« Previous | Main | Next »

Eroica Uncovered

Post categories:

Graeme Kay Graeme Kay | 16:59 UK Time, Monday, 22 February 2010

'Dum! Dum! Dah-dee-dah-duh-dah-dee-dee-dah ...' The opening bars of Beethoven's Third Symphony, the Eroica, have been ringing out rather a lot in the office of the Radio 3 Interactive team recently. 

In the last few months we've been working on new ways to develop in-depth understanding of classical music and we selected the Eroica Symphony for 'special measures' because it is a well known, widely accessible and in its own way, ground-breaking work.

scene_dock.jpgI've been working closely with producer Gregory Stevens on the video recording of the Discovering Music programme on the Eroica which Radio 3 broadcast on Sunday (still available on the iPlayer for another six days). Last December, we travelled to the Hoddinott Hall in Cardiff's Millennium Centre to film Stephen Johnson's splendidly informative and entertaining analysis, and the performance by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Christophe Mangou. My job was to write the camera script and direct the video: this means that, unlike a full-scale TV outside broadcast, you do your own vision mixing.

  conductor_cam.jpgAs well as scripted cuts to the conductor, the 'conductor shot' is also the fail-safe or default shot should anything go wrong - however Christophe Mangou had an extremely expressive face and it was tempting to cut to him more often than not because most of his shots were winners, as you'll see if you watch the performance. In post-production, Gregory and I also prepared extracts for the visual glossary of musical terms which we are developing as part of our support for the Discovering Music archive. You can watch Stephen Johnson's introduction and the complete performance by following this link.

Meanwhile, as a 'homework' project, producer Roger Philbrick has been putting in a lot of hours developing a visual guide to the Eroica's opening movement. Roger had been studying audio waveforms of the music and it occurred to him that these could be used to provide visual representations of musical structures and patterns. 

He used colour coding to show the broadly sonata-form format of the movement - and how its scale, dynamics and section lengths compare with a late Mozart symphony. A second set of colours were used to show themes, texture and instrumentation. The next step was to use Flash animation to combine the waveform graphics with music clips, dynamic descriptions and simple controls so you can both see and hear what is going on at important points in the music.

Roger and coder Anthony Ali have compiled these elements on a rather colourful webpage, with links to the relevant sections of Stephen Johnson's analysis. They hope you enjoy the results.

We'd always like to do more, of course: to this end, we'd welcome your comments on the Eroica work - just post them here!

  • The pictures (© Graeme Kay/BBC) show the Hoddinott Hall scene dock at the Wales Millennium Centre, and Gregory Stevens lining up the ConductorCam in the hall. 


  • Comment number 1.

    'Morning, Graeme. I'm quite the wrong person to respond to this because I'm not over keen on visuals at all. I prefer the audio version.

    What I really do think would be a useful development is the running text commentary with the waveform graphics (and simplified score). That really does seem to get down into the music, even for people who aren't able to follow a score. I suppose only the very eager beavers would want the entire symphony covered like that :o) , but for those people there is the advantage of being able to cover it bit by bit, replay sections, and so on. I loved that - more please.

  • Comment number 2.

    In addition to french frank´s post, more of that would be very appreciated.

  • Comment number 3.

    Hello ff
    Thank you for your response. In fact, we have a library of material created during the period when we were able to offer viewers of televised Proms - through the red button service on digital TV - programme notes synchronised to the music. It would theoretically be possible to match these notes to the type of analysis which Roger has done. It comes down to time and resources, of course, but your response does help us gauge how much interest and appreciation there might be if we were to develop the project in a major way ...
    Best wishes

  • Comment number 4.

    Well, I've flagged up the video on Platform 3 (and on the FoR3 homepage), and you'll be able to judge the popularity by the number of requests. There was for me a certain curiosity in seeing how a DM workshop worked, but I find it easier to concentrate on the sound when there's no picture to distract. (I'm sure you hope I'm in a minority and I probably am!) Is the video archive linked to the BBC FOUR website?

