Category Archives: Music

Music inspired in autumn

images-26What seasonal playlist could fail to include Vivaldi? From the Allegro’s post-harvest celebrations in ‘Autumn’, Vivaldi’s programmatic music transports us to the somewhat less vibrant morning after, where slow moving suspensions come as close to a musical hangover as anything you’ve ever heard. In the stately final Allegro, ‘The Hunt’, a virtuosic violin solo represents the hunter’s fleeing quarry, which they eventually catch and kill. Not so fun for the quarry, but a jolly old time for all the hunters.

Bax – November Woods (1917)

Though ostensibly inspired by nature, Bax’s November Woods also acts as a musical portrait of his turbulent love affair with pianist Harriet Cohen. An often unsettling work, the tone poem fluctuates between stormy drama and quiet ecstasy, yet fades to a quiet and unresolved finish.

Fanny Mendelssohn – Das Jahr (1841)

Fanny Mendelssohn wrote the piano cycle Das Jahr as a musical diary of the year she spent with her family in Rome. The 12 months are represented by 12 individual movements. In ‘September’ a flowing accompaniment overlays a dark melody in the left hand. ‘October’ is a brighter, march-like song, but ‘November’ returns to introspection and a minor key. She instructs the performer to play sadly.

R Strauss – Four Last Songs, ‘September’

Sometimes considered Strauss’s own musical epitaph, all of the Four Last Songs are themed around death. ‘September’ is a shimmering and uplifting work, which calmly compares the passing of the seasons with the passing of life. Strauss also includes a poignant and wistful solo for his father’s instrument: the French horn.

The Greatest of Violinists

It’s the instrument that inspired solo masterpieces from Bach to Bartók, that leads the way in chamber groups and symphony orchestras, that is equally at home in gypsy, klezmer and jazz groups alike. Just where would music be without the wonderful violin?

And in the right hands, few instruments can match the violin for displays of thrilling virtuosity, for expressing the full gamut of human emotions and for sheer beauty of sound. As a result, few instrumentalists have had quite the same legendary status as enjoyed by the greatest violinists. In fact, stories concerning the violin and those who play it have sometimes gone beyond the realms of reality – for instance, at his prime in the 1820s, Niccolò Paganini was believed by some to made a pact with the devil himself.

We asked 100 of today’s best players to tell us the violinists who have inspired them most. Each had three choices, with the stipulation that they must have heard them either on disc or live. We totted up the results to produce the following Top 20 of the greatest violinists of the recorded era…

George Enescu

(1881-1955) Romanian

George Enescu was a prodigiously gifted musician whose celebrity was limited by his own modesty and dislike of showmanship for its own sake. Not only a violinist, he was Romania’s leading composer, a distinguished conductor and a teacher whose pupils included Yehudi Menuhin, Arthur Grumiaux, Ivry Gitlis, Christian Ferras and Ida Haendel. From the age of four he studied violin with the gypsy player Lae Chioru and made his first public appearance, aged eight, as a violinist in 1889. Enescu then studied composition and violin at the Paris Conservatoire, supplementing his official violin lessons with the Paris-based Cuban violinist José White. He toured widely as a violinist (both as a solo and chamber musician) and conductor, but regarded his chief vocation as a composer. His unshowily pristine and song-like violin playing is preserved in the few recordings he made in the US during the 1920s, and his 1940s recordings of Bach’s Solo Sonatas
and Partitas.

Music therapy in surgical area

unduhan-30The paper, written by two music therapists and a nurse anesthetist at University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center, is based on what they learned while conducting a two-year randomized study to learn the effect of live and recorded music on the anxiety of 207 women undergoing a biopsy for breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

The authors collaborated to introduce music therapy practices into the surgical area. In the study, they randomized patients into a control group (no music), a live music group, or a recorded music group. Due to limited time before surgery, the researchers presented patients in the experimental groups with a live song performed by a music therapist at bedside or a recorded song played on an iPod through earphones.

When self-rating their anxiety using a visual scale ranging from “not at all anxious” to “highly anxious,” participants in both live and recorded-music groups experienced a significant reduction in pre-operative anxiety of 42.5 percent and 41.2 percent, respectively, when compared to the control group.

“During our two-year trial, we gained information on potential benefits, challenges and methods of facilitating a surgical music therapy program,” said lead author Jaclyn Bradley Palmer, a board-certified music therapist at UH Seidman Cancer Center. “In addition, we learned approaches to integrating the program with perioperative nursing staff members.”

Palmer said that a music therapist may be highly beneficial in the surgical setting, and music therapy may be a means of enhancing the quality of patient care in collaboration with perioperative nurses.

