Tuesday, 8 January 2013
Exhibit Hall 3 (Austin Convention Center)
The creative output of composers, writers, and artists is often influenced by their surroundings. To give a literary example, it has been claimed recently that some of the characters in Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol were based on real-life people who lived near Charles Dickens in London. Of course, an important part of what we see and hear is not only the people with whom we interact, but also our geophysical surroundings. Of all the geophysical phenomena to influence us, the weather is arguably the most significant, because we are exposed to it directly and daily. The weather was a great source of inspiration for Monet, Constable, and Turner, who are known for their scientifically accurate paintings of the skies.
But to what extent does weather inspire composers? The authors of this presentation, who are atmospheric scientists by day but amateur classical musicians by night, have been contemplating this question. We have built a systematic musical database, which has allowed us to catalogue and analyze the historic frequencies with which weather was depicted in a sample of classical orchestral music from 1700 to the present day. The depictions vary from explicit mimicry using traditional and specialized orchestral instruments, through to subtle suggestions. We have found that composers are generally influenced by their own environment in the type of weather they choose to represent. As befits the national stereotype, British composers seem disproportionately keen to depict the UK's variable weather patterns and stormy coastline.
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