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  • Who is competing in BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2019? | Wed, 19 Jun 2019 09:38:21 +0000


    This year's BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition features 20 singers from 15 countries, and for the first time the line-up includes a singer from Guatemala. The 20 singers will compete for the Main Prize, Song Prize and Audience Prize, the latter of which will be dedicated to the memory of baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who died in 2017 and won the competition in 1989.


    Guadalupe Barrientos
    32 years old 



    Lauren Fagan
    31 years old


    Camila Titinger 
    29 years old



    Mingjie Lei
    31 years old


    Katie Bray
    32 years old



    Adriana Gonzalez
    27 years old



    Jorge Espino
    27 years old


    Julien Van Mellaerts
    New Zealand
    31 years old



    Luis Gomes
    32 years old



    Roman Arndt
    30 years old


    Karina Kherunts 
    32 years old



    Yulia Mennibaeva
    31 years old



    Owen Metsileng
    South Africa
    31 years old


    Leonardo Lee
    South Korea
    31 years old



    Sooyeon Lee
    South Korea
    30 years old



    Lena Belkina
    31 years old


    Andrei Kymach
    31 years old


    Patrick Guetti 
    31 years old



    Richard Ollarsaba 
    31 years old


    Angharad Lyddon
    30 years old


    BBC Cardiff Singer of the World is taking place from 15-22 June 2019. 

  • How to get tickets for Proms in the Park 2019 | Wed, 19 Jun 2019 09:00:00 +0000


    The Last Night of the Proms and Proms in the Park are taking place on Saturday 14 September 2019. 


    Barry Manilow leads a line-up of artists including Chrissie Hynde, Jack Savoretti, Lighthouse Family and Gabrielle. 

    The BBC Concert Orchestra under Richard Balcombe will join later in the evening, alongside presenter Michael Ball. The Last Night of the Proms from the Royal Albert Hall will then be streamed live to Hyde Park for the usual singalong fare. 


    Gates open: 3pm
    Music from: 4pm
    Event ends: 10.30pm


    You can buy tickets here via SEE Tickets or here via Ticketmaster.



    Ticket types:

    General admission: £46 (+ booking fee)

    Park Lane Garden: £90 (+ booking fee)
    This is a new exclusive area of the park, situated behind the main stage (so you cannot see the stage from the garden). Admission includes exclusive bar access, dedicated luxury toilets, comfortable seating and covered areas. 

    VIP Hospitality Package: £439 (+booking fee)
    Complimentary bar (serving wines, beers, prosecco and soft drinks), three-course meal, waiter service and access to exclusive terrace with stage views.


  • Six of the best sci-fi movie soundtracks | Wed, 19 Jun 2019 06:00:00 +0000


    On 13 September 1959 the Soviet Union’s Luna 2 spacecraft crash-landed on the Moon. Almost ten years later, on 20 July 1969, Apollo 11 successfully landed with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, who became the first humans to step onto the Moon’s surface.

    To commemorate those two extraordinary events, here are six outstanding scores which reflect how – even before and since these events - the popular imagination has been haunted by outer space and what distant worlds might be discovered there. 


    Things to Come (1936: Arthur Bliss)

    With a script by HG Wells, the father of much of today’s science fiction, this is in theory an intriguing landmark in British cinema history. In practice it is a frightfully stilted, mannered and – at least by today’s standard – slow moving drama, which takes its time to reach the technological wonders of the future, including the first manned flight around the moon.

    The most vibrant feature of the film is in fact Arthur Bliss’s splendid score, its grimly triumphal ‘March’ being its most famous cue. Bliss himself made an excellent recording of the Things to Come suite with the London Symphony Orchestra (Heritage HTGCD220), and there is a modern recording of the complete score by Rumon Gamba conducting the BBC Philharmonic (Chandos CHAN 9896).



    The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951: Bernard Herrmann)

    Here, by contrast, is a film which has stood the test of time, not least due to its still eerie-sounding score by Bernard Herrmann (and helped by some fine acting, plus special effects which have not dated as badly as one might expect). Already established through scoring several Orson Welles pictures, including Citizen Kane, Herrmann was yet to form his legendary partnership with Hitchcock.

