solo - we hear from principal flute player with the London Symphony Orchestra, Gareth Davies, who demonstrates Debussy's strange magic on a flute of the time.
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Kurt Weill and The Threepenny Opera

Tom Service takes a musical dive into the decadent sound world of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's epoque-making The Threepenny Opera.
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Steve Reich's Different Trains: Minimalism and Memory

Tom explores Steve Reich?s 1988 work Different Trains, its use of sampling and speech melodies, and its evocation of the Holocaust. Our witness is the author and journalist Jonathan Freedland. Producer: Ruth Thomson
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The Hebrides Overture: Mendelssohn's melodious cave

Tom Service explores the story behind the very first orchestral tone poem and one of the best-loved pieces in classical music: Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture. Cave expert Prof Stuart Jeffrey shares his insights into Fingal's cave (which inspired Mendelssohn to write his overture), from its many famous visitors over the years to its extraordinary - and sometimes disconcerting - acoustic.
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Musical Ecstasy

Tom Service explores musical ecstasy from techno to classical, dissecting 'Ecstasio' by the British composer Thomas Ades and talking to the Dutch composer and DJ Junkie XL
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Stormy Weather

Tom Service explores how and why storms and extreme weather events have inspired classical composers from Beethoven to Britten. With meteorologist, space physicist, and double bass player Dr Karen Aplin. Producer: Ruth Thomson
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The Enchantment of Chant

The immense power of chant to transform both the listener and the chanter has ensured the survival of this ancient musical form. Starting with the Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, Tom explores how chant has resonated across a thousand years of music, taking in American Hopi and Buddhist chants and the Hildegurls, a 21st century reading of Hildegard's music.
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Tom Service waves his magic wand to explore the connections between music and magic, discovering how an 18th century German poet, 19th century French composer, and 20th century cartoon mouse, cast a spell over audiences everywhere in The Sorcerer's Apprentice. With magician, performer, and academic Naomi Paxton on what happens when a trick goes wrong... Producer: Ruth Thomson
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TV Themes

Tom Service explores television themes with Oscar-winning composer Anne Dudley, who wrote the music for Poldark, Black Narcissus, and Jeeves and Wooster.
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The Music of Sound

Did music begin in ancient cave systems? How did medieval cathedrals inspire musical developments? What effect does a particular concert hall have on the music heard there, or the music on the design of the concert hall? And what can we do with our 21st-century ability to change our acoustic environment at the touch of a button? Tom Service looks at the relationship between music and its surroundings, and how that relationship has developed over the centuries.
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What's the point of cadenzas?

Tom Service is joined at the 2022 Hay Festival by the American pianist, writer and self confessed 'classical music nerd of the highest order' Jeremy Denk, to explore cadenzas - virtuosic solo improvisations - with help from Freddie Mercury, John Coltrane and J.S Bach.
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Royal Music

Royal music throughout the ages. Tom Service asks: what makes it sound royal, and why? And is there really such a thing as a royal sound world? Royal music doesn?t have to be heraldic, ranging from the pomp and ceremony of Elgar; to the intimacy of lutenists like Dowland writing in the court of Christian IV in Denmark; to the secret music of the Kyoto imperial court, performed exclusively for royal ears. Composers over the centuries and millennia have written for kings, queens, princes and princesses, at times simultaneously praising and even criticising monarchies from within and without.
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Can music be funny?

Tom Service on the art of classical music comedy. And it's not necessarily all about timing - see also parody, pastiche, absurdities, incongruity, subverting of expectations and sometimes, just good old funny noises... With musician and comedian Vikki Stone.
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The Musical Recycling Plant

For centuries, composers have re-used music from their earlier works in their new ones. But why? Were they simply pressed for time, or might there be another reason? And what do these 'recycled' versions sounds like? Does music become diluted and weaker with each reincarnation, or could the opposite be true? Together with expert musical recycler Saul Eisenberg of The Junk Orchestra, Tom Service explores this 'green' musical practice. Dom Wells (producer)
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More Than the Score

Are the 100s of recordings of each Beethoven symphony (and the thousands upon thousands of live performances over the years) really so very different from each other? Can one interpretation be better than another? What is interpretation and why is it apparently so central to western classical music? Why do we keep coming back for more? With the help of music critic Fiona Maddocks and pianist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Tom Service is on the case. David Papp (producer)
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What's in a Name?

