Posted on Feb 7, 2014

The 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky lasts for 14 minutes and 40 seconds. It is scored for a philharmonic orchestra having up to eighty musicians, playing a wide variety of instruments. The instruments include strings: violins, cellos, basses, brass: trumpets, trombones, French horns, tubas, woodwinds: clarinets, saxophones, flutes, piccolos, as well

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as percussion: drums, cymbals, bells, and triangles. The music for each instrument consists of multiple pages, each containing hundreds of notes. Each instrument gets a full workout in the course of the overture, which contains loud bombastic sections, as well as tranquil interludes. When Joseph Fourier decided to form an orchestra to play the Overture, he had only flute players (fortuitous, as the flute plays what is close to a pure sine wave) at his disposal. And, the players were severly limited, each player could play only one note, at one volume, for the duration of the piece. So that, when Fourier`s baton dropped on the initial downbeat, each player played his/her one note, and held it at a constant volume, for 14 minutes and 40 seconds, through the climatic finale. Fourier claimed that he could re-score the piece (see how in the last section) so that his orchestra`s version of the 1812 Overture would sound exactly like the full orchestra version, as played by the Berlin philharmonic, for example. Let me suggest that you carefully re-read the previous two paragraphs a few times, to realize how absolutely unbelievable the theorem demonstrated below really is. Each player plays one note, at one volume, for the duration of the piece. Not a misprint. Think of it this way: right before the final climatic chord, there is a second of silence. During this silence every player is playing the same note he/she has played since...

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