    The Day the Earth Stood Still was his first Hollywood score after he had moved from New York, and he was clearly keen to make an impression. His unusual line of instruments included electric violin, cello and bass; two theremins; two Hammond organs; an array of percussion; and 11 brass instruments (one horn, three each of trumpets and trombones, and four tubas). The theremins in particular dominate the music’s soundworld, most memorably the scenes involving the alien spacecraft.



    Solaris (1972: music by Eduard Artemyev)

    This Soviet film, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, is said to have been produced in response to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Unlike Kubrick, who famously ditched the commissioned score in favour of his eclectic temp track which successfully mixed Richard Strauss, Ligeti et al, Tarkovsky used a remarkable new score almost entirely (but for a Bach chorale prelude) composed by Eduard Artemyev.

    Though subsequently more widely known and loved for his late-Romantic style scores for such international hits as Burnt by the Sun, Artemyev was in fact a relatively early pioneer of electronic music within the Soviet Union, and had composed music in the Experimental Studio of Electronic Music which opened in Scriabin’s former Moscow apartment in 1966. It is Artemyev’s strange and unearthly music, above all, which makes one believe the disconcerting ‘alien’ quality of the scientific research station Solaris.



    Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977: John Williams)

    The five note pentatonic theme with which the scientists of Earth communicate with the visiting UFO from space was, of course, created by Spielberg’s legendary ‘in-house’ composer John Williams. Simple as it sounds, it was just one of over three hundred possible permutations of a five note theme that Williams composed, from which Spielberg selected the one which became for a long time a instantly recognisable motif, used in endless spoofs about extraterrestrial visitations. But just when we were on the point of being seduced with the idea of friendly aliens…




    Alien (1979: Jerry Goldsmith)

    The soft screeches, eerie moanings and echoey knocks with which Alien opens sets the tone of disquiet and fear that became so much part of the film’s identity. Remarkably, that title sequence was created in some haste by Jerry Goldsmith when the director, Ridley Scott, objected to his original all-too-conventional neo-Romantic title sequence. Other parts of Goldsmith’s score were also jettisoned in preference to temp tracks, which to his annoyance included music he had written for an entirely different film, and the music for the film’s final sequence is taken from Howard Hanson’s Symphony No. 2 (Romantic).

    Yet it has to be said that the film became all the more effective for those changes, and – as Scott admitted – a good deal of the film’s success still came down to Goldsmith’s music. Not least, Goldsmith had the inspired idea to add to his large orchestra an ensemble of the antique wind instrument, the serpent, to evoke the alien’s menace: though much of its music was excised from the film, the instrument’s blood-curdling rasp can be heard in the final twist when the heroine discovers the alien creature aboard the shuttle in which she intended to escape from the mothership.



    Under the Skin (2013: Mica Levi)

    Finally, another fine example of an original film score which unapologetically uses modernist sounds and so creates a disconcerting and nerve wracking atmosphere. Mica Levi – also known by her stage name Micachu, in which guise she performs with her group Micachu and the Shapes – was trained at Guildhall School of Music and Drama. While a student, she had the experience of writing a work performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra; she subsequently became an artist-in-residence at the Southbank in 2010.

    She was just 26 when she was approached by film director Jonathan Glazer to write her first film score for his film Under the Skin, starring Scarlett Johansson as an extraterrestrial who in human guise entices various men. Using a small ensemble of strings, flute and percussion combined with electronic music, Levi’s score creates its effect through a minimal number of musical themes embedded in a ‘beehive’ like sound, using scratchy string playing and microtonal tuning.


    Listen to our playlist of the best sci-fi movie soundtracks here:

  • Free Download: Trinity Hall Chapel Choir and Orpheus Britannicus sing Buxtehude | Tue, 18 Jun 2019 09:00:00 +0000

    'Seductive and ravishing'

    This week’s free download is Cantata II: Ad genua. Salve Jesu, rex sanctorum from Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu nostri, performed by the Chapel Choir of Trinity Hall, Cambridge and Orpheus Britannicus, with Newe Vialles under Andrew Arthur. It was awarded four stars for both performance and recording in the May issue of BBC Music Magazine.


    If you'd like to enjoy our free weekly download simply log in or sign up to our website.

