Mean Time are currently offering three different programmes: The Flutes of Love, Red Intentions and The Birds and the B's.  Each programme has been carefully designed to ensure that the concert is accessible, varied, and will appeal to a wide range of audiences.


The Flutes of love...

The programming of this concert was inspired by two sources.  Firstly, William Shakespeare's play Twelth Night which opens with the famous lines: "If music be the food of love, play on..."  We considered that a concert whose music was drawn from the rich inspiration of love through the ages would make for a compelling and amusing programme.  Secondly, whilst talking about the theme of love for the concert, the phrase "the fruits of love" came to mind. One of us punned and jokingly referred to "the flutes of love" and a title was born!

Love is seen in music of many eras and genres, perhaps many if asked to give an example would cite Schubert Lieder, or some of Beethoven's piano sonatas, whose dedicatees were the object of affection for his tortured soul.

As a group we decided to adopt a more wide-angled approach to the title, discussing it more from the perspective of the ancient Greeks and subsequently C.S. Lewis, who propose four "loves" covering friendship, Godly love, eroticism, and affection.  This enabled us to include material which otherwise might not normally be associated with a concert of music concerning love.  The inclusion of an aria from Bach's cantata BWV182 is seen in terms of the compassionate love of Jesus (agape) for his followers and vice versa.  This love is exemplified in the prayer of St. Richard of Chichester:  "...May I know Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly and follow Thee more nearly...".  Where eros is concerned, there is much music to be found, though by its nature it is often subversively ambiguous, and in early music of this type this is especially a problem for the modern listener.  In this concert, John Dowland's "Come again, sweet love doth now invite" is demonstrative of this type of love, and his treatment of the word "die" reflects the double entendre which would have been instantly apparent to a contemporary audience.


RED Intentions…….

The relationship between colour and music has inspired philosophical and creative discovery for centuries. Colour, like music can stimulate the imagination and evoke strong emotions and feelings. It can also give refreshment to the mind allowing us to respond to the simple pleasures that light and sound have to offer, for example a sunrise and birdsong.

 "Colour and musical sounds are both produced by vibrations acting upon the nerve terminations of the eye and ear respectively"[1]. In the same way that musical notes can be split in to octaves using sound vibrations, the same can be done using the speed of vibrations of light producing a spectrum band ranging from deep red to violet. One of the earliest scientists to make a connection between the seven notes in the musical scale and the seven colours in the spectrum was Isaac Newton in 1675:

"And possibly colour may be distinguished into its principle degrees, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and deep violet, on the same ground that sound within an eighth is graduated into tones."[2]

Newton devised a music and colour wheel comparing the colours of the rainbow with the notes of the ancient Greek dorian scale. Red, the first colour, immediately follows D, the lowest note.

As a group we were interested in basing a programme on colour, and red seemed to be the obvious choice. Red is often described as the colour of colours. In many languages, the words red and coloured are synonyms. Red is also the colour that symbolises everything passionate and intense: an exciting theme to base a concert programme on!

Red symbolises emotional rather than intellectual ideas. It is the colour of blood and the heart, and is described as the colour of love. In tonight's programme we explore this particular genre of the colour red in pieces of music such as Palestrina's Pose un gran foco nel mio petto amore, which translates as "Love set a great fire in my heart", and Dowland's If My Complaints Could Passions Move.  Dowland is renowned for his writing of depressing, but emotional music and lyrics. In fact he is known as "semper Dowland, semper dolens": always Dowland, always miserable!

Red is the colour of heat and fire. Taps for hot water are often labelled red. The Renaissance composer, Thomas Morley, conveys fire through music in the canzonet, Fyre and Lightning.

Red also describes all intense emotions. It is commonly used as the colour of anger or embarrassment. We talk about "seeing red" or being "red in the face". We have taken this a step further in our programme using red as a colour of lunacy in Purcell's mad song, Bess of Bedlam. Mad songs were inspired by the 17th and 18th-century nobility's voyeuristic relationship with Bedlam, the city's public insane asylum. For a price visitors were permitted to tour the corridors and on occasions were allowed direct interaction with the inmates. Diary accounts and letters from nobility regarding their impressions of the asylum inspired composers, poets and artists of the day.

We see the mad connotation of red taken a step further in Willaert's Vecchie letrose (Spiteful Old Hags). This piece talks about being mad and murderous so red here is not only the colour of anger and madness, but is also a dangerous colour. Stop and hazard signs are often red and we use red to draw in people's attention. It is thought of as a violent colour and is often described as the colour of war.

In contrast to the above red is also a joyful colour and can represent life and vitality. We begin the programme with Sumer Is Icumen In as red also signifies the colour of the sun: a symbol of energy.

To conclude, we could not ignore two other composers when putting together this programme: Vivaldi was known as the red priest because of his red hair and Rossi whose name literally means, you guessed it.… red!

[1] Wallace Rimington, A., 'Colour Music the Art of Mobile Colour', (England: Kessinger Publishing, 2004), p. 34

[2] Nick Woodeson, Topaz Magazine website, 'Colour and Music', <> (accessed 27 March 2007).



The Birds and the B's…

The natural sounds around us have inspired composers, poets and musicians for centuries. If asked, we could all name dozens of pieces influenced by our ever-changing surroundings: Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons', 'The Pastorale Symphony' by Beethoven. Nature has an endless collection of fascinating sounds but it has always been birds that seem to have attracted the most attention. Birdsong has both fascinated and mystified people for centuries. Frogs croak, horses neigh, wolves howl, and lions roar, but birds sing!

Birdsong has appeared again and again in music: 'The lark ascending' and 'On hearing the first cuckoo in spring' are to name but a few. The recorder itself has its own, individual connections to birdsong. The name of the instrument, after all comes from the old English word record, meaning to sing like a bird. It is also worth noting that the mouthpiece of the recorder is commonly referred to as the beak! From its earliest days the recorder has been associated with birds: "Then tune to us, sweet bird, thy shrill recorder."[1]  Famously in Handel's 'Acis and Galatea' and Vivaldi's concerto 'Il Gardellino' the sopranino recorder represents a bird. 'Sonata in Imitation of Birds' and 'Music for a Bird' are also well-known examples of 'birdy' recorder music included in this programme.

Another interesting twist is how people have tried to use the recorder to influence birdsong. In the eighteenth century there was a vogue for using instruments such as the sopranino recorder to teach birds to sing. The method consisted of putting a bird in the dark for weeks at a time and playing it popular melodies of the day until it could eventually sing them back! 'The Bird Fancyer's Delight', a small volume published in London in the early 1700's, contains instructions for training songbirds and has over 40 different tunes written for named birds. It is thought to have been written by ornithologist, John Hamersley.

'The Birds and the B's', for us, symbolises not only birdsong but other aspects of nature as well. In this programme the recorder can be heard playing alongside love, such as in the cantata 'Fuori di sua capanna'. Similarly, in the same piece we find it used in a pastoral sense. We have tried to vary our programme using pieces that imitate birdsong or have been inspired by a particular animal as well as pieces that transport the listener to an entirely different place. We hope that the result is an exciting and varied programme.

From Giamberti's cuckoo to Rimsky-Korsakov's bumblebee, by way of a sweet Suffolk owl, we hope to transport you on an interesting musical journey with nature.

[1] Edward Johnson 'Come, blessed bird' from The Triumphs of Oriana, 1601