The Listening Service

The Listening Service

United Kingdom

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


What's the Point of the Conductor?  

The Listening Service had a question from a listener : "When I see the musicians playing, they seem to be looking at their sheet music, not the conductor. Can an orchestra not function perfectly well without a conductor? If I'm intensely moved by a piece of orchestral music, is it not the musicians which moved me? Why must I applaud some arbitrary conductor, who never touched a single instrument throughout the entire performance?" Tom Service rises to the challenge and looks at the role of the conductor - is it all about their ego, their clothes, their ability to beat time or their emotional outpouring onstage - or it is something else entirely? Rethink music with The Listening Service.


Tom Service looks at how pieces of music end, and asks what endings mean. Are they mere framing devices, or can they suggest weightier thoughts of triumph, or conversely, of death? And what of the fading away so prevalent in pop music? From Beethoven's insistent affirmations to Tchaikovsky's bleak despair, from Haydn's witty farewells to Human League's intimations of eternity, the ways that music ends are as various as music itself.

Breaking Free: Martin Luther's Revolution  

As part of Radio 3's Breaking Free: Martin Luther's Revolution, The Listening Service asks where the idea of communal singing, especially in religious contexts, came from in modern Europe. It seems natural to us today but the practice of congregational singing was once a radical, revolutionary idea that brought religion and politics together. And - what do the football chants heard on the terraces share with the hymns we sing in church? Tom talks to Bach scholar John Butt and the Reverend Lucy Winkett to find some answers. Rethink music with The Listening Service.

Brahms - Behind the Beard  

The most famous beard in classical music? Perhaps. And if so, what does Johannes Brahms's abundant facial hair have to do with his music? Tom Service looks at four contrasting compositions for clues: the First Piano Concerto, the Second Sextet, the choral piece 'Gesang der Parzen' (Song of the Fates) and the A-major Intermezzo.

Who Wrote the First Folk Song?  

Who wrote the first folk song? It's an age old question, these tunes that everyone knows which have been passed down from generation to generation... Where do they come from? Enlisting the help of ethnomusicologist and folk singer Dr Fay Hield and folklore expert Steve Roud, Tom Service embarks on a quest to the very origins of music. It's a journey that takes him back in time from modern-day folk clubs to the origins of the species (via rural Lincolnshire in the early 20th century).


Tom Service ponders brevity in music - how short you can go? From Beethoven bagatelles to Webern's chamber miniatures, short doesn't need to mean lightweight. Short pieces may be intricate as a netsuke or as simple as a sonic doodle. Or suggest a fragment of something larger. Tom talks to sonic artist JLIAT, who has made a piece lasting 1/44100 of a second. But he's thinking of shorter pieces.

Music - It's About Time  

A programme recorded earlier this afternoon at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead, in which Tom goes on a journey into musical time and space. Find out what connects Wagner and Stockhausen, speed metal and slow movements - and how you can transform the fastest music in the world into the slowest, right in front of your ears...

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony  

Tom Service explores arguably the most famous piece of music in the world: the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. It's a piece which has been appropriated by everyone from the European Union, to the writer Anthony Burgess, who used it as an unsettling counterpoint to the murderous exploits of the characters in his novel A Clockwork Orange. Tom asks whether Beethoven's original vision of a musical utopia has actually turned out to be far more dangerous than the composer could ever have imagined.

In Space no-one can hear you sing...  

Space. A place few men or women have gone before ... but plenty of composers have. The universe has inspired musicians for hundreds of years and consequently we all know what space music sounds like. Or do we? From Holst and David Bowie to John Williams via Ligeti, Thomas Ades and the Beastie Boys, Tom Service dons his spacesuit on a mission to explore why cosmic-inspired music sounds the way it does, and discovers how space science is just as inspired by music as musicians are by space. En route to the stars, space scientist Lucie Green is on hand to tell Tom the reality of sound in space, while mathematician Elaine Chew helps him uncover the music of the spheres.

What you see is what you hear?  

Tom Service asks whether the way we see composers depicted in art influences the way we hear their music. With particular reference to three pictures that you can see on the Listening Service page of the Radio 3 website for this programme - Hildegard of Bingen, Bach and Beethoven. Rethink music with The Listening Service.

What Makes a Song?  

Tom Service considers what makes a good song work - verse, chorus, a good tune and...? Is a pop song using fundamentally the same structure as an art song or Lied? From the timeless pop of The Carpenters to the gigantic "song-symphonies" of Gustav Mahler, Tom examines what you can do with a few verses, perhaps a chorus, and maybe a "middle eight". He's also joined by composer and pianist Richard Sisson to consider the genius of Robert Schumann's songcraft, and by producer Dan Carey who considers contrasting song structures by The Beach Boys and Frank Ocean.


Virtuosity: what does it mean to be good? Really, really good? If you're a virtuoso pianist, violinist, cellist, does that mean you can play faster than everybody else - or better? From Liszt to Paganini, Horowitz to Lang Lang, what does it mean to be a virtuoso? Are you in league with the devil, as 19th-century critics said about the violinist Paganini, or are you able to communicate more movingly, more emotionally, more humanly than other players? With Tom Service.

Whatever Happened to the Waltz?  

