The birth of modern music

The Bird King’s favourite piece of music is a forgotten masterpiece by Hector Berlioz, the rousing Symphonie priapique.

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Mahler wrote the last movement of his 13th Symphony (a funeral march with braying donkeys and laughter) before he’d even started his first.

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Debussy is known for such mellifluous tone poems as La mer. A less celebrated work was La foule hystérique for demonically possessed choir.

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Igor Stravinsky intended Le Sacre du printemps to be performed by headless musicians. Unfortunately the idea was never realised, though decades later John Cage was to employ a decapitated pianist in 4’33”.

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A deleted passage from the draft of Varèse’s Amériques was scored for orchestra, vacuum cleaners, car horns, thunder and crying babies.

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Steve Reich wrote music to be performed in zero gravity, for example Monotony for violin, in which the musician plays a continuous E, stopping only when all the sand in an hourglass has fallen from the top bulb into the bottom, i.e. never.

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Iannis Xenakis’s best orchestral work is Chthon, performed 1000 metres under ground, the audience being above ground and out of earshot.

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With thanks to Sean Fraser for supplying the John Cage material.

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