A listener asks: "What makes a concerto different from a suite? A bagatelle from a caprice? On my way to work once, Radio 3 Breakfast played a gentle, quiet piece, with chords languidly spread into arpeggios. Aha, I thought; this is a nocturne. But no, it was an etude." So when is a song not a song? Tom Service tackles the complicated world of classical musical titles, catalogue numbers and naming conventions.
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Song Cycles and Concept Albums

Tom Service explores the world of the song cycle - from the tortured passions and existential angst of Beethoven and Schubert's protagonists in 19th-century Vienna, to Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole's ebullient takes on the genre with the birth of the concept album, and Kate Bush's groundbreaking experimental pop suite The Ninth Wave. Our witness today is composer Emily Hall whose work Life Cycle, written with Toby Litt for singer Mara Carlyle, explores the theme of motherhood. Producer: Ruth Thomson
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Finishing the Hat

Tom Service explores the unique relationship between music and lyrics in the work of Stephen Sondheim who died in 2021. Credited with 'reinventing the American musical' his works include Follies, Passion, Company, Into the Woods, and Sweeney Todd. Our witnesses are musical director Jason Carr, and thanks to archive interviews, Stephen Sondheim himself. Producer: Ruth Thomson
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John Williams - the Force of Music!

Tom Service has a close encounter with the film music of John Williams.
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Classical Crossover

The genre of classical crossover music has produced some of the highest-selling artists of all time. Why has it become so popular, who are the great exponents of the art, and what techniques transform the performance of a classical piece or a pop track into "crossover"?
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For many years, the humble, plastic and mass-produced recorder has been a mainstay of music education. The first instrument put into the hands of thousands of 20th-century primary school children across the world, creating lifelong musical memories, some good, some bad. That?s all now under threat from a small, stringed imposter: the ukulele. A recent survey of children who play a musical instrument found that the proportion playing the recorder has collapsed from 52% in 1997 to just 15% in 2020. Ukelele playing since 2014 is up by 15%. Recorders appear in paintings as early as the 15th century and have long been associated with angels and amateurs as well as children. Henry VIII was a big fan ? ?exercising himselfe dailie in ? plaieing at the recorders?; and on hearing one in 1668 Samuel Pepys said it was ?so sweet that it ravished me ; and indeed, in a word, did wrap up my soul so that it made me really sick, just as I have formerly been when in love with my wife?. He bought himself one six weeks later. An understated presence in the history of classical music nevertheless, the recorder has been utilised by composers from Henry Purcell and Handel, to Paul Hindemith and Luciano Berio. So, what next for the recorder and can it survive all those ukuleles? Tom Service investigates? Producer: Ruth Thomson
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Dancing about Architecture

Despite barbed quips about the impossibility of writing about music, people have been at it, successfully, for thousands of years, from Plato in ancient Greece until today. Many composers, too, have felt the need to set down in writing their musical credos; composers like Berlioz and Debussy have themselves been great writers about music. And then, what about the literary representations of music in passages which so clearly and evocatively describe what it's like to listen to music, which manage to articulate the emotions music so readily arouses but we find so hard to describe? So is writing about music really like dancing about architecture? No, says Tom Service. But clunky, not-quite-worked through metaphors are definitely best avoided. David Papp (producer)
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Playing at sight and playing from memory

Tom Service on two of the most astounding musical skills, which the majority of professional classical musicians have in abundance - the ability to play from memory, and the ability to play at sight, without study or much in the way of rehearsal. How and why do they do it? With pianist and teacher Richard Sisson, and violinist Eva Thorarinsdottir, of the Aurora Orchestra, whose members are unusual in that they often play from memory as an ensemble.
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Making Overtures

Tom Service explores the rise and fall of the musical curtain-raiser. From the birth of the opera with Monteverdi, to the lavish cinematic releases of the 20th century, the overture has had an important place in music history, priming audiences for the characters and atmospheres they'll encounter in the action that follows. So how did the overture develop, and how did it become greater than just a device to signal the start of a show? And why has it largely disappeared from concerts and cinemas? With guest Matthew Sweet, from Radio 3's Sound of Cinema.
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Handel's Messiah: Hallelujah!