    Once you've done that, return to this page and you'll be able to see a 'Download Now' button on the picture above – simply click on it to download your free track.

    If you experience any technical problems please email Please reference 'Classical Music Free Download', and include details of the system you are using and your location. If you are unsure of what details to include please take a screenshot of this page.

    read more

  • A guide to Vaughan Williams's Symphony No. 6 | Mon, 17 Jun 2019 09:00:00 +0000


    Writing for the screen brings an intriguing new flavour to the composer’s writing, which includes touches of jazz.


    Composed: 1944-7 (Scherzo revised in 1950)
    Premiere: 21st April 1948, Royal Albert Hall, London. BBC Symphony Orchestra/Adrian Boult  


    Like No. 5, the Sixth Symphony begins with a question: again, what key am I in? But instead of hazy ambiguity, all here is turbulence, clashing harmonies, skirling woodwind and surging strings. After this arresting opening, the Symphony goes on getting more and more original – through a bleak march-haunted Moderato and a vicious, frenetic Scherzo to a finale marked sempre pp e senza crescendo (‘always very quiet and without rise or fall’). In the end, two string chords swing slowly back and forward, fading into silence. Anything less like the calm of the Fifth Symphony is hard to imagine.


    A new life...

    How many people discover an important new skill in their seventies? As the British film industry geared itself up for major wartime spirit-raising, directors turned to well-known British composers to provide suitably stirring scores. Vaughan Williams discovered a new enthusiasm for this kind of work, despite its many restrictions. A colleague remembers him grumbling as he set to work on yet another battle scene: ‘I’ve had enough of all these crashes and bangs. Why can’t I write some pretty nurse music?’

    As the war reached its end, VW was approached to provide something festive to mark the final triumph. The most significant result was Thanksgiving for Victory (1944) – unmistakably patriotic, but not quite the bombastic feast of flag-raising that the title might lead one to expect.



    Far more important is the work that occupied him during 1944-7 – the Sixth Symphony – which draws on the wartime cinematic experience, not just in its reworking of two ideas originally intended for the film Flemish Farm (a story of resistance in occupied Belgium), but also in the way its musical narrative unfolds. The appearance of the very English ‘Big Tune’ in the first movement, amid so much turbulence and unease, is like a surprise cut from rubble and smoke to a peaceful pastoral scene.



    War clearly left its mark on the Sixth Symphony (the saxophone theme in the Scherzo was apparently VW’s reaction to the killing of a black jazz musician in a Luftwaffe air raid), but the composer denied that this was what the symphony was ‘about’. He liked it when a friend described the eerily still finale as ‘The agnostic’s Paradisum’.

    Could the Sixth Symphony have been the agnostic response to the Fifth’s apparently religious serenity – as though these two
    great symphonies were the opposing panels of a very singular diptych? In 1951, VW produced three fine unaccompanied choral pieces: Three Shakespeare Songs. One is a setting of Prospero’s speech from Act IV of The Tempest: ‘We are such stuff as dreams
    are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.’ The setting ends with the same two chords with which the finale of the
    Sixth fades out.



    The Sixth Symphony dominates Vaughan Williams’s output in the immediate post-war years. Apart from one big film score, The Loves of Joanna Godden (1946), there were few significant distractions. Perhaps the composer needed to concentrate as much energy as possible on this extraordinary work – after all, as some would have observed, he was now well into his seventies. Now, perhaps, he could allow himself a much-needed rest.

    But another film project, begun in the year that VW finished the Sixth Symphony, was to lead him in a surprising new direction.


    Recommended recording:

    LSO/Richard Hickox

    Chandos CHAN 10103






  • Six of the best… works by Stravinsky | Fri, 14 Jun 2019 11:33:40 +0000


    The inventive and influential Igor Stravinsky wrote some of the 20th-century's most important scores, pieces that redefined music and broke new ground. The Russian composer is still widely known by only a handful of pieces, particularly the ballets he composed for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in Paris in the years leading up to World War I. Yet beyond the celebrated works are also lesser known masterpieces. Such is the richness of his compositional legacy that we can't pretend to offer the full Stravinsky experience in just half a dozen works, but we can at least offer six suggested starting points for exploring his rich legacy.


