Is there a connection between a podcast and a symphony?

Is there a connection between a podcast and a symphony? Well, if you want, there is. Let’s rephrase that question: what is the ideal length of a podcast episode? 

And, the answer is: more or less the length of a symphony. Let me explain. 

Manuel Nägeli via Unsplash

The term symphony comes from a Greek word meaning “A sounding together”, which is also a very poetic way of describing a pleasant conversation. 

But what about the length? 

If we look into the Symphony’s history, there is no exact length, but an evolution from short to long. 

Here are some highlights from the music history.

In the 17th-18th centuries, “sinfonia” had the sense of a short introductory piece like Johan Sebastian Bach’s Partita No. 2 in C minor and the one-minute intro called ‘sinfonia’. 

In the classical period of Haydn and Mozart, a symphony grew to around 25 minutes, with woodwinds and brass in pairs. String forces also were much smaller than the Romantic symphony orchestra. 

Beethoven, the iconoclast, broke with convention in his “Eroica