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The Semitone

Tom Service considers what can be done with the semitone. Tom talks to mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly about the tragic falling semitones of Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas.

Tom Service considers the semitone. Music's most fundamental building block, it can mean sorrow when it falls, triumph when it rises, but also provoke fear (in the theme from Jaws). It can become a glittering decoration when repeated as a trill. Tom talks to mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly about the tragic falling semitones of Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas, and also to musicologist Sarha Moore about the varied significances of the semitone in musical traditions of the Middle East and India, and its special effect in the riffs of Heavy Metal rock music.
In the Sound of Music, Julie Andrews sang "Tee - a drink with jam and bread - that will bring us back to Doh" - but what makes that "tee" note pull us so inexorably back (by a semitone) to "doh" - the tonic? Tom calls the semitone "the piquant spice that drives the change from one key to another" - powerful effects from a little interval.

Available now

29 minutes

Last on

Sun 7 Jan 2018 17:00

Music Played

  • Luciano Berio

    Points on the curve to find

    Performer: Ensemble intercontemporain. Performer: Pierre Boulez.
    • Sony Classical.
  • Henry Purcell

    Oh I am sick

    Performer: King's Consort.
    • Hyperion.
  • Anton Bruckner

    Symphony No. 9 in D Minor

    Performer: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Performer: Bernard Haitink.
    • Philips.
  • John Dowland

    Flow, my tears

    Performer: Mark Padmore. Performer: Elizabeth Kenny.
    • Hyperion.
  • François Couperin

    Pieces de Clavecin Ordre Six

    Performer: Christophe Rousset.
    • Harmina Mundi.
  • Richard Wagner

    Tristan & Isolde: Prelude

    Performer: Staatskapelle Dresden. Performer: Carlos Kleiber.
    • DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON.
  • Camille Saint‐Saëns

    Carnival of the Animals

    Performer: Toulouse Capitole Orchestra. Performer: Michel Plasson.
    • EMI.
  • Luciano Berio

    Coro

    Performer: Luciano Berio. Performer: Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra & Chorus.
    • DG.
  • Elliott Carter

    Piano concerto

    Performer: Charles Rosen. Performer: Basel Sinfonietta. Performer: Joel Smirnoff.
    • Bridge.
  • Trad.

    Duga rera

    Performer: Croatian Choir.
    • Croatian Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research.
    • IEF.
  • ROGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN

    Do-Re-Mi

    Performer: Julie Andrews.
    • The Sound of Music OST.
    • RCA.
  • Henry Purcell

    When I am laid (from Dido & Aeneas)

    Performer: Dame Sarah Connolly. Performer: Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Performer: Elizabeth Kenny.
    • Chandos.
  • Hariprasad Chaurasia

    Raga Bhairav

    • The Raga Guide.
    • Nimbus Records.
  • Black Sabbath

    Hand of Doom

    • Paranoid.
    • Vertigo.
  • Müslüm Gürses

    Kac Kadeh Kirildi

  • John Williams

    Theme From Jaws

    • Jaws (OST).
    • MCA.
  • Antonín Dvořák

    Symphony No.9, Op.95, Last Movement

    Performer: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Performer: Andris Nelsons.
    • BR Klassik.
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

    Piano Concerto no.24 in C minor

    Performer: Murray Perahia. Performer: English Chamber Orchestra.
    • CBS.
  • Ludwig van Beethoven

    Piano Concerto no.3

    Performer: Murray Perahia. Performer: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Performer: Bernard Haitink.
    • CBS.
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

    Concerto for piano and orchestra no.27 (K.595) in B flat major; 1st mvt; Allegro

    Performer: Cleveland Orchestra. Performer: Mitsuko Uchida.
    • Mozart: Piano Concertos 20, K466 & 27, K595; Mitsuko Uchida, The Cleveland Orche.
    • Decca.
    • 4.
  • Gustav Mahler

    Symphony no.9, 4th mvt

    Performer: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Performer: Herbert von Karajan.
    • DG.
  • Leonard Bernstein

    Maria

    Performer: Jimmy Bryant.
    • West Side Story OST.
    • Sony Classical.
  • Joseph Haydn

    Symphony no.104, 4th mvt

    Performer: Musiciens du Louvre Orchestra. Performer: Marc Minkowski.
    • NAÏVE.
  • Jean Sibelius

    Symphony no.7, ending

    Performer: London Philharmonic Orchestra. Performer: Paavo Berglund.
    • LPO.
  • Franz Schubert

    String Quintet in C, D.956

    Performer: Hagen Quartett. Performer: Heinrich Schiff.
    • DG.

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