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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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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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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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How to listen to... Gilbert and Sullivan

Tom Service immerses himself in the topsy-turvy world of Gilbert and Sullivan, and finds things are seldom what they seem... With Derek Clark of Scottish Opera and pianist and composer Richard Sisson.
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Playing Second Fiddle (and Horn and Trumpet...)

What's it like to play second fiddle in an orchestra? Or to sit beside the first horn or trumpet as they garner the limelight with their flashy solos and are stood up for a bow by the conductor at the end of the concert? Are orchestral seconds a tribe of self-effacing, embittered Eeyore-ish wannabees, or does it involve a set of skills and a personality just as musically vital as their more lauded colleagues? Tom Service seeks answers with the help of London Symphony Orchestra principal second violin David Alberman, second trumpet with English National Opera and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields Will O'Sullivan and the Berlin Philharmonic's second horn, Sarah Willis. David Papp (producer)
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Brass Bands

What?s the difference between a cornet and a trumpet? How did Czech music and a hill in Dorset sell a million loaves? What happened at Manchester?s Belle Vue Zoological Gardens in 1853? Tom Service answers these questions and many more as he explores the world of brass bands: our witnesses are the music director of the Elland Silver Youth Band, Samantha Harrison, who?s immersed in today?s competitive banding world, and composer Gavin Higgins, who?s written a ballet for brass band. Producer: Ruth Thomson
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Is Music Good for You?

Tom Service examines the intimate relationship between music and our minds. How does music affect our mental health? How do we use music to alter, deepen or understand the way we feel?
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Tunes for 'Toons

Tom Service explores "tunes for 'toons" - the music that accompanies cartoons from the earliest Mickey Mouse to the sophisticated animations of today. Unlike conventional film soundtracks, cartoon music is often upfront and very much part of the manic action of cartoons. And that distinctive breakneck energy has inspired concert composers such as John Zorn. Tom talks to Daniel Goldmark, author of Tunes for 'Toons, about the music of Hollywood animated cartoons of the 1930s to the 1950s; and to Lolita Ritmanis, LA-based composer for many recent animations including Batman: The Animated Series.
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Leo? Janá?ek: music is a being come alive

How did Leo? Janá?ek, a committed Czech nationalist whose intensely personal response to the places, landscapes and traditions of his Moravian homeland, produce music that is not only instantly recognisable but also viscerally connects to audiences all over the world? And how, in the last decade of Janá?ek's life, did a chance encounter with a woman almost 40 years his junior release a surely unparalleled burst of creative energy and a spate of late, great masterpieces? Tom Service goes in search of Leo? Janá?ek, composer and man, in the company of musicologist and conductor Nigel Simeone, and Relate Counsellor Simone Bose. David Papp (producer)
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Perfect Harmony

How does harmony work? How do certain chord sequences bring a sense of tension and release, and actually how many chords do you really need? With improvisor extraordinaire Wayne Marshall at the piano and choral director Patrick Allies.
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The Viola - Music's Secret Fire

Describing it as 'music's secret fire', Tom Service explores the world of the viola. Speaking to Lawrence Power, one of the world's great viola players who has commissioned numerous works for his instrument and Sally Beamish, viola player and composer, Tom sets out to unlock the key to the viola's elusive sound and to understand how it can drive the energy of the orchestra.
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The Feasibility of Studies

Studies began life as an aid in the struggle to master the piano within the human limitations of two hands and ten fingers. But from being the bane of many a pianist's life and a means of selling more pianos, these arid technical exercises flowered into some of the greatest music written for piano from Chopin, though Debussy to György Ligeti. And in Conlon Nancarrow's studies for player piano, they even inspired the greatest set of keyboard works beyond any human ability. To find out how and why studies evolved to transcend their original function, Tom Service is joined by musicologist Katy Hamilton and talks to Pierre-Laurent Aimard who worked closely with Ligeti on his extraordinary series of studies, widely regarded as some of the greatest piano music of the 20th century. David Papp (producer)
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Musical Signatures

What gives away a composer's personal style? How can we spot their musical signatures? And having done so, could they be convincingly copied? Tom looks for clues in the potentially similar music of Mozart and Haydn, and in the English styles of Vaughan Williams and Elgar, and speaks to art historian and discoverer of lost masterpieces, Dr Bendor Grosvenor.
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Dream Teams

Tom Service explores some of the most successful working partnerships in music. Mozart and Da Ponte wrote some of Mozart's most famous operas but what came first, the music or the words - what's more important? With the help of librettist and translator Amanda Holden, Tom discovers what makes a musical spark. Produced by Calantha Bonnissent
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The Inbetweeners

Baroque, Classical and Romantic... the big categories of music history all have their big-name composers. But what about the composers less easy to categorise, the ones who fall in between the gaps? Tom Service goes in search of the Inbetweeners from all eras and, with the help of CPE Bach aficionado Andreas Staier, discovers how these once hugely influential figures still speak directly to us now. David Papp (producer)
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What if...? Tom's Marvellous Musical Multiverse

As we move from one year to the next, Tom indulges in some speculative musical time travel.
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Swing, Rubato and Bounce

