28 April 2015
- From the section Magazine
In a feat of musical memory, the Aurora Orchestra will perform Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony without printed scores at the BBC Proms 2015. Neuroscientist Jessica Grahn explores how musicians manage to remember highly complex arrangements.
The extraordinary ability of musicians to recall millions of musical notes over a lifetime is undoubtedly one of the most impressive feats of human memory.
For scientists, such feats provide an opportunity to understand how human memory works - but, for musicians, having to achieve this on a regular basis can be terrifying.
Most musicians will have to perform from memory at some time in their career. Some, especially singers or soloists, have to perform from memory most of the time.
Feelings about the practice are divided. Some musicians feel that performing without a score allows them to be freer and more expressive. Others feel that memorisation is time-consuming and less reliable than using a written score.