Beyond the border

Nature has its own soundtrack - the low-level symphony of buzzing insects, running water and birdsong. Folk music was born when humans began offering their own accompaniment on instruments fashioned from the plants they found around them.

The development of classical music took place indoors, although the conservatoires where it was taught were not, as the literal translation suggests, greenhouses. Schools founded in Italy under this name were meant to "conserve" the children and offer them a musical education. Despite the growth in court and chamber music, some composers continued to write specifically for the natural acoustics of an alfresco setting. Handel's Water Music, written for King George I's procession down the Thames, and his Firework Music are the best known, but the newly created parks of the 19th century gave an airing to the work of less renowned composers.

Manet painted the scene of recitals in the Tuileries gardens in Paris, while across the Channel riotous nights of music and dancing took place in Vauxhall Gardens on the south bank of the Thames until its reputation for debauchery saw it closed in 1859.

The first bandstand in the world was built in Cremorne Gardens in Chelsea, an open-sided pavilion imitating those in Japanese gardens where music was traditionally played. These became popular venues for brass bands, themselves descendants of another branch of outdoor music, the army marching band.

An instrument unique to garden music, a water organ, featured in the great Renaissance garden of the Villa d'Este near Tivoli in Italy. This ornate contraption pumped water over a barrel that picked out the notes. Haydn and Mozart both composed music specifically for it but by the 18th century it had fallen into disrepair and was stuck on one note; locals, fed up with its constant monotonous drone, destroyed it. A replica of the original, made by the Norfolk organ builder Rodney Briscoe, will be unveiled next month.

Hearing music in the park or garden might have a soothing effect on the human psyche, but what does it do to the plants? When scientists at the University of Sussex played Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell non-stop for a week to busy lizzies, carrots and mung beans, germination and growth rates increased compared with rates recorded during Rachmaninov's piano concerto No. 2. The greater heat energy produced by amplified rock music is thought to account for the growth spurt. So expect a good harvest round Glastonbury this year.

Musical excursionsPrincess Diana Memorial Playground, Kensington Gardens - interactive sound garden for children. Tel: 020 7298 2117Glastonbury Festival, Worthy Farm, Somerset. www.glastonburyfestivals.co.uk Finchcocks Musical Museum, Goudhurst, Kent - with Victorian pleasure garden

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