Tom Service investigates what happens when musical rhythm gets stretched or loosened. What is going on when a jazz band makes a tune swing, or a Viennese orchestra makes a waltz swirl? Liberties are taken with strict musical time in order to add expression and excitement - but you have to have the knack. He also consults pianist Stephen Hough about how to play Chopin and Rachmaninov with authentic flexibility. So whether it's Count Basie's Band or the Vienna Philharmonic, Tom unlocks the secrets of rubato.
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Becoming Beethoven's Fifth

Beethoven 5: one of the most instantly recognisable and enduring works in all classical music. How did Beethoven compose it? How did he whittle down his musical choices from the endless number available to make this seemingly inevitable-sounding, gripping orchestral drama? For insights into the essence of composition -- how you decide what comes next -- Tom Service talks to one of today's most exciting young composers. Shiva Feshareki explains how she decides one musical path over another in her own work and what choices she has made in her new piece based on a specially recorded performance of the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth. Part of Radio 3?s Beethoven Remixed project, which offers musicians and non-musicians alike the chance to create their own remixes of Beethoven?s Fifth, using recordings made by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales: David Papp (producer)
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Rewilding Sibelius

Tom Service explores the music of Sibelius as a force of nature with 'Wild' writer Jaye Griffiths. The inspiration for Sibelius's Fifth Symphony - the famous flight of sixteen majestic swans across the lake from his house north of Helsinki was, in the composer's words 'one of my greatest experiences. Lord God, that Beauty...' It's a well-known story, but in today's Listening Service Tom argues that Sibelius's music isn't just a prettified depiction of nature, it's a wilderness itself, with its own teeming, wild ecologies: from the pagan creationism of Luonnotar, to the primeval forest gods of Tapiola, and the elemental forces of the Oceanides. With writer Jaye Griffiths on wilderness as freedom, listening to a woodlouse, devotion to absolute life, and silence as extinction.
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How to Sing Classical - Vibrato!

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

Two, three and four beats in a bar are pretty standard in music. But what happens when a composer decides to go with 7 or 5 or 13 as the underlying structure? And why would they do that? Tom Service talks to composer Anna Meredith and conductor Martyn Brabbins about the fascination and challenge of the off-beat beat.
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It Takes Two

What is it about the tango that has enabled it to transcend its origins in the late 19th-century slums of Buenos Aires to become one of most popular dances in the world's glittering ballrooms and beloved of gymnasts, figure skaters and synchronized swimmers? How did tango escape the sparkle of the glitter ball and the borders of Argentina to be taken seriously as art music? It may take two to tango but there's a trio here to tease out the complex, multiple strands of this beguiling dance, as Tom Service is joined by tango historian John Turci-Escobar and Buenos Aires-born tango dancer Carla Dominguez. David Papp (producer)
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What makes the organ so mighty?

Tom Service takes on the largest instrument created by human hands: the organ. With the help of organist Anna Lapwood, Tom asks: what makes the organ so mighty? Why has it fascinated musicians from Bach to Procol Harum? Along the way, Tom will delve into the Delphian roots of the organ and we?ll hear what its ancestor the Hydraulis sounded like, created in ancient Egypt. And we?ll drop in on Madison Square Garden where Gladys Gooding entertained huge audiences at sports events for over thirty years, starting in the 1930s. Finally, we?ll hear what makes the organ timeless and immortal in music by John Cage and Olivier Messiaen. All hail: the organ!
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Musical Highs

Tom Service looks under the bonnet at musical climaxes and crescendos. How do composers negotiate musical drama to often devastating beauty and power?
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Is Classical music fashionable?

You might think classical music is timeless and sits above passing trends and fashions, but in this edition of The Listening Service Tom discovers otherwise. He talks to newspaper fashion director Lisa Armstrong about how trends are made in what we wear, and to music streaming curator Guy Jones, about what influences our listening habits. And ? spoiler alert - classical music is IN!
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HIPP to Be Square

Tom Service dips a toe into the choppy waters of Historically Informed Performance Practice. HIPP is the latest term for the well-established vogue of recreating the sounds of music from past centuries. But how can we possibly know what music sounded like before it was recorded? Can HIPP ever be more than a hopeful stab in the dark? Like quinoa and farmers' markets, is it merely another facet of fashion and commercial imperative, a mirror which reflects us and our current concerns straight back at ourselves? Or is it a revitalising and constantly evolving force for good, sweeping away years of lazy and complacent tradition, revealing afresh music we thought we knew? Violinist Rachel Podger and chronicler of HIPP Nicholas Kenyon are on hand to help. David Papp (producer)
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Is it canon?

