Composers in tune with British stereotype

Sep 22, 2011

British composers would appear to live up to their national stereotype of weather obsession, as they are twice as likely to have written music with climate themes as their counterparts from other nationalities.

New research by the Universities of Oxford and Reading has catalogued and analysed the frequencies with which weather is depicted in classical orchestral , from the 17th Century to the present day, to help understand how climate affects the way people think.

Dr. Karen Aplin, from Oxford University's Department of Physics, and Dr. Paul Williams, from the University of Reading's Department of Meteorology, both combine careers as with a love of classical music. The researchers were so convinced that classical music is influenced by climate that they pursued this in their own spare time, outside of their normal scientific work.

Dr. Aplin was inspired by the regular portrayal of weather-related phenomena in orchestral music she has played. She said: "As all music lovers know, the hint of a distant storm from a drum roll can be just as evocative as the skies depicted by Constable and Monet."

Dr. Paul Williams said: "We found that composers are generally influenced by their own environment in the type of weather they choose to represent. As befits the national stereotype, British composers seem disproportionately keen to depict the UK's variable and stormy coastline."

The research showed British composers easily lead the way with musical weather, followed by the French and the Germans.

Generally, the most popular type of weather represented in music is the storm, presumably because of the use of storms by composers as an allegory for emotional turbulence, such as in Benjamin Britten's Four Sea Interludes from the opera Peter Grimes.

Wind was found to be the second most popular type of weather to feature in music. Wind can have a variety of characters, from a gentle breeze rustling the trees, as in the beginning of the third movement of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, to a full-blown Antarctic gale, as in Vaughan Williams' Sinfonia Antarctica.

The research also charts the development of musical instruments as aids to evoke a particular sound, for example a thunder sheet or wind machine, and the effect weather had on composers.

Strauss needed both sunshine and the Alpine landscape to inspire him. Several other composers, such as Berlioz, Schubert and Wagner, were also dependent on fair weather conditions, associated with high pressure, for their best output. Wagner, for example, referred to ‘bad-weather unemployment' and wrote: "This is awful weather. My work has been put aside for two days, and the brain is stubbornly declining its services."

The study provides a baseline of cultural responses to weather before climate change. It seems inevitable that our changing climate will influence artistic expression. Will UK composers writing music for a 2050 Proms programme still be interested in representing our warmer, wetter weather? This paper will provide a basis for comparison.

‘Meteorological phenomena in Western classical orchestral music', by Karen Aplin and Paul Williams, will be published in the October issue of the Royal Meteorological Society journal . It will be available online from 23 September 2011.

Explore further: Funding review casting shadow over Portuguese research could cloud other countries

Provided by University of Reading

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Ariz. professor keeper of weather records

Oct 08, 2007

An Arizona State University professor has been designated the official keeper of world weather records by the U.N. World Meteorological Organization.

New semantic web interface for smarter searches

Feb 13, 2005

A new semantic web interface, which will improve access to information and present search results in associated categories in one window, was launched this week. This new approach means that instead of users having to wade ...

New Models of Weather Pattern

Dec 09, 2005

For a mathematician, Joseph Biello spends a lot of time thinking about the weather. But the UC Davis assistant professor isn't looking out the office window. He is using mathematical theory to build a model of the Madden-Julian ...

Recommended for you

How to win a Tour de France sprint

Jul 22, 2014

The final dash to the line in a Tour de France sprint finish may appear to the bystander to be a mess of bodies trying to cram into the width of a road, but there is a high degree of strategy involved. It ...

Bible museum planned for US capital

Jul 18, 2014

The devout Christian family that upended a part of President Barack Obama's health care law aims to open a Bible museum in Washington in 2017, a spokesperson for the project said Friday.

User comments : 0