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…
"…..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.