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The Viennese connections with this song has made it almost an unofficial national anthem for Austria. A Space Odyssey , where it's used in the stunning opening sequence. This tune was made famous when it was used by Torvill and Dean for their gold-medal-winning Olympic performance. But that one hit has become a super hit — this duet is now one of the most famous ever written. It is traditionally sung by a soprano and mezzo-soprano but its rise to fame has resulted in many different interpretations of the song.

This is by far the most famous section of the opera, and the duet might be best known as the soundtrack to a very memorable British Airways advert. But he later turned his music into two suites, which have become some of his best known work. This movement is particularly famous because of its incredibly catchy main theme. Modern pop and rock bands including Electric Light Orchestra, The Who and Savatage have used the melody in their music, and it has also been used for many years by the British theme park Alton Towers as a sort of theme tune, appearing in their adverts and on their YouTube videos.

The melodies in this opera overture have been used time and time again in films, TV shows, adverts and even pop music. The Marriage of Figaro tells the story of Figaro and Susanna, who work for the Count and Countess Almaviva, and whose plans to get married hit one or two obstacles along the way… It is one of the most frequently performed operas of all time.


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Puccini' s opera aria Nessun Dorma was brought to a global audience when it was used as the anthem for the World Cup in Italy, in a recording by the legendary tenor Luciano Pavarotti. It actually comes from Puccini's final opera Turandot , which was left unfinished when he died. It tells the story of the brutal princess Turandot and her murderous reign. Today, the piece has become a classic in the world of TV talent shows. Paul Potts, who won the first series of Britain's Got Talent, made this his calling-card aria. You may well recognise this if you're a fan of The Apprentice… The television series chose this section from Prokofiev 's Romeo and Juliet as its theme music.

The ballet tells the tragic story of Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers and the war waged between the rival families, the Montagues and the Capulets. So it's no surprise that this centrepiece of the ballet is one of the most dramatic pieces of music ever written. Nor that the producers of The Apprentice wanted some of that drama for their theme music.

The finale of this overture is instantly recognisable for its galloping rhythm and trumpet solos. It reached an international audience when it was used as the theme music for The Lone Ranger films and television and radio shows. And it's also featured in countless ads. Rossini 's opera doesn't actually have any other well-known melodies. And this section of the overture, called The March of the Swiss Soldiers , doesn't even make another appearance in the five-hour long opera.

The 15 most famous tunes in classical music 26 September , How was this rich cloth of musical gold woven? Looked at as warp the composition is a horizontal combination of melodies; looked at as woof it is a perpendicular collection of chords. Now, new preoccupations challenged composers. The reverent, lush choral works of the Church, mainly from Northern Europe, became fertilised by the lively, sunny dances and songs of the south.

The secular counterparts of the church musicians led to the madrigal, a contrapuntal setting of a poem, usually about 12 lines in length, and whose subject was usually amorous or pastoral. The madrigals, like the liturgical motets and settings of the Mass, were all for unaccompanied voices — that was how the vast majority of music produced up to this time was conceived.

The recorder, lute, viol and spinet had played their part in dance music and in accompanying voices occasionally replacing them but now composers such as Byrd, Gibbons, Farnaby and Frescobaldi began to write music for specific instruments, though it must be said that the art form did not truly flourish until the Baroque era. Other innovations were by the Italians Andrea Gabrieli c — the first to combine voices with brass instruments — and his nephew Giovanni , whose antiphonal effects for choirs of brass instruments might have written for our modern stereo systems.

And it was from Italy that the next important step in musical history was taken.

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Indeed Italy was the country — actually a collection of small independent states at the time, ruled by a number of affluent and cultured families — which would dominate the musical world for a century and a half from Such was the power of Italian influence at this time that music adopted the language as its lingua franca. To this day, composers almost universally write their performance directions in Italian. One particular word, opera, described a new art form: No one had thought of the concept till the end of the 16th century.

In the late 16th century, artists, writers and architects became interested in the ancient cultures of Greece and Rome. In Florence, a group of the artistic intelligentsia became interested in how the ancient Greek dramas were performed. Experimenting with declaiming the more poetic passages and using a few chords of instrumental music to accompany other passages in natural speech rhythm, the idea of music reflecting, supporting and commenting upon dramatic action was born: Into the ring then came one of the supreme musicians of history, Claudio Monteverdi.

Solo singers were given a dramatic character to portray and florid songs to sing, there were choruses, dances, orchestral interludes, scenery. Opera was a markedly different entertainment to anything that had gone before but, more importantly, it was a completely new way of using music. Dramatic truth soon went out of the window in favour of the elaborate vocal displays of the opera soloists — composers were only too happy to provide what their new public wanted — and no class of singers were more popular than the castrati.

Feted wherever they appeared, the castrati, who had had their testicles removed as young boys to preserve their high voices, were highly paid and immensely popular, a not dissimilar phenomenon to The Three Tenors of today with two small differences. The practice of castration to produce an entertainer, an extraordinarily barbaric concept, was only halted in the early 19th century.

