What are the most restful activities? Radio 4 might well have the answer. As they reported in September, 18,000 people recently completed the world's biggest survey on rest, The Rest Test, a collaboration between Radio 4 and the Wellcome Collection's researchers in residence, Hubbub. Near the top of the list of the 10 most restful activities came listening to music, behind reading, being in a natural environment and being on your own.
Everyone has a record that they reach for to calm or cheer them when times get rough. But some songs can soothe better than others. 6 Music's Mary Anne Hobbs realised she had found one of those songs the first time she played Says by the German pianist and composer Nils Frahm on her radio show, and watched the switchboards light up as people connected with the music emotionally in the same way she had.
Nils and his contemporaries are part of a wave of classically trained musicians moving their music out of the concert hall to connect with listeners across genres and generations. "Their music has healing properties," says Mary Anne. "It's very good for the mind, it's nourishing for the soul. If you need to find some peace in the world, as all of us do, this is a place to find it. It will bring your heart rate down, slow your breathing, it will heal you. It does that for me."
Here, she recommends six tracks as a starting point.
1. Nils Frahm, Says
"The track that changed my life, and set myself and Nils on the pathway to our BBC Prom at The Royal Albert Hall in 2015," says Mary Anne, and it's still the only track she has picked as her record of the week twice. It comes from Frahm's 2013 album Spaces, a record so delicate you can hear the piano stool creaking between the notes. When Mary Anne wanted to convince BBC's head of music to do a contemporary classical Prom, this is the track she played him. "He went for it in a heartbeat," she says.
2. Winged Victory for the Sullen, Atomos VI
This was Mary Anne's favourite track on the 2014 A Winged Victory for the Sullen album Atomos, written for the choreographer Wayne McGregor. McGregor said he played the first Winged Victory album to a group of his dancers during rehearsals and watched them move in a completely different way. He asked the duo, Dustin O’Halloran and Adam Wiltzie, to write a piece for the company, which became Atomos. "You will find a sense of peace in the spaces between the notes that is absolutely sublime," Mary Anne says.
3. Colin Stetson, Sorrow
"Colin's obsession with Górecki's original piece led to this simply devastating reinterpretation for 2016," says Mary Anne, referring to Polish composer Henryk Górecki's Symphony No. 3, which was written in 1976 and refers to the death of Christ, the Gestapo and the 1919-1921 Silesian uprisings. Colin Stetson's desire to reimagine it came after years of obsession. "We all have those moments when we experience a piece of music that transforms us, and this was one of those moments for me," he said. But rather than alter the music itself, Stetson strips the original 60-piece composition back to an ensemble of 12 in an interpretation that draws heavily from the world of black metal, early electronic music, and from his own body of solo saxophone music.
4. Ólafur Arnalds, Öldurót (Island Songs IV)
"This is my favourite of the Ólafur Arnalds's Island Songs, recorded by the sea in his native Iceland," says Mary Anne. "The title means barrelling waves." The song is part of seven pieces recorded and composed in seven locations across Iceland in seven weeks in 2016. In each place, Arnalds wrote music inspired by the location and worked with a local artist - in this case, the film composer Atli Örvarsson. You can feel the sea in Öldurót, the fourth in the series. It was recorded close to the arctic circle, in a beautiful hall with big windows right next to the ocean.
5. Ben Lukas Boysen, Golden Times 1
"There's a profound beat in this tune that hooks into my great love of music that's built for a dancefloor," Mary Anne says of Golden Times 1 by Ben Lukas Boysen. It's build out of live improvisation on harp, cello and drums, warm humanised programming, and beats, showing off the more pensive side to Boysen, a Berlin-based composer and sound designer who also records as HECQ.
6. John Luther Adams, Become Ocean
"This is a Grammy- and Pulitzer Prize-winning piece about Earth returning man to the ocean as the polar ice melts," says Mary Anne of the John Luther Adams composition, commissioned by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. The work is in one movement, with each section of the orchestra weaving intersecting arpeggios, until they all come to an abrupt climax. At this point the whole piece is played backwards until the orchestra returns to quiet. Adams says he wanted it to rumble the floor and tickle listeners' backbones. "At the same time, you feel the depth of the waves and the spray of the sea," he added.