    Rite of Spring (1913)

    All three of Stravinsky's pre-World War I ballets are wonderful works, but start with the greatest masterpiece of the three: The Rite of Spring. It remains one of the most violent, visceral yet exciting pieces of music ever composed, let alone performed on the ballet stage.

    The scandal which attended its premiere was largely caused by Vaslav Nijinsky's grotesque and revolutionary choreography - such was the resulting hubbub that Stravinsky's music could hardly be heard. When it was performed in concert the audience's reaction was ecstatic and Stravinsky was carried shoulder high on the streets of Paris.


    The Soldier's Tale (1918)

    Stravinsky originally intended this to be an easy-to-stage quasi-folktale 'to be read, played and danced'. In choosing his instrumental ensemble - which includes a fiddler, clarinettist, cornet player, double bassist and a percussionist playing a prototype drum kit - Stravinsky took elements from the gypsy ensemble, klezmer band and jazz.

    He transmuted all this into a soundworld that was very much his own, subsequently much imitated by various composers, both in France where he settled after the War, and much later in Hollywood.


    • 8 inspiring composer quotes

    • Lost work by Stravinsky restored


    Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1920; rev. 1947)

    Stravinsky wrote this piece in a fairly piecemeal fashion, writing its concluding chorale first for a piano piece commissioned to commemorate Claude Debussy. Even in its final polished form, scored for an ensemble of woodwind and brass instruments, it sounds quite fragmentary on first encounter.

    Yet the Symphonies of Wind Instruments is now rightly recognised as one of Stravinsky's great modernist masterpieces. Cool and dispassionate, with only a few brief bursts of dance-like excitement towards its end, the effect of hearing it is like encountering abstract, monumental and quite separate sculptures in a garden; only gradually does one sense how they relate to one another as one walks around them.


    Symphony of Psalms (1930)

    The neo-classical movement Stravinsky spearheaded after World War I was sometimes flippantly known as 'back to Bach'. Some grist to that mill may be found in this very unique work which Stravinsky composed to a commission to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

    For all his revolutionary credentials, Stravinsky had a particular fondness for old-fashioned counterpoint and fugue, and as such had the greatest admiration for JS Bach which he demonstrates to the full in this work.

    Essentially a choral work accompanied by an unusually constituted orchestra - there are no clarinets, and the strings consist only of cellos and basses - the colours appear to range from charcoal black through steely grey to a pearly iridescence. Against this stark background, the chorus sing a masterful double fugue in the second movement, and in the finale one of Stravinsky's most sublime stretches of music.


    • The best recordings of Rachmaninov's Paganini Variations

    •  The best recordings of Vaughan Williams's Pastoral Symphony


    The Rake's Progress (1947-51)

    Stravinsky's sole full-length opera was inspired by the so-named series of paintings by William Hogarth. Indeed, he was so taken by the subject that he embarked on composing it even without a commission.

    Stravinsky was fortunate in his librettist, WH Auden, who not only had a fluent technique able to match his musical demands but who also himself was a great lover of opera and shared Stravinsky's relish of Mozart.

    Much of the opera is light and brittle in manner, with some burlesque in the form of the bearded Baba the Turk, whom Tom Rakewell marries at the suggestion of the diabolical Nick Shadow. It is Tom's scenes with Nick in particular which give a dark edge to the opera, and when they play cards in the graveyard scene the stakes - Tom literally playing for his soul - appear very real.


    Requiem Canticles (1965-66)

    Bells held a particular fascination and significance for Stravinsky (as indeed they do for many Russians). They were most openly celebrated in his ballet scored for four pianos and an array of percussion, Les noces (1923), and it is bells which cast their magical spell in the final part of this, his very last completed work.

    Under the influence of Robert Craft, Stravinsky famously made a volte face and converted to the cause of serial composition. This had followed something of an arid period, and the tough gristle of the discipline required for serial composition did not immediately bear attractive fruit.

    But by the time he came to compose the Requiem Canticles Stravinsky had rediscovered his 'voice' and favoured sonorities, and the result is music that intrigues and even enchants the ear.

  • The history of the saxophone | Fri, 14 Jun 2019 09:00:00 +0000


    With their sleekly modern good looks, extraordinary expressive range, and inextricable relationship with jazz, the instruments of the saxophone family have become quintessentially associated with some of the most exciting musical developments of the 20th century.


