Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
May 20th, 2009
Physics of Sound
Daniel Barenboim on the Duration of Notes
Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

Daniel Barenboim: Sound has several very interesting aspects, I think, worth observing. One is duration—that there is a connection between sound and time. But before that there is a connection between sound and silence. When one speaks about sound, very one speaks of the color of sound— a bright sound or a dark sound. Which is of course nonsense because what may be dark for one is light for the other, and vice versa. It’s very subjective. I could say “It’s a beautiful sound.” What is a beautiful sound? So it’s very subjective and not really a definable characterization. Whereas the duration of sound and it’s relation to silence is a very objective thing. I sing a note or I whistle a note and when I have no more air, the note goes. Where does it go? Into the silence again. And when we observe that really more clearly we see that sound has a relationship with silence not unlike the law of gravity. In order to lift a certain object from the ground we have to use energy. But then to sustain it at that level, we have to keep on adding energy or otherwise the object falls to the ground. It’s exactly the same thing with the sound. We need a certain amount of energy to produce the sound. But then to sustain it we have to give more energy or otherwise it goes and it dies in silence. And therefore sound is absolutely, inextricably connected to time, the length of time. And this, I think, what gives it or even more so when it becomes music. It’s really tragic element of the fact that it can die, of the fact that it is a lifetime. Every note is a lifetime for itself.

  • Alicia

    Daniel Barenboim offers a concise yet profound definition of the most fundamental element of music; rhythm. And yet rhythm encompasses so much more than meter and rests. A musician’s relationship with silence, tension in that silence, his or her comfort level with it and the energy within the sound created in time is what makes art. It is fleeting, temporal and glorious. His definition is as eloquent as his music making. Thank you.

  • Virginia

    I absolutely loved his piano playing. Is there anyway to find out which compositions he played on this show?

  • Siegmund Wagner

    Barenboim comments, “It’s really tragic element of the fact that it can die, of the fact that it is a lifetime. Every note is a lifetime for itself.” This is most amusing because if the “tragedy” — a word from literature and theater, not music — did not exist, then sounds would never stop, and the world would be an unending cacophony of sound. a brilliant pianist, he is not a music philosopher of the same depth. He uses words like a politician, not a musician. Stravinsky taught us that it is difficult to speak about music, and Barenboim has just proved this with an illogical though emotional statement which is musically and theatrically untrue.

  • Jim Ludoviconi

    Barenboim’s idea of notes living and dying is a beautiful one. Comments from the peanut-gallery of academia, such as offered by Mr.Wagner, serve as a disheartening reminder of why Classical music will never gain a broad audience.

  • Rahjta Ren

    Thank you Jim Ludoviconi! Yes Mr S. Wagner, Give it a rest!

  • Steve Sabo

    Absolute hogwosh. Ludoviconi is a pretencious bore; there is nothing beautiful about the idea of notes living and dying.

  • Bluegreen

    Time and music are indivisible for each note, each pause, has a certain duration.
    Food for thought: there are millions of people who experienced near death (NDE) who state that time does not exist. It is a human construct without which man cannot live on this planet. Yet they heard music.

  • fares chich algeria

    hi mr barenboim i am an algerian violonist and i am your great fan here how are you i am searching 5th beethoven symphony 2 nd mouvement and it is not here can you please sent it for me and are you coming here in algeria with your wedo orchestra good bye yours fares chicha

  • siegmund wagner

    I happened back onto the responses to my orignal comment, mentioned to my by a friend. My response to Ludoviconi is that I am no academic nor do I like peanuts; therefore sir, you presume while not knowing. As to the complaint about a view such as mine being a reason why “classical music will never gain a broad audience,” I reply that either music is music and Maestro Barenboim’s ideas refer to all music, or they do not. Classical music does not gain a broad audience because there is far too much pretention involved by some of its purveyors, while the pop world is hugely successful selling far less worthy recordings. As to Mr. Ren who was “formerly Charlie Elgart” I shall hold my opinions and not give “it” a rest. Barenboim is a fine pianist among many fine pianists, but when I cited Stravinsky I meant to point out that such lovely poetry as Barenboim makes in his statement contributes little to seducing a greater audience to classical music. I suspect it off puts possible audiences not already sold on such music. “Living and dying notes” is all very fine lingo, but it should also apply to rock, pop, reggae, ethno, techno and so much more. If so, what’s this got to do with classical music, anyway? I have heard Barenboim live, find him a wonderful performer, but think his philosophizing is merely romantic. On the other hand, I am mulling over Bluegreen and thank him for suggesting something that I now must look into. PBS is to be congratulated for the site, the discussion and the forum.

