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< Respighi's Inspiration | Main | Signing off, for now >



Music and Silence

Posted at 9:25 PM on August 31, 2009 by Fred Child (5 Comments)

Robert Fripp: "Music is the wine that fills the cup of silence."

Aldous Huxley: "After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music."

Marcel Marceau: "Music and silence combine strongly because music is done with silence, and silence is full of music."

Leopold Stokowski (to an audience not providing enough silence): "A painter paints his pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence. We provide the music, and you provide the silence."

Former pianist, now anonymous monk: "Silence is my music now."

Edith Sitwell: "My personal hobbies are reading, listening to music, and silence."

Music theorist Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis: "The same acoustic silence, embedded in two different excerpts, can be perceived dramatically differently."

John Cage, on reaction to his 'silent' piece 4'33": "They missed the point. There's no such thing as silence. What they thought was silence, because they didn't know how to listen, was full of accidental sounds. You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began patterning the roof, and during the third the people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out."
Quoted by Richard Kostelanetz in his 2003 book, "Conversing with John Cage."


Comments ( 5 )


John is so right regarding silence, we allow ourselves to believe we are enjoying silience just because there are no immediate noises in our vicinity, but in doing so overlook sounds such as breathing, wind rustling, and more. There is a reason that the old saying goes "silence is golden", it is because silence is just as precious.

Posted by Dave Duncan | September 8, 2009 3:26 AM


I was disappointed with your decision to program the John Adams Grand Pianola Music on September 8. On a day when you could have celebrated the birthday of the talented composer Antonin Dvorak, you chose, instead, to wallow in the triteness and formless repetitiveness of John Adams. The unenthusiastic applause from the London audience was indeed telling. This morning, WFMT programmed several Dvorak pieces including a hauntingly beautiful aria from Rusalka. For so long as music directors and programmers continue to opt for the excess of mediocrity (and thereby encourage it), classical music will progressively languish. Certainly there are contemporary composers of real music you could program whose works would advance the cause of classical music.

Posted by Ronald Schertz | September 8, 2009 11:42 AM


I couldn't find any place to comment on John Adam's Grand Pianola Music, so I will post here instead.
I think I've discovered why his music is grating for so many people.
When people who are sensitive to flashing lights are exposed to them, it sometimes brings on a seizure,even if the person's never had one before. (I worked in an ER as an EMT/ER tech for many years and saw this) That's why EMS, firefighters, and police are told to look away from the lights if they start to feel funny.
I noticed this same thing happening in myself when I listened to the piece. It was more than disturbing or grating. I was surfing while NPR was on, in the background. I wasn't even listening, but suddenly found myself focused on the music.The repetitive part made me feel uncomfortable, my head was buzzing, and the music became unbearable. It's hard to put into words what it felt like...I think this was the aural version of the flashing lights phenomenon.

Posted by Becky Striggow | September 8, 2009 12:20 PM


Well...I shall comment not only on silence, and John Adams, and the previous response to Grand Pianola, but on Susan Graham's Kennedy funeral performance.

1. When we are silent, we are able to let the noise in our heads make its own music and we are also able to let the world around us give us its music. That is why when I take my exercise walks in the park, I do not use an MP3...the birds, the chipmunks and squirrels, the water and the wind and sometimes rain, and even the darn dogs and cute babies, as well as the external/internal rhythm of my walking pace and my mental response to that rhythm create enough music for me to melt into.

2. John Adams' Grand Pianola...wow I have the complete opposite experience from Ms. Striggow...it's the same amazing minimalist experience as Steve Reich's "Tehillim", only with orchestra and piano. I personally really like it because he is playing with sound and with the concept of voices as sound carriers, not meaning carriers. I find it very soothing as well. It's a wonderful wall of sound to fall into. Playful yet serious. LOVE IT!

3. And then completely opposite from #2 is Susan Graham's wonderful Ave Maria (the world's biggest and greatest vocal chestnut...don't get me wrong, I have sung this myself at funerals and in church, it's a gorgeous piece with the potential for being overblown)...as Ms. Graham states, it is a simple prayer to the Virgin Mary asking for intercession and for forgiveness. And what was so amazing about Ms. Graham's performance was she did not let herself get in the way of the song and the music. I saw this live on TV and while I could barely watch Domingo's presentation of "Panis Angelicus" as he was over-emoting every which way, I was mesmerized by Susan Graham because she was not emoting or wringing her hands at all...she knew that at a funeral and in a church service, it's all about the song, not the singer. It's all about what the mourners are feeling, not what the singer is feeling. I was in tears at the end of her performance because...it was NOT a performance! Amen, Ms. Graham. Thank you SO MUCH! From a church soloist in Boston

Posted by Janna Frelich | September 8, 2009 4:05 PM


Adams "Grande Pianola" was the worst thing I've ever had to sit through. We were traveling and couldn't find any music anywhere on the radio. I kept thinking every 5 minutes that "pianola" surely would end soon. However, it kept on with that awful grating NOISE and I thought it would never end! I usually am a fan of your program, Mr. Childs, but if you do something like this again I guess I'll have to just play my tapes. Please keep on playing something worthwhile to hear and tell us about it. I believe you said this piece was the result of a dream. It must have been a nightmare. connie Miller

Posted by Connie Miller | September 8, 2009 5:16 PM

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