24th January 2003 at 00:00
The ordering of time and the ordering of music are almost inseparable.

Clocks, after all, are really instruments playing lengthy sets of ostinatos, and Gyorgy Ligeti's (in)famous Po me Symphonique for an orchestra of 100 metronomes makes spirited use of the way they combine and run down in dizzyingly complex inter-relationships.

Try listening to Harrison Birtwistle's Harrison's Clocks. Inspired by Dava Sobel's best-seller Longitude, each of the five sections in this half-hour piano piece, superbly recorded by Joanna Macgregor, is a "portrait" of a different chronometer, with its own internal mechanism and its own shifting patterns of ticks and tocks. It's almost impossible to play but marvellous to hear. And if you want a brief contrasting piece about the disordering of time, listen to Penny Lane by The Beatles. The apparently simple 8-bar opening tune is unusually divided into a pattern of 4+3+1, and then the dominant 7th on the word "meanwhile" precipitately wrenches the song's harmony, confusing simultaneously our sense of syntax and chronology.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers

Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today