The last castrato, Alessandro Moreschi, actually survived until and made a dozen or so records in St Paul had written that women should keep silent in church.

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They were therefore not available for the taxing high lines in church music. If the origins of the castrati could be laid firmly at the door of the Church, similar dogma can also be held responsible for the slow progress of instrumental composition. From the earliest times the Church had voiced its disapproval of the practice. St Jerome had declared that no Christian maiden should know what a lyre or flute looked like let alone hear what they sounded like.

The same change of emphasis led also to a flood of brilliant instrumental soloists. Among them was a brilliant Italian-born violinist named Jean-Baptiste Lully who went to France in Another important by-product of the Italian opera was the introduction of the sonata — the term originally simply meant a piece to be sounded played , as opposed to sung cantata. Although it quickly took on a variety of forms, the sonata began with the Italian violinists imitating the vocal display elements of opera — a single melody played against a harmonised background or, if you like, accompanied by chords.

This was a huge difference from the choral works of a century before driven by their polyphonic interweavings. With the musical emphasis on harmony — a key feature of the coming century and a half — rhythm began to take an increasingly important part. Chordal patterns naturally fall in sequences, in regular measures or bars. Listen to a chaconne by Purcell or Handel and you realise that the theme is not a tune but a sequence of chords.

Measuring the beats in a bar one -two or one - two-three or one -two-three-four — the emphasis always on the first beat gives the music a sense of form and helps its onward progress. Phrases lead the ear to the next sequence like the dialogue between two people, exchanging thoughts in single words, in short sentences or in long paragraphs.

Sing a simple hymn tune like All people that on earth do dwell and you are aware of what music had now acquired — a strong tonal centre. Makers of musical instruments responded by adapting and improving instruments: A final contribution to this period was made by Italian opera. The use of the orchestra in opera naturally led to the expression of dramatic musical ideas — one reason why the Italian orchestra developed faster than elsewhere.

Round about the start of the 18th century composers began to write overtures in three sections fast-slow-fast , providing the model for the classical sonata form used in instrumental pieces, concertos and symphonies for the next years and more. The concerto developed from the dance suites popular in Italy at the beginning of the 17th century, known as the sonata da camera. Here a group of solo string instrumentalists alternate with the main body of strings in a work, usually of three or four movements.

Geminiani, Albinoni, Torelli, Handel and others contributed to the form. The solo concerto was but a short step from here where a soloist is contrasted with later pitted against the orchestra. The Four Seasons , among the best known and most frequently-played pieces of classical music, illustrates the new concept.

Northern Europe provided the springboard for the rapid development of keyboard music: It was predominantly diverting rather than elevating and rococo usefully defines the character of lighter music written in the Baroque period, especially when contrasted with the works of the two musical heavyweights of the time, Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel. Bach in his own time was considered old-fashioned, a provincial composer from central Germany.

But his music contains some of the noblest and most sublime expressions of the human spirit and with him the art of contrapuntal writing reached its zenith. The 48 Preludes and Fugues for The Well-Tempered Clavier explore all the permutations of fugal writing in all the major and minor keys; his final work, The Art of Fugue left incomplete at his death takes a mathematical delight in the interweaving of contrapuntal variations on the same theme.

His instrumental music is evidence that he was by no means always the stern God-fearing Lutheran — the exuberant six Brandenburg Concertos show that he was well acquainted with the sunny Italian way of doing things and many of his most beautiful and deepest thoughts are reserved for the concertos and orchestral suites. His influence on composers and musicians down the years has been immeasurable.

For many he remains the foundation stone of their art. Opera was a field into which Bach never ventured but Handel — between and , — produced nearly 30 operas in the Italian style until the public tired of these when, ever the pragmatist, he turned to oratorio. An oratorio is an extended setting of a usually religious text in dramatic form but which does not require scenery or stage action.

One such was the court of Mannheim where an orchestra under the direction of Johann Stamitz raised orchestral playing to a standard unheard of previously. A new era, breaking away from the contrapuntal writing of the later Baroque, was ushered in. This can be summarised as music which is notable for its masterly economy of form and resources and for its lack of overt emotionalism.

This can be traced back to a generation or so before the birth of Haydn to the rococo style of Couperin and Rameau and, more powerfully, in the invigorating keyboard works of Domenico Scarlatti whose more than short sonatas composed in his sixties demonstrate a brilliance that only Bach equalled. Scarlatti, though, writing on a smaller scale, had the specific intent of delighting and instructing his pupil, the Queen of Spain.

His near-contemporary Georg Philipp Telemann brought the rococo style to Germany. Lighter and even more fecund than Bach, Telemann was held in far greater esteem in his lifetime than Johann Sebastian. Now the sonata became a formalised structure with related keys and themes. These Bach developed into extended movements, as opposed to the short movements of the Baroque form. Listening to CPE, perhaps the most original and daring composer of the midth century, one becomes aware of the serious and comical, the inspired and the routine, lying side by side with engaging unpredictability.

Parallel to this was the work of Johann Stamitz. His music is rarely heard today yet he and his son Carl were pioneers in the development of the symphony. This form had grown out of the short quick-slow-quick one-movement overtures or sinfonias of Italian opera. Stamitz, in the employ of the Mannheim court, had one of the most distinguished orchestras in Europe under his direction. He was the first to introduce the clarinet into the orchestra and was probably the first to write a concerto for the instrument , also allowing the brass and woodwind greater prominence.

His orchestral crescendos, a novel effect at this time, were said to have excited audiences to rise from their seats. Italy had dominated the musical world of the 17th and early 18th centuries with its operas and great violinists. From the middle of the 18th century, the centre of musical pre- eminence moved to Vienna, a position it would retain until the last of the Hapsburg emperors in the early years of the 20th century. The Hapsburgs loved music and imported the best foreign musicians to court; the imperial chapel became a second centre of musical excellence.

With the Viennese court as its focus, all kinds of influences met and mingled from nearby Germany, Bohemia and Italy. Bach and Handel were still composing when Haydn was a teenager. Without doubt, the most important element of this was the development of the sonata and symphonic forms.

During this period, a typical example generally followed the same basic pattern: Working within this formal structure, each movement in turn had its own internal structure and order of progress. Like all his well-trained contemporaries, Haydn had a thorough knowledge of polyphony and counterpoint and, indeed, was not averse to using it but his music is predominantly homophonic. His symphonies cover a wide range of expression and harmonic ingenuity. The same is true of the string quartets. With its perfect balance of string sound two violins, viola and cello , the implicit economy in the scoring, the precision and elegance in the handling of the medium, the string quartet is the quintessential Classical art form.


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It was Mozart, too, who raised opera to new heights. Here, for the first time, opera reflected the foibles and aspirations of mankind, themes on which the Romantic composers were to dwell at length. Nationalism, the struggle for individual freedom and self-expression were reflected and indeed created by all the arts — the one fed off the other.

The neat, well-ordered regime of the periwig and minuet gave way to the impetuous, passionate world of the tousle-headed revolutionary. Ludwig van Beethoven coupled his genius for music with profoundly held political beliefs and an almost religious certainty about his purpose. With the possible exception of Wagner, no other composer has, single-handedly, changed the course of music so dramatically and continued to develop and experiment throughout his entire career. His early music, built on the Classical paths trod by Haydn and Mozart, demonstrates his individuality in taking established musical structures and re-shaping them to his own ends.

No wonder so many composers felt daunted by attempting the symphonic form after Beethoven and that few ever attempted more than the magic Beethovenian number of nine. All this was achieved, romantically enough, while he himself struggled with profound deafness. His music is the titanic span between the two. Those who followed revered him as a god. Schubert , the next great Viennese master, 27 years younger but who survived him by a mere 18 months, was in awe of Beethoven. He did not progress the symphonic or sonata forms, there was no revolutionary zeal in his make-up.

What he gave was the gift of melody. Schubert is arguably the greatest tunesmith the world has ever known and in his more than songs established the German song or Lied tradition. For the first time, too, the piano assumed equal importance with the vocal part, painting a tone picture or catching the mood of the piece in its accompaniment. And it was the new iron-strung pianos which came to be the favoured instrument of the first part of the Romantic era. Of these, Mendelssohn relied on the elegant, traditional structures of Classicism in which to wrap his refined poetic and melodic gifts.

Almost his entire oeuvre is devoted to the piano in a string of highly individual and expressive works composed in the short period of 20 years. Fifty years after his early death in , composers were still writing pieces heavily influenced by him. Chopin rarely used descriptive titles for his work beyond such labels as Nocturne, Berceuse or Barcarolle. The technical and lyrical possibilities of the instrument were raised to new heights in such masterpieces as the Four Ballades, the final two of three piano sonatas and the many short dance-based compositions.

Most of these derived from his homeland of Poland and, as a self-imposed exile living in Paris, Chopin was naturally drawn to expressing his love of his country. Liszt, Berlioz and Wagner. Rebellion and freedom of expression lie at the heart of the Romantic movement in music, literature, painting and architecture, a self-conscious breaking of the bonds and belief in the right of the artist.

Berlioz was not a pianist. Perhaps that is why he is the most important composer of the period in terms of orchestral writing. Like Liszt, he never wrote a formal symphony: Berlioz wrote on an epic scale, employing huge forces to convey his vision: The prop of the symphonic structure was needed less, though, writing this at the beginning of the 21st century, many still enjoy the challenges of composing in that form.

British music through the ages

The third Titan of the Romantics was the most written- and talked-about composer of all time: Some of his ideas had been anticipated 40 years earlier by Carl Maria von Weber, one of the first to insist on total control of all aspects of the production of his work and who, as early as , wrote of his desire to fuse all art forms into one great new form. The orchestral contribution was at least as important as the vocal element.

But Wagner was more than just an operatic reformer.