    Yet, by the time early jazz musicians first seriously got their hands on them in the 1920s, these instruments had already been in existence for around eight decades – and in the classical arena had suffered a prolonged, painful neglect orchestrated by influential figures who should have known better.


    When he unleashed his new invention onto the Parisian scene in the early 1840s, Adolphe Sax immediately ran up against opposition from the manufacturers of orthodox wind instruments. Wagner hated it and infamously declared that it sounded like the made-up word Reckankreuzungsklankewerkzeuge.



    Legal challenges, insolvency and the occasional death threat were some of the more serious consequences endured by Sax at the hands of his conservative opponents. And those who preferred not to sue, bankrupt or threaten to kill him plagiarised his designs, fully aware of their potential significance in the longer term.


    As today, high-profile performers of traditional winds endorsed models made by their favourite manufacturers, and had the power to prevent the introduction of saxophones into established orchestras. Sax had designed one set specifically for use in classical orchestral music, and another (in different keys) with an eye towards their potential adoption by military bands.


    It was the latter which came temporarily to his rescue when the French Government reformed its provision of military music in 1845 and the nation’s bands adopted saxophones into their ranks; but even then a powerful musical trade union attempted to prevent Sax from being granted a patent for his designs.



    Helped by the patronage of Napoleon III, Sax established a saxophone class at the Paris Conservatoire in 1857, and this encouraged classical musicians to take it seriously. But the venture folded in 1870 after France was defeated by Prussia, and it was not until 1942 that the class resumed under the leadership of saxophonist Marcel Mule.


    When (composed) ragtime fused with the (improvised) blues to create early jazz in the 1910s, the instrumentation of marching bands became crucial to the dissemination of the new music. Cornets, clarinets and trombones could all be cheaply acquired owing to a huge surplus of second-hand military instruments in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War in 1898; the saxophone fell into the same category, but was slower to establish itself as a leading voice in jazz, starting to come into its own in dance bands during the 1920s.



    This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of BBC Music Magazine. 

  • Seven of the best works by Rachmaninov | Thu, 13 Jun 2019 09:00:00 +0000


    Rachmaninov's compositions were the last representations of the Romantic Style in Russia. Rachmaninov was born into a musical family and studied the piano at the Conservatoire in St Petersburg from the age of nine. Despite the enormous span of his hands, his technique was precise and clear. His incredible skills as a pianist make his compositions some of the most difficult for virtuoso pianists.

    We take a look at seven, of many, great works composed by Rachmaninov.


    Prelude in C sharp minor Op. 3 No. 2 

    Although less assertive than his later works, the Prelude in C sharp minor won Rachmaninov much of his early popularity and became a frequently requested encore in concert. With its attractive 'dark-hued' disposition, it is impressive that this work was composed even before his graduation from the Conservatoire in St Petersburg in 1891. 




    Piano Concerto Op. 18 No. 2

    Rachmaninov composed his second piano concerto after a particularly low period, professionally and emotionally, spurred by the difficult reception of his first symphony. The piece is notoriously difficult to play (not everyone can span 12 piano keys with one hand!), and was dedicated to his therapist, Dr. Nicolai Dhal, who encouraged him to start composing again despite bouts of depression. 




    Prelude Op. 23 No. 5 

    One of 24 movements in this cycle, No. 5 is a brief, melodic and delicate Prelude. The floating melody, which gradually gains momentum, shows something of Rachmaninov's idiomatic piano writing and perhaps even subtle evocations of Debussy's piano music. 



    'Bogoroditse devo' from his All-Night Vigil 

    This painfully evocative movement is set to the well-known Ave Maria text taken from the Russian Orthodox All-Night Vigil ceremony. The texture is dense throughout and reaches an emotional climax. 



    Prelude Op. 32 No. 7

    This prelude adopts a mysterious quality thanks to the recurring dotted rhythmic motif. Tonal ambiguity constantly asks the listener to interpret whether the piece leans more towards a major or minor tonal world. 




    The Isle of the Dead (1908) 

    This atmospheric orchestral piece shows the ease with which Rachmaninov was able to evoke a sense of place via musical means (tone-painting). Inspired by a painting by Arnold Bocklin, the orchestral colours reflect the sounds of waves and oars as they meet the dark waters, in a characteristically late Romantic style. 



