Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Classical Music - Sunday 26 January 2014

What are musical modes? And how did they develop into the keys we know today?

learn to play piano

This week's, Catherine Bott's theme was suggested by Classic FM listener Nik Whitehead, who got in touch a few weeks ago to say “how about a programme on the different modes of early music and how they developed into the keys we know today?”

So tonight, Catherine addresses the question: 'When a piece of music is described as “modal”, what does that mean?'

The seven main categories of mode have been part of musical notation since the Middle Ages, when scholars were inspired by what they thought to have been ancient Greek musical theory. So, the list goes: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian.

There'll be music from Vivaldi to illustrate the Ionion Mode - in other words, a straightforward major scale. The Dorian Mode is exemplified by the folksong Scarborough Fair, played tonight by Nigel Kennedy, and an extract from Beethoven's Solemn Mass.

Rachmaninov is used to illustrate the Locrian mode and Vaughan Williams's Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis is a good example of the Phyrigian mode.