“As an interdisciplinary surgical staff member, the music therapist may help nurses achieve patient-related goals of anxiety reduction, pain management, effective education and satisfaction,” said Palmer. “And by having professional music therapists facilitate surgical music therapy programs, nursing workloads also may be reduced.”

She said additional research should continue to study if music therapy programs in the surgical area have a positive effect on patients.

Ominous background music

Scripps scientist Andrew Nosal and a colleague at Harvard University recruited over 2,000 online participants to share their attitudes toward sharks after watching a 60-second video clip of sharks swimming. They compared the results of the participants who watched the clip set to ominous background music to those watching the same video clip set to uplifting background music, or silence.

Participants who viewed the video with ominous background music rated sharks more negatively than those who viewed the clip with uplifting music or no music.

“Given that nature documentaries are often regarded as objective and authoritative sources of information, it is critical that documentary filmmakers and viewers are aware of how the soundtrack can affect the interpretation of the educational content,” said Nosal, the lead author of the study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

A researcher from the Rady School of Management at UC San Diego was a coauthor of the study.

Increases cooperation, teamwork

Cornell University researchers explored this question in a pair of lab experiments and found that music can have important effects on the cooperative spirits of those exposed to music.

In the paper newly published by the Journal of Organizational Behavior, Cornell researchers Kevin Kniffin, Jubo Yan, Brian Wansink and William Schulze describe two studies they conducted to test the effect of different types of music on the cooperative behavior of individuals working as a team.

For each study, participants were grouped into teams of three. Each team member was given multiple opportunities to either contribute to the team’s value using tokens or keep the tokens for personal use.

When happy, upbeat music was played — researchers chose the “Happy Days” theme song, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles and “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves — team members were more likely to contribute to the group’s value. When music deemed unpleasant was played — in this case, heavy metal songs by less than well-known bands — participants were more likely to keep tokens for themselves. The researchers found contribution levels to the public good when happy, upbeat songs were played were approximately one-third higher compared to the less pleasant music.

When researchers conducted a second experiment testing how people react when no music is played, the results were the same. The researchers conclude that happy music provokes people to more often make decisions that contribute to the good of the team.

“Music is a pervasive part of much of our daily lives, whether we consciously notice it or not,” said Kniffin, a behavioral scientist at Cornell and lead author on the paper. “Music might melt into the background in places like supermarkets or gyms and other times it’s very prominent like places of worship or presidential nominating conventions. Our results show that people seem more likely to get into sync with each other if they’re listening to music that has a steady beat to it.”

Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, added: “What’s great about these findings, other than having a scientific reason to blast tunes at work, is that happy music has the power to make the workplace more cooperative and supportive overall.”

The researchers suggest managers consider not only the customer experience but also workers’ when picking the day’s music. Starting the day with this simple consideration in mind could result in happier employees and more teamwork.

“Lots of employers spend significant sums of time and money on off-site teambuilding exercises to build cooperation among employees. Our research points to the office sound system as a channel that has been underappreciated as a way to inspire cooperation among co-workers,” said Kniffin.

The menaing of continuo on music

At some time during that historically sprawling period we call The Renaissance, something happened to our notions of harmony. As far as we can tell today, harmony during the late medieval period was something that in popular music was added to support or heighten a melody, or in polyphonic church music resulted from the interaction of the intertwining voices. But with the rise of opera and the madrigal, with their emphasis on the ebb and flow of earthly human passion, thinking about harmony became more sophisticated. The role of dissonance –the jab or frisson of pain, without which the pleasure of relaxation or resolution was impossible – began to acquire new terms and conditions. Now any chord should also be understood in terms of where it was headed – context was everything. Most radically of all, instead of the harmony simply following or emerging from the melody line or lines, music began to think from the bass up.

The result was the ‘continuo’, or in its original fullness, ‘basso continuo’. One instrument, or more commonly one group of instruments, now commanded the musical texture. It all centred on the bass line. Above the principal notes of the bass part, numbers and other musical symbols (‘figures’) started to appear like sharps or flats. These were to tell the keyboardist, or any other instrument capable of playing polyphonically like the lute or theorbo, what harmonies to build up from that bass (chord symbols in modern guitar music or in jazz work on much the same principle). As well as filling out the sometimes skeletal textures of Baroque music with warm, supple harmonic flesh, the continuo could also provide the rhythmic glue that kept a large ensemble together – the harpsichord, with its sharp clear attack, was particularly useful in this respect.

In this, the continuo-player was a bit like the modern conductor, except that as a hands-on musician he was presumably less prone to barbed or mutinous comments from his colleagues. 