    Moment Musicaux (1829) 

    This set of solo piano pieces are similar to miniatures: each moment musical features unique passage work, and sound like separate introspective worlds. The miniature size of these pieces show a more humble side to Rachmaninov's usual bravura virtuoso style. 


  • The best recordings of Tallis's Lamentations | Wed, 12 Jun 2019 09:00:07 +0000


    Between 1560 and 1569, Thomas Tallis set the first two chapters from the Biblical Book of Lamentations; a set of laments to mourn the destruction/siege of Jerusalem. He wrote these in the midst of the religious chaos in Tudor England when many Roman Catholics were mourning their depletion of the Catholic religion to the rise of Protestantism.

    The original Hebrew language text of Lamentations Chapter 1 is an acrostic, where each biblical verse commences  with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  In each of the two pieces which together  form the Lamentations, Tallis imitates this trick, preceding his music for the biblical verse (in Latin) with an ornate setting of the Hebrew letter – Aleph and Beth in Lamentation 1, Ghimel, Daleth and Heth  in Lamentation 2. The effect is remarkably peaceful, creating a kind of spiritual ante-room in which listeners can cleanse their consciousness from external distractions before the Latin text is sung.


    The best recording


    Pro Cantione Antiqua
    Alto ALC1082

    There are so many outstandingly proficient choirs performing early music nowadays that it is easy to forget what an enormous contribution the English group Pro Cantione Antiqua made in its heyday to the development of performance standards in Renaissance repertoire. This 1984 recording acts as a sharp reminder. With one voice to each vocal part, the five singers strike a virtually perfect balance between individual expressivity and the need to blend together as a coherent unit.

    The ‘Aleph’ section in Lamentation 1 is a good example of their corporate sensitivity. Plangently launched by countertenor Charles Brett, it unfolds with sensual fluidity, each voice distinctive yet discreet as it enters, and with a smooth, subtle dynamic swell as the different strands of melody combine together. A marginal thinning of tone produces a touching vulnerability at ‘Plorans ploravit in nocte’ (‘She weepeth sore in the night’), and the ‘Jerusalem’ coda is appropriately penitential, while maintaining a firm, inclusive balance between the voice parts.



    Lamentation 2 opens more anxiously, Tallis’s questioning harmonies etched out clearly by the singers’ pin-point pitching, and a sharpening of consonants at ‘Migravit Iuda propter afflictionem’ (‘Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction’).

    This edginess persists throughout the second movement, which has a darker, more anguished feeling to it than in rival recordings. The coda is implacable in its plea for a return to godliness, with telling contributions from basses Michael George and Brian Etheridge. The recorded sound neatly abets Pro Cantione Antiqua’s searching view of the music.




    Three other great recordings


    Taverner Choir
    Erato 562 2302

    With one singer to a part, and a dry acoustic, this 1986 recording is the most intimate available version of the Lamentations. Although there are beautiful moments, the atmosphere is generally ascetic and inward-looking, a soul-searching rather than crowd-pleasing interpretation. As such it has unique insights to offer: the five singers differ markedly in timbre, and you can follow their contributions with absorbing clarity. It is part of a two-disc Tallis anthology that is itself hugely recommendable.


    Clerks of the Choir of New College, Oxford
    CRD CRD3499

    In his 38 years as the director of New College Choir, Oxford, Edward Higginbottom made many excellent recordings and this, from 1995, is one of the finest. With two voices to a part, the choir produces an exceptionally mellifluous sound, assisted by the glowing acoustic of the Abbaye de Valloires in France. Higginbottom’s spacious tempos facilitate an interpretation rich in expressivity. If you find the one-singer-to-a-part approach of rival versions a touch austere, this is the ideal alternative.



    Theatre of Voices
    Harmonia Mundi HMU907154

    It can easily seem as though the Lamentations are the sole preserve of small, all-male, English groups of singers. Here, again from 1995, is a recording which challenges that assumption. Made in California with a mixed-voice choir of 16 singers, it shows that women’s voices fit perfectly well in Tallis’s masterpiece, although he would not have expected to hear them. Conductor Paul Hillier directs an interpretation where tenderness and compassion are the watchwords. His all-Tallis programme includes a clutch of pieces for violin consort, providing added interest.