The classical music canon - who decides what's in and what's out? Can it and should it change? Bach, Beethoven, Brahms - widely regarded as permanent fixtures in the generally accepted canon. But what about the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Louise Farrenc or Steve Reich? Tom Service looks at how and why certain composers and pieces of music became part of an established canon, and how things are changing over time, especially with the desire to see better representation of women and composers from more diverse backgrounds in the mix. With writer and historian Katy Hamilton and oboist and researcher Uchenna Ngwe.
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The Goldberg Variations

Tom Service is joined by harpsichordist Richard Egarr to explore one of the most mysterious, complex and rewarding pieces in all music, Bach's keyboard work The Goldberg Variations.
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Going Slow

Listening to slow music, composing slow music and playing slow music - what happens when our music goes slow? Tom Service asks if going slow means making a chilled out, super-relaxed, concentration-free zone or if slow music is more focused, more intense, more dramatic, more emotionally and intellectually compelling than music that goes fast. This week's witnesses helping him find the answers are composer Thomas Ades and novelist AL Kennedy.
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Music and breathing

How is the rhythm and physicality of our breathing reflected in music? From operatic breath control to circular breathing techniques to a flautist inspired by the relearning of her technique after sinus and asthma problems, Tom looks at a fundamental element of music making.
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The musical universe of Maurice Ravel

Tom Service scopes the musical world of one of his favourite composers, Maurice Ravel.
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Wagner?s Ring Cycle: The Ultimate Box Set Binge

Tom Service explores classical music?s ultimate binge-listening box set - Richard Wagner?s apocalyptic four-part 16-hour marathon music drama, The Ring. Cram packed with heroes, heroines, gods and goddesses, it took 25 years to write and has inspired everyone from JRR Tolkien to Francis Ford Coppola and Bugs Bunny. Selfishness, deception, hypocrisy, greed, destruction; like all good box sets they?re all in there, but what?s The Ring really about? And what can we, and perhaps today?s world leaders, learn from it? Tom has half an hour to find out.
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English Music

Does English music have a formula? Think of the stirring 'nobilmente' tunes of Elgar and those melodies and harmonies of Vaughan Williams and Holst which have become inextricably linked with the very notion of Englishness. When did English music begin and is it still being written? In an attempt both to define English music and explain its appeal Tom Service enlists the help of Em Marshall-Luck, founder-director of The English Music Festival.
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Talking in music

Tom Service explores talking in music - from Gilbert and Sullivan's patter songs to high-art ?sprechgesang? by Schoenberg, from Mozart's recitative to the rap of present-day LA. Anyway, who's to say what is talking and what is singing? Archive recordings of WB Yeats reveal him intoning his poetry melodically, while Ken Nordine devised what he called ?Word Jazz?.
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Tom takes a deep drive into the music of Franz Liszt, celebrated, and sometimes denigrated, for his ultra-virtuosity. Tom is joined by former Radio 3 New Generation Artist Mariam Batsashvili who plays some of her favourite moments of Liszt at the piano, and explains why Liszt has always held a special place in her heart. From struggling with being the first world-famous musician, to pre-empting the likes of Wagner and Schoenberg, Tom explores the surprising and conflicting role Liszt played on the musical stage.
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Close Harmony

From Corsican polyphony to Jacob Collier, 50s rock and roll and global hit TV series Glee, close harmony runs through music traditions around the world: but nowhere is it more important than in Barbershop, famous for its striped waistcoats, bow ties, and comedy parodies. But today over 70,000 singers of all ages and genders participate in barbershop societies around the world, coming together to compete and perform in quartets and larger choruses, enjoying its exuberant and expressive performance style, and revelling in its magical 'overtones'. With Brian Lynch from the Barbershop Harmony Society in Nashville and members of the BBC Singers, Tom explores what makes it so unique, from it's vocal setting to its use of 'just intonation', and discovers the roots of its history, far from the exclusive Ivy League world it's thought to represent.
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The music of Kaija Saariaho

Tom Service takes an introductory journey through the beguiling sound world of Kaija Saariaho. Finnish-born, Paris-based Saariaho's music, at once dark and dazzling, immediate and sensual, has ensured her position as one of the world's leading living composers. From operas which explore the big human themes, to orchestral and instrumental works which fuse electronic and acoustic sounds, her voice is completely distinctive and instantly recognisable, a triumph of extraordinary imagination and determination over an unpromising family background. David Papp (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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Sad songs say so much

In 1649, a month after the execution of King Charles I, the distraught composer Thomas Tomkins wrote a piece of music called "A sad pavan for these distracted times". And in our own confusing times, is sad music what we need - or not? Tom Service looks at music's power to heal, to build community and to redefine historical events. With Associate Professor at University College London, Dr Daisy Fancourt, and author of "Singing in the Age of Anxiety", Laura Tunbridge.
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The String Quartet

Why is a chamber ensemble of two violins, viola and cello the most popular in all of music? The string quartet has inspired - and instilled fear into - composers like no other ensemble, and has been used in pop songs from The Beatles to Bjork. Tom Service explores the string quartet, from Haydn's epic 68 works for the medium, to Beethoven's heroic and tortured late masterpieces, to Shostakovich's 15 soul-bearing 20th-century works. Tom's guests are composer Dobrinka Tabakova, who takes inspiration from the wealth of quartets written before her, and one of the best quartets in the business - the Brodsky Quartet who, besides the great classical cannon, have played with pop artists including Elvis Costello, Sting and Paul McCartney in their nearly 50-year existence.
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Beethoven Unleashed: Getting to grips with Beethoven

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