When did it die out? We don’t tend to use continuo instruments in the symphonies and concertos of Haydn, Mozart and early Beethoven today, but the composers themselves evidently did, and the practice lasted rather longer in church music. Perhaps the increasing size of orchestras simply made direction from within the ranks impractical – the beat now has to be seen. In which case, vanity and the will to power had only to seize the opportunity. 

Clavichord On Music

‘From his very childhood HANDEL had discovered such a strong propensity to Music, that his father, who always intended him for the study of the Civil Law, had reason to be alarmed. Perceiving that this inclination still increased, he took every method to oppose it. He strictly forbad him to meddle with any musical instrument; nothing of that kind was suffered to remain in the house, nor was he ever permitted to go to any other, where such kind of furniture was in use. All this caution and art, instead of restraining, did but augment his passion. He had found means to get a little clavichord privately convey’d to a room at the top of the house. To this room he constantly stole when the family was asleep. He had made some progress before Music had been prohibited, and by his assiduous practice at hours of rest, had made such farther advances, as, tho’ not attended to at that time, were no slight prognostications of his future greatness.’’

John Mainwaring, Memoirs of the Life of the Late George Frederic Handel, 1760

Anybody whose neighbours complain about their keyboard practice could, like Handel, turn to the clavichord. Its seemingly soft tones have enchanted musicians from about the fifteenth century, and contemporary composers including Herbert Howells, Stephen Dodgson and Peter Maxwell Davies have written pieces specifically for this Cinderella of the keyboard.

The clavichord’s mechanism is disarmingly simple: each key lever has a brass blade (tangent) at its end that pushes up against pairs of strings when the key is pressed down. This direct connection with the strings allows the player not only to make dynamic contrasts but also to sustain and control the sound. Apart from the accordion, the clavichord is unique amongst keyboard instruments in allowing the player some vibrato. Eighteenth-century composers such as Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, for whom the clavichord was an ideal vehicle for the ‘empfindsamer Stil’ (‘’expressive style’’), even notated vibrato in their keyboard music.

Clavichords may be fretted or unfretted. In fretted instruments, one pair of strings serves more than one note, at least for part of the compass; in unfretted ones each note has its own pair of strings. Until the early eighteenth-century clavichords were usually fretted, while later ones were frequently unfretted. Compasses range from around four octaves in the early fifteenth century to five octaves or more in the eighteenth.

Comparing the rectangular clavichord to the harpsichord is akin to the story of the tortoise and the hare. While the harpsichord has always been the more public, dazzling instrument, it petered out towards the end of the eighteenth century in favour of the fortepiano, while the clavichord, being primarily a quiet personal instrument, continued to be used into the nineteenth century – especially in Scandinavia (Carl Nielsen may even have used one when composing). The clavichord was the first type of keyboard instrument that Arnold Dolmetsch revived in 1894, and its intimate charms have inspired performers ranging from Gustav Leonhardt to Oscar Peterson.

Though do not be fooled. For the clavichord is an unforgiving mistress that requires a firm yet delicate touch. It is these apparently opposing demands that draw me inexorably to this lady. Furthermore, Johann Sebastian Bach himself is reputed to have said that the clavichord was his favourite type of keyboard instrument, and his small-scaled French Suites seem particularly well-suited to it. What better reasons to record these works on the clavichord?

How the inner ear works

“This helps us understand the mechanisms that enable us to perceive speech and music. We hope that more knowledge about the capabilities of the ear will lead to better treatments for the hearing impaired,” says Anders Fridberger, professor of neuroscience at Linköping University.

To perceive speech and music, you must be able to hear low-frequency sound. And to do this, the brain needs information from the receptors, which are located close to the top of the cochlea, the spiral cavity in the inner ear. This part of the inner ear is difficult to study, as it is embedded in thick bone that is hard to make holes in, without causing damage. Now the international research team has been able to measure, in an intact inner ear, how the hearing organ reacts to sound. The results have been published in PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To measure in the hearing organ, the researchers used optical coherence tomography, a visualization technology for biological matter that is often used to examine the eye.

“We have been able to measure the inner ear response to sound without having to open the surrounding bone structures and we found that the hearing organ responds in a completely different way to sounds in the voice-frequency range. It goes against what was previously thought of how the inner ear works.

All About the Orchestra Challenge

In the first episode of The Great Orchestra Challenge, we meet each of the five competing orchestras as they take on conductor Paul Daniel’s first musical task: the symphony. Daniel has chosen five very different works for each of the orchestras to tackle, by five very different composers. And, to introduce each orchestra to their piece, Daniel goes on a tour around the country to see them all, accompanied by presenter Katie Derham and mentor Chi-Chi Nwanoku.