  • palmtreepoet

    Not all musicians have made a logical connection between sound/speach/song/music and the science of physics simply because they don’t/won’t/can’t see the value of the study. I made the connection years ago by studying the book of Psalms and the life of King David in the Old Testament, as well as other writings by musicians and the uses of music found there.
    The facts are the facts and the science is more than valid… especially when you take in all the info being shared by music therapists, neurologists, and professors worldwide.
    There is a spiritual aspect to “light” and sound, in that relationship as well… (but if that’s too scary for you, don’t read the Old Testament)!
    Being a musician has a lot of responsibility connected to it… when it comes to how one uses the sound he/she creates… as it will not only reveal and make transparent the emotions of the creator, but also, in some ways, reveal such things as temperament, and inner condition of the heart. No wonder, then, that those exposed to the music, speech, songs, sounds, are so affected in their inner selves also, and moved in diverse ways in direct relationship to what they hear.
    Being a musician/performer/recording artist of 35 years, I can attest to watching an audience move/react to what I do from the stage. It can really be an eye-opener sometimes, and I applaud any performer who will take to heart and apply the knowledge physics provides to responsibly perform with a higher level of integrity for the well-being of those he/she is serving. It all counts for a higher purpose and a more appropriate application of skill and conscientious living.


    Very interesting Mr. Barenboim. You are of course a master of the piano, specifically in my mind mozart. Mozart was a unique individual who’s legacy became truly everlasting not by design but by a combination of virtue and destiny. The virtue part is all Mozarts making, the destiny? Sorry for not de-energizing that note… His mind for music was truly god given. I found Mr. Barenboim’s comments on the energy used to play notes interesting, while it takes energy to lift the notes from the piano to the mind, each note in and of itself has a perfect amount of energy required to bring it to it’s perfect standing, us humans can only strive a for lifetime to find the perfect voltage. Sometimes those of us can only dream to feel the energy going through the mind of an expert such as yourself as you play in front of thousands to seeming perfection, but then you, as I would agree perfection is unattainable for us mere humans, only the struggle for perfection is what we all admire. Every pianist knows this as he or she feels a different feeling every time they play the same song over and over. The best pianists in the world are admired for their struggle to find those perfect notes and combination of notes, thus in the end the energy you and your peers end up emanating we can admire as a lofty goal, one all of us strive to attain in our daily lives. Thanks for contributing to this forum. Before this duration becomes too long, i’ll sound off now….


    Siegmund Wagner, Mr. Wagner, don’t be too hard on Mr Barenboim. The fact that he chooses to describe the death of a note as a tragic circumstance of time and energy doesn’t mean he meant music in and of itself is tragic and dying.

    I appreciate the fact that Stravinsky said it’s hard to talk about music, but the fact that Mr. Barenboim is choosing to speak at all, tells me I should listen, empathize as much as I can, and thank a great master for trying to “talk about music”.

    Politics was, I’m sure, the furthest thing from his mind as he commented.

    if Stravinsky were able to comment on this forum what do you think he would “honestly” say about Mr. Barenboim’s comments, stop and think about this one before you comment…

  • Siegmund Wagner

    Dear Mr. Rodriguez, I am not being hard of Maestro Barenboim, and I have taken time to think over your question and respond to you.

    I am chuckling — and still chuckle — at the overblown rhetoric served up by many more than Barenboim alone, to make audiences tingle with delight at words, words and words. (A reference to Alan Jay Lerner is intended here.) I stand with Stravinsky’s general oberservation that music is not well or easily conveyed in words. Gosh, words aren’t always well conveyed in words, are they?

    So to that end, I propose a question to you, sir. What does Barenboim really say to you? “Every note is a lifetime for itself.” It seems fine poetry, pretty words to turn a pretty head, mysticism spinning angels on the head of a pin, or even ‘nonsense’ as Orwell spoke of that literary form, but what does it instruct you about how to play a note, how to hear a note, how to compose a note? “Every note is a lifetime for itself?”

  • Wii Wii

    Thank you, I’ve just been looking for information about this subject for ages and yours is the best I have found out so far. However, what in regards to the bottom line? Are you certain in regards to the supply?|What i do not understood is in fact how you’re not actually much more smartly-preferred than you may be now. You’re so intelligent.

Produced by WNET.ORG   ©2014 WNET.ORG Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.