A hotbed of vice, immorality, and social meltdown... or a musical embodiment of gilded nostalgia and conservatism... The sounds of an empire at whirling play in Vienna... or the final soundtrack to the end of a musical and political world order... Tom Service invites you to dance through history in three-time, and whirl through waltzes both wonderful and weird. With dance historian Darren Royston and dancing queen Katie Derham.

Breaking Free: Tom Service on the Second Viennese School  

Breaking Free - the minds that changed music. Tom Service explores how to listen to the Second Viennese School - music that exploded with expressive feeling in the early years of the 20th century, and then gradually rebuilt harmony into a new system, using the 12-note series. He explains how the music developed from Arnold Schoenberg's early expressionist ventures into atonality, to the cool jewel-like precision of his pupil Anton Webern. In conversation with art historian Lisa Florman, he finds parallels in the painter Wassily Kandinsky's journey towards abstraction and his theories of shapes and colours. (Kandinsky was a friend of Schoenberg). And composer George Benjamin describes the intricate structures of Webern's music, which greatly inspired his own compositions.

The Listening Service Extra 12 of 12 - Schoenberg’s Compositional Vision  

Tom explores how Schoenberg hears the music that he is going to write. 'I hear the music which I am going to write. I hear the music and I have acquired a thing which every composer has to acquire in time. I have acquired the capacity of finding out what composes this music which I hear in my mind, in my imagination. And it's a kind of analysis of course but it's possible to mechanically express, if I say analysis, but the process is certainly similar to an analysis. I know, like a good cook would know of what the food is prepared, you know, what is in this food. So the composer knows what is in this sound which he hears.' - Arnold Schoenberg, 1950 Archive audio and photos with kind permission of Arnold Schönberg Center, Wien

The Listening Service Extra 11 of 12 - Twelve-tone music and its reception  

We hear Schoenberg on the reception of his music in America, Europe. 'When in 1933 I came to America I was a very renowned composer, even so that Mr. Goebbels himself in his "Der Angriff" reprimanded me for leaving Germany. Thanks to the attitude of most American conductors and under the leadership of Toscanini, Koussevitzky, and of Walter, suppression of my works soon began with the effect that the number of my performances sunk to an extremely low point. A year ago I had counted in Europe alone about a hundred performances of my works. There was also opposition and violent propoganda against my music in Europe. But musical education was high enough to meet the opposition of the illiterate. Therefore there existed a satisfactory number of first class musicians who at once were able to recognize that logic, order, and organization will be greatly promoted by application of the method of composing with twelve tones.' - Arnold Schoenberg, 1949 Archive audio and photos with kind permission of Arnold Schönberg Center, Wien

The Listening Service Extra 10 of 12 - Do the correct notes matter?  

Tom looks at Schoenberg’s plea to musicians to play the correct notes in his String Trio, and why it matters so much to his serial music... 'A true musician, reading the score during the performance of one of my later works, went to the artists' room and showed the players many errors, faults, and other shortcomings he had observed in their rendition. He was given the very strange answer: "Maybe, but nobody noticed that!" Strange indeed! Strange at first the morale, which compares very well to a viewpoint excusing a crime if it cannot be proven. But strange also the logic to make such a contention when facing a man who has noticed those "differences." It seems, these players expected nobody would notice differences, which probably they themselves did not notice.' - Arnold Schoenberg 1949 Archive audio and photos with kind permission of Arnold Schönberg Center, Wien

The Listening Service Extra 9 of 12 - Tennis Partners  

Tom looks at Schoenberg’s love of Gershwin, who was also his tennis partner in Hollywood. 'George Gershwin was one of these rare kind of musicians to whom music is not a matter of more or less ability. Music, to him, was the air he breathed, the food which nourished him, the drink that refreshed him. Music was what made him feel and music was the feeling he expressed. Directness of this kind is given only to great men. And there is no doubt that he was a great composer. What he has achieved was not only to the benefit of a national American music but also a contribution to the music of the whole world. In this meaning I want to express the deepest grief for the deplorable loss to music. But may I mention that I lose also a friend whose amiable personality was very dear to me.' - Arnold Schoenberg 1937 Archive audio and photos with kind permission of Arnold Schönberg Center, Wien

The Listening Service Extra 8 of 12 - Alban Berg  

We listen to Schoenberg’s praise of his pupil, Alban Berg - and his surprise that this “soft-hearted young man” could write an opera of the ferocity and tragedy of Wozzeck. 'When Alban Berg, in 1904, came to me he was a very tall youngster and extremely timid… I was greatly surprised when this soft-hearted, timid young man had the courage to engage in a venture which seemed to invite misfortune: namely to compose Wozzeck, a drama of such extraordinary tragedy that it seemed forbidding to music. And even more: it contained scenes of everyday life which were contrary to the concept of the opera which still lived on stylized costumes and conventionalized characters. He succeeded. Wozzeck was one of the greatest successes of opera…He succeeded with his opera like he had succeeded in his insistence on studying with me. Making the belief in ideas one's own destiny is the substance of are made the great man.' - Arnold Schoenberg, 1949 Archive audio and photos with kind permission of Arnold Schönberg Center, Wien

The Listening Service Extra 7 of 12 - Expressive Melodies  

Tom looks at Schoenberg’s own demonstration of how to harmonize a melody to maximum effect, using his Orchestral Variations as an example. As Schoenberg says: "There is nothing I long for more intensely than to be taken for a better sort of Tchaikovsky”. Archive audio and photos with kind permission of Arnold Schönberg Center, Wien

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