What is a symphony?

Catherine Bott explores just what makes the symphony as a musical form so satisfying. Everything you Ever Wanted to Know about Classical Music, Sunday 20 July, 9pm.

The term, says Catherine Bott, comes from two ancient Greek words - syn ('together') and phoneh ('sounding'). Nowadays we think of a symphony as a large-scale work for orchestra, but when the word first appeared on a title page at the end of the 16th century it was introducing a much simpler kind of piece altogether, mainly a piece of music to introduce an opera or a ballet. Then, in the early 18th century, Italian composers started to expand these little pieces into three movements: fast, slow and, usually, faster still.

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To illustrate her whirlwind history of the symphony Catherine will have significant examples from Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart, Berlioz and Mahler.