Music and Silence
Composers have always appreciated the value and drama of silences, from tiny agogic accents (a fractional pause before arrival at a particular chord or harmony to create greater impact or a stronger sense of delayed gratification) to whole bars of silence – a kind of musical "withholding of information" which has the power to retain the memory of what was heard before and create a sense of anticipation of what is to come. Silences create drama and relax tension, and provoke a whole range of emotions. Playlist curated by Frances Wilson.Read more…
- Handel • Messiah HWV 56 • Part I • No. 2 Accompagnato 'Comfort ye, comfort ye my people' (Tenor)Messiah HWV 56
Part I • No. 2 Accompagnato 'Comfort ye, comfort ye my people' (Tenor)Lynne Dawson (Soprano), Hilary Summers (Alto), John Mark Ainsley (Tenor), Alastair Miles (Bass), Stephen Cleobury
Brandenburg Consort, Choir of King's College, Cambridge℗ 2014
- Wagner • Tristan und Isolde WWV 90 • Act I • 1. PreludeTristan und Isolde WWV 90
Act I • 1. PreludeLudwig Suthaus (Tenor), Kirsten Flagstad (Soprano), Blanche Thebom (Mezzo-soprano), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Baritone), Josef Greindl (Bass), Rudolf Schock (Tenor), Edgar Evans (Tenor), Rhydderch Davies (Baritone), Wilhelm Furtwängler
Philharmonia Orchestra, Chorus of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden1953
- Schubert • Sonata for Piano No. 21 in B flat major D 960 • I. Molto moderatoSonata for Piano No. 21 in B flat major D 960
I. Molto moderatoKrystian Zimerman (Piano)℗ 2017
- Schubert • Moments musicaux op. 94 D 780 • No. 2 in A flat major. AndantinoMoments musicaux op. 94 D 780
No. 2 in A flat major. AndantinoBarry Douglas (Piano)May 2017, Cork, Curtis Auditorium of CIT Cork School of Music
- Barber • Adagio for Strings (from the String Quartet op. 11) (1938) • Molto adagioAdagio for Strings (from the String Quartet op. 11) (1938)
Molto adagioMarin Alsop, Royal Scottish National Orchestra1999 - 2000, Glasgow, Henry Wood Hall
- Messiaen • L'Ascension, Meditations for Orchestra (1932-1933) • 1. Majesté du Christ demandant sa gloire à son PèreL'Ascension, Meditations for Orchestra (1932-1933)
1. Majesté du Christ demandant sa gloire à son PèreMyung-Whun Chung, Orchestre de l'Opéra Bastille℗ 1993
- Pärt • Für Alina (1976) • Ruhig, erhaben, in sich hineinhorchendFür Alina (1976)
Ruhig, erhaben, in sich hineinhorchendTamara Anna Cislowska (Piano)℗ 2017
- Ives • Orchestral Set No. 1: Three Places in New England S 7 (1903-1914) • 3. The Housatonic at StockbridgeOrchestral Set No. 1: Three Places in New England S 7 (1903-1914)
3. The Housatonic at StockbridgeSir Andrew Davis, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra2015, Melbourne, Hamer Hall
- Pärt • Fratres (Version for Violin and Piano) (1977, rev. 1980)Fratres (Version for Violin and Piano) (1977, rev. 1980)Gidon Kremer (Violin), Keith Jarrett (Piano)℗ 2015
- Furrer • Voicelessness - the Snow Has No Voice for Piano (1986) • Voicelessness - the Snow Has No VoiceVoicelessness - the Snow Has No Voice for Piano (1986)
Voicelessness - the Snow Has No VoiceMarino Formenti (Piano)℗ 2003
- Bach • Sonata for Flute and Harpsichord in A major BWV 1032 • II. Largo e dolceSonata for Flute and Harpsichord in A major BWV 1032
II. Largo e dolceKonrad Hünteler (Traverso), Ton Koopman (Harpsichord)℗ 1983
- Takemitsu • Ame no ki sobyō (Rain Tree Sketch) (1982) (Arr. for Percussion)Ame no ki sobyō (Rain Tree Sketch) (1982) (Arr. for Percussion)Smoke and Mirrors Percussion Ensemble℗ 2012
- Messiaen • Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time) for Violin, Clarinet, Violoncello and Piano (1940) • 8. Louange à I'lmmortalité de JésusQuatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time) for Violin, Clarinet, Violoncello and Piano (1940)
8. Louange à I'lmmortalité de JésusMartin Fröst (Clarinet), Lucas Debargue (Piano), Janine Jansen (Violin), Torleif Thedéen (Violoncello)℗ 2017
- Glass • The Sound of Silence (Arr. for Piano after Paul Simon) • The Sound of SilenceThe Sound of Silence (Arr. for Piano after Paul Simon)
The Sound of SilenceNicolas Horvath (Piano)March 2014, Temple Saint Marcel
- Schumann • Fantasy for Piano in C major op. 17 • 3. Langsam getragen. Durchweg leise zu haltenFantasy for Piano in C major op. 17
3. Langsam getragen. Durchweg leise zu haltenPiotr Anderszewski (Piano)℗ 2017
"…..the pauses between the notes – ah, that is where the art resides" – Artur Schnabel
"The word listen contains the same letters as the word silent" – Alfred Brendel
Music depends on silence: rests, pauses and silences help to delineate and define different sections or whole movements of the piece, and distinguish or highlight other periods of sounds. Silences allow melodies, dynamics, rhythms, and expression markings to have greater impact and bring drama to the narrative of the music.
"You must take a new breath when you intend to say something important" Anton Bruckner
Silences go beyond an 'auditory signpost' to guide the listener through the organisation of the music, and strategically-placed pauses, which may not be indicated in the written score, can be used to heighten tension, create anticipation or deepen the emotional impact of the music. Thus silences become a way of manipulating the listener’s response to what they are hearing.
Never underestimate the power "implied" or "psychological" silence, often suggested by the quietest dynamic range or a slow tempo, or by allowing the music to "breathe" to create a sense of stillness or time suspended.
Silence is not "nothing", as American composers Morton Feldman and John Cage understood very well. While Feldman's exquisitely-crafted music finds the perfect balance between music and silence in works of meditative stillness, Cage’s infamous work 4'33" challenges traditional notions of what constitutes "music" and reminds us that even when the performers are silent, we still hear the sounds of the world around us.
The music selected for this playlist offers contrasting examples of how composers – and performers - use silence to provoke powerful narratives and a broad range of emotions.