    And one to avoid…


    Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

    Of the three Choir of King’s College, Cambridge recordings of the Lamentations available, the one conducted by David Willcocks in 1966 is the earliest and least satisfactory. The main drawback is the large amount of vibrato used by the singers, which both blurs Tallis’s part-writing and sounds eccentrically old-fashioned. The engineering doesn’t help much either: microphones are placed very close, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere.




  • Five of the best pieces of music inspired by space | Tue, 11 Jun 2019 10:51:23 +0000


    Oliver Condy, Editor

    Sousa: Looking Upward

    John Philip Sousa’s not one of those composers one associates with the mysteries of the heavens. Much of his music is scored for military band which makes it positively earth-bound. Looking Upward is written for wind band and dates from 1902. It’s a pretty cheerful, superficial work, but that shouldn’t put you off.

    The opening movement, ‘By the light of the Polar Star’ was inspired by a view Sousa had while travelling by train through South Dakota, while ‘Beneath the Southern Cross’ was prompted by an advertisement for the cruise ship Southern Cross. Finally, ‘Mars and Venus’ are portrayed as a cowboy and love interest, respectively.




    Jeremy Pound, Deputy editor

    Vaughan WilliamsSerenade to Music

    No piece of music captures the sheer wonder of looking up at the stars more atmospherically than Vaughan Willams’s Serenade to Music. Composed in 1938, it sets an adapted version of the discussion of the ‘Music of the Spheres’ between Lorenzo and Jessica in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice – ‘Look how the floor of heaven, Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold,’ says Lorenzo.

    Vaughan Willams’s music swirls intoxicatingly over the course of the work’s 15-or-so minutes, the magic only briefly broken by a restrained brass fanfare and brief climax midway through before we head back to nocturnal reflection. Whether you opt for the original score for 16 voices and orchestra or the composer’s later orchestra-only version, it’s a work of extraordinary, heavenly beauty.




    Rebecca Franks, Managing editor

    Haydn: Il mondo della luna (The World on the Moon)

    Haydn embarked on his lunar voyage in 1777. His enjoyable Il mondo della luna sets a popular libretto by Carlo Goldoni, in which the amateur astronomer Ecclitico tricks Buonafede into allowing him to marry his daughter Clarice.

    How? The comic plot involves a telescope, a supposedly magic potion, dreams of space flight, and a whole act set in a garden – which everyone pretends is actually the moon. Ridiculous? Of course – that’s all part of the fun. The scheme works, and the opera ends with love, marriage and general rejoicing.




    Michael Beek, Reviews editor

    Philip GlassThe Voyage 

    Despite being commissioned by New York’s Metropolitan Opera to commemorate the 500th anniversary of America’s discovery by Christopher Columbus, Glass set his sights rather wider. The Voyage does feature the 1492 explorer in Act 2 (and Epilogue), but this is bookended by a science fiction fantasy tale of visitors from across the stars who stake their claim on Earth during the Ice Age, and a third act concerning future inhabitants who discover where their alien forebears came from.

    Essentially a comment, and celebration, of exploration and discovery, Glass’s work – with a libretto by David Henry Wang – features a wheelchair-bound scientist who travels across the universe without ever leaving his chair. Cosmic.




    Freya Parr, Editorial assistant

    Terry Riley: Sun Rings 

    Commissioned by NASA for the Kronos Quartet and featuring pre-recorded sounds from the plasma around planets, Terry Riley’s Sun Rings is about as close an experience to being in space as it is possible to be. The ten-movement ‘spacescape’, as Riley refers to it, is a multimedia work for quartet and chorus, opening with recorded audio of the static heard from radio emissions in space. These are all triggered by members of the quartet’s hand movements over sensors.

    The work is accompanied by footage recorded in space behind the quartet. After exploring these whistling birdlike audio effects, the quartet launches into a stunning yet sombre exploration of Asian tonalities and melodies we’ve come to know of Terry Riley. There’s a feeling throughout of being aware of the magnitude of the cosmos around us.




    Listen to our playlist of space-inspired works here:

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