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Britten composed these songs for pupils at a school where his brother was headmaster. They are a fun to listen to but even more fun to sing along with! Listen out for the imitation of birdcalls in Cuckoo, and how the same short simple tune is arranged in different ways in Old Abram Brown.
Prokofiev wrote this piece in just four days! The story is told by a narrator and an orchestra, where various instruments play different characters - Peter is portrayed by the string instruments (violin, viola, cello, double bass), the flutes are the birds, the clarinets are the cat, the oboes are the duck, and the big bad wolf is played by the french horns. When you listen to the piece can you think why Prokofiev might have chosen to give these characters to those instruments in particular?
In this cycle of four violin concertos (for solo violin and accompanying orchestra), each comprised of three movements (self-contained sections of music within a larger work, usually separated by a pause) Vivaldi takes us on a journey through the year, vividly depicting the seasons through music. Picture flowers growing and birds singing in the sunny first movement of Spring, and imagine taking a walk in the countryside on a gorgeous snowy day in Winter. By contrast, can you hear the thunderstorm that’s evoked in the final movement of Summer?
Mozart is probably the most famous composer to have ever lived, and this is one of his most famous pieces - do you recognise the tune?
This symphony was first performed at the same legendary four-hour-long concert in Vienna at which Beethoven premiered his 5th. The third movement depicts a ‘merry gathering of country folk’ - can you hear their happy dancing?
Berlioz was a French composer known for writing huge, extravagant music, and this symphony is no exception. The whole work tells the story of a man driven mad by unrequited love, who imagines his own execution and descent into a supernatural underworld - it’s dramatic stuff! In the fourth movement we hear him being led to the guillotine and having his head chopped off - listen out for his severed head bouncing into the basket, heard as a series of descending notes in pizzicato cellos.
This piece mixes together two Russian folk tunes; a slow bridal song and an energetic dance - can you hear where one moves into the other, and when they combine at the end?
It’s the sea! Vividly portrayed by Debussy with sensuous harmonies, exciting rhythms and adventurous combinations of instruments - can you hear the undulating waves and whistling wind?
In this epic work Holst devotes a movement to each of the planets and their astrological character. Hence, Mars is ‘the bringer of war’, and the subject of this huge and terrifying opening movement, its military character evoked by booming percussion and roaring brass.
Stravinsky is probably the most important composer of the last century, credited with helping to elevate rhythm as an aspect of music of equal importance to harmony and melody. His music for the opening scene of the ballet Petrushka depicts a bustling market scene, and gives a taster of his exciting and distinctive style.
Did you know an orchestra could make this sound? Here there are no melodies, or easily identifiable harmony or rhythm, but instead dense sound textures, shifting and shimmering. Stanley Kubrick used this piece (without permission - naughty!) in his film 2001: A Space Odyssey to accompany mysterious scenes set in deep space - it certainly sounds otherworldly to us!
Here Richter has taken Vivaldi’s violin concertos discussed earlier and ‘recomposed’ them into a modern and much more spacious and minimal set of new pieces. Can you hear how the material from the first movement of Vivaldi’s Spring has been chopped up into a new musical texture and set against new harmonies in Spring 1? And what do you think he has done to the music from the first movement of Winter?
Written to celebrate the victory of the French over the Swiss at the Battle of Marignano, Janequin cleverly uses the human voice to depict the sounds of the battlefield, complete with firing cannons, galloping horses and the cries of injured men.
This is just beautiful. Have a listen!