The Stirling Orchestra are first up, with the finale from Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, ‘From the New World’. Daniel conducts the first ten minutes of rehearsal, pelting off at top speed with the orchestra looking slightly bewildered at the pace. ‘You know you’re good, but you don’t do what’s in the parts’, admonishes Daniel genially. ‘You’re not letting the sound come from the bottom, which is where all good sound comes from.’

Meanwhile, around the country, the other orchestras are receiving their symphonies. The London Gay Symphony Orchestra (LGSO) is given Tchaikovsky No. 6, the North Devon Sinfonia gets Beethoven’s Fifth, the Slaithwaite Philharmonic receives Rachmaninov No. 2 and The People’s Orchestra is allocated Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique.

After Daniel spends time with each of the orchestras, mentor Chi-Chi Nwanoku ‘enters the fray’ for more specialised masterclasses. The most entertaining of these is with The People’s Orchestra in a Birmingham pub, pint of ale in hand.

We get a sense of how important the ensembles are to individuals within the orchestras. Gardener Paula Goodwin was helped to come out as transgender while a member of the LGSO (‘Nobody cares, as long as I don’t play loud, wrong notes!’), and Annie Hill uses her percussion playing as a way of escaping the stress of caring for her husband, who has multiple sclerosis.

All of the orchestras are given quite different advice, from The People’s Orchestra (accuracy and balance) to the Slaithwaite Orchestra (energy and excitement). The North Devon Sinfonia’s conductor Emma Kent has a one-on-one masterclass with Nwanoku, to get her to engage more with the orchestra rather than hiding behind her music.

Before we know it, finals week arrives. All five orchestras descend on the BBC’s Maida Vale studios in London, the home of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. They’ll give one final performance before judge Paul Daniel decides who will be leaving the competition at this stage.

‘The most important thing is to enjoy it…’ is amateur conductor Stephen Broad’s pep talk to the Stirling Orchestra, ‘and the second most important thing is not to give up, whatever happens’. All of the players seem quite nervous ahead of their performances, but manage to give good performances nonetheless. North Devon’s conductor Emma Kent has decided to conduct without her score, so there is no chance of hiding behind it.

Finally, decision time. Paul Daniel gives positive and negative feedback to all five orchestras, each represented by their conductor and a member of the orchestra.

But who is leaving the competition?

It’s the Slaithwaite Philharmonic. Despite being technically the most proficient of all the orchestras, Daniel says that they weren’t able to communicate their passion in their performance.

Do you agree with his decision? Comment below, or join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #GreatOrchestraChallenge.

 

High resolution audio

The study compared data from over 12,000 different trials from 18 studies where participants were asked to discriminate between samples of music in different formats.

Dr Joshua Reiss from QMUL’s Centre for Digital Music in the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science said: “Audio purists and industry should welcome these findings — our study finds high resolution audio has a small but important advantage in its quality of reproduction over standard audio content.”

Many in the music industry have been split as to whether people can really hear a difference between CD quality music and high resolution audio — even celebrity musicians have entered the fray with new music streaming services: Tidal launched by Jay-Z and Pono players and music service spearheaded by Neil Young and crowd funded through a Kickstarter campaign.

Both streaming services launched in the last two years have been met with scepticism. However, this new study found that listeners can tell the difference between low and high resolution audio formats, and the effect is dramatically increased with training: trained test subjects could distinguish between the formats around sixty per cent of the time.

Writing in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, the research suggested that careful selection of stimuli, such as using long samples of more than 30 seconds, may play an important role in the ability to discriminate between the formats.

Dr Reiss explained: “One motivation for this research was that people in the audio community endlessly discuss whether the use of high resolution formats and equipment really make a difference. Conventional wisdom states that CD quality should be sufficient to capture everything we hear, yet anecdotes abound where individuals claim that hi-res content sounds crisper, or more intense. And people often cherry-pick their favourite study to support whichever side they’re on.

“Our study is the first attempt to have a thorough and impartial look at whether high res audio can be heard. We gathered 80 publications, and analysed all available data, even asking authors of earlier studies for their original reports from old filing cabinets. We subjected the data to many forms of analysis. The effect was clear, and there were some indicators as to what conditions demonstrate it most effectively. Hopefully, we can now move forward towards identifying how and why we perceive these differences.”

The samples analysed were mainly classical and jazz music, though it’s not clear for which type of music high resolution recording and playback made the biggest difference.