Written in just 24 days, premiered in Dublin almost 280 years ago, and performed thousands of times since, Handel?s ?Messiah? is one of the most popular choral works of all time. A staple of many amateur and professional festive concert seasons, it?s also raised huge amounts of money for charity through the annual Foundling Hospital performances and Scratch Messiahs, which now take place all over the world. But what exactly is the Messiah? How and why did Handel write it? And does its familiarity make us take it for granted? Tom Service investigates? Producer: Ruth Thomson
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How to listen to...Erik Satie

Tom Service explores the maverick world of one of the most popular French composers, Erik Satie, composer of the three Gymnopédies, with help from pianist Nicolas Horvath and composer Christine Ott.
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The Borrowers

Taking other people's music and using it for your own purposes might look like the very opposite of creative originality. But down the centuries, from the parody masses of the middle ages and the habitual borrowings of the Baroque, through to 21st-century digital sampling, the greatest musical minds have done just that. Tom Service looks into the hows, whys and copyright pitfalls of musical borrowing with the help of legal expert and historian Olufunmilayo Arewa and composer and sound designer Pascal Wyse. David Papp (producer)
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Tom Service explores the connections between Klezmer and classical music. With violinist and founder of the London Klezmer Quartet Ilana Kravitz and writer and musicologist David Conway.
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The timeless power of contemporary choral music

The vocal music of contemporary composers like Morton Lauridsen and Eric Whitacre, Ola Gjeilo and Caroline Shaw, is hugely popular with choirs, congregations and audiences. How do they achieve their brand of mystery and magic? Tom Service immerses himself in the resonant sound world of 21st-century choral music and discovers how it works. With guest, Kerry Andrew, who makes music for communities as well as choirs.
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Eat to the Beat

What have a Mahler symphony and a recipe for sautéed kidneys got in common? Why do refugees and other displaced people take food and music with them when they are forced to leave their homeland? How do today's Spotify restaurant playlists and their 18th-century equivalents compare? Can you play in an orchestra and then eat your instruments? Tom Service and anthropologist Jonathan H Shannon have the answers. David Papp (producer)
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Out of Tune

What does it really mean to be in tune? In tune with what - or who? And why is it simultaneously something that?s so important yet so relative, flexible and movable a feast when it comes to our musical culture? Tom Service investigates.
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How to listen to... Arvo Pärt

Tom Service lifts the lid on the music of the most popular living composer - Arvo Pärt. Nominated for 11 Grammy awards and revered by Björk, P.J Harvey, and Radiohead, as well as classical musicians around the world, his seemingly simple and spiritual music is loved by millions. Born in Estonia in 1935 he did military service in the Soviet Army, worked as a radio producer, and wrote music for films, documentaries and animations, before creating his unique style of composition ?tintinnabulation?. But what exactly is tintinnabulation? What do you get when you cross mathematics with love? And how can strict rules and discipline ultimately mean freedom? Our witnesses are violinist Viktoria Mullova who has recorded many of Pärt?s seminal works, and theologian Dr Peter Bouteneff who has researched his music?s connections with his Orthodox faith. Producer: Ruth Thomson
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Fiddles and Fiddle Tunes

What?s the difference between a fiddle and a violin? How did an English jig turn into a Virginian reel? And what do Bach?s violin sonatas have in common with folk tunes from Finland? In The Listening Service today Tom Service explores fiddles, fiddlers, and fiddle tunes from around the globe, looking at how they connect communities, reflecting the stories of migrants and musicians across time, and staying true to tradition whilst continually changing. And how have classical composers incorporated fiddle tunes into their work? From Max Bruch?s Scottish Fantasy, based on tunes found in a library in Munich, to Aaron Copland?s Rodeo Hoe-Down, an orchestral transformation of the Kentucky fiddler Bill Stepp?s tune Bonaparte?s Retreat. Our witnesses today are Pete Cooper, who learnt classical violin as a teenager before discovering busking and ending up fiddling in West Virginia, and Lori Watson whose music and research draw on the landscapes and folklore of the Scottish Borders where she grew up. Producer: Ruth Thomson
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Themes and Variations

Tom Service explores the endless potential of musical variations on a theme. On the one hand it's the simplest of all musical ideas - take a basic tune and play around with it - and yet on the other, it's a deeply profound reflection of life, as small sequences of musical DNA provide the building blocks for structures of ever increasing complexity.
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Money Makes the Music Go Round

What have the Pet Shop Boys and Prokofiev got in common? How can you sing about not wanting money at the same time as making it? What does it feel like to burn a million pounds? Tom Service explores how our transactional economy underpins centuries of music making from Notre-Dame?s patronage of the polyphonic Perotin, to Beethoven writing a symphony for £100 and Wagner losing over a million on the premiere of his operatic masterpiece The Ring cycle. Our Listening Service witness today is macroeconomist, fund manager and sometime cellist Felix Martin, who has written the unauthorised biography of money. Producer: Ruth Thomson
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