    The Eroica might be a bit long to be given the entire audio waveform + commentary treatment, but a piece of 10 mins or so (Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune?) would be interesting. Or even a contemporary work :-( - it might be a way in for those of us who find them a bit difficult :-)

  • Comment number 5.

    Greetings to Graeme, french frank, Thomas_B et al! I enjoyed Stephen Johnson's programme, and your online analysis, Graeme, which I posted in a relevant discussion on the R3OK message board.


    Reiner Torheit replied by making the point that it does not attempt to explain why Beethoven 3 is revolutionary, which is a philosophical as much as a musical question.

    Stephen Johnson, to his credit, gave some excellent clues in this week's 'Discovering Music', although the question probably merits further consideration.


    As for future analyses, go for it, Graeme.


  • Comment number 6.

    I think the waveform graphics and accompanying text notes are a great idea. Very helpful for those of us who want to know more about the creative process but are not musically trained and for whom listening to a piece while trying to follow a full score is a daunting, nigh-impossible task. This gets to the heart of what is happening in the music in a very accessible, easy-to-follow way.

    More of the same, please!

  • Comment number 7.

    I think the visuals are the first really intellectually and musically interesting thing Radio 3 has incorporated. It is extremely useful piece of technology in the analysis of a piece of music as well as entertaining.

    Now I know what a synathesiac must see when they hear a peice of music!

    The idea is fantastic...I think you should continue with this kind of analysis and broaden it to include full scores (if possible) of chamber music especially.

    I personally would find it a real treat to compare and analyze say, some of Haydn quartets with some of Mozart's quartets.

    Please, for Bach's sake don't listen to the masses and bin the idea!!!!

  • Comment number 8.

    I find this whole idea really exciting and stimulating. My first thought was: "I wish we'd had something like this around when I was doing my O Level, A Level and even BMus music studies!" As a mere violinist type I would not have thought of this kind of waveform analysis and it is proving to be fascinating.

    I do agree with FF that it would be interesting to apply the concept to some contemporary music. Whilst I'm not so much a fan of written descriptions of the music as it is playing - I can appreciate that many people may find that very helpful as well.
    Great to see so much experimentation going on - more please! (Hope fervently that this kind of project doesn't get affected by Mr Thompson's BBC website cuts...)

  • Comment number 9.

    Great work. It puts me in mind of Tom Coates and Tristan Ferne's Find/Listen/Label (Annotatable Audio) http://www.cookinrelaxin.com/2007/04/find-listen-label-aka-annotatable-audio.html though here the audio annotation is expert, rather than user generated. Do Roger Philbrick and Anthony Ali have websites with any of their other work on?

  • Comment number 10.

    i agree this graphical representation is an interesting contribution to understanding beethoven, but it does presuppose the reader to have some understanding of the difference between ss.1 and 2, and the eroica.
    maybe it would help people like me if you could offer some comparison of s.3 with say the first few bars of s.1, or one of mozart's symphonies.
    the comparison would help me better understand just how revolutionary s.3 really was.

    many thanks

  • Comment number 11.

    I recently discovered how much I enjoy listening to classical music and am trying to learn how to understand and appreciate it more. Your analysis is very helpful and I am excited to find the BBC site and all that it has to offer. The written description of the music is very helpful. Living in the US I am not able to receive the video. Is there a plan to facilitate this any time soon? One other thing, assistance with music vocabulary for new listeners will also serve to enhance the learning experience. Many thanks

  • Comment number 12.

    Hello everyone!
    Many thanks for your thoughts and encouraging comments.
    Tim asks about other examples of this type of work. Roger is hoping to continue developing this approach to music analysis. His previous Flash projects include a set of science puzzles: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/puzzle.shtml and the BAFTA-winning Hitchhhiker's Guide to the Galaxy game: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/hitchhikers/game.shtml, both for Radio 4.
    Best wishes


More from this blog...


These are some of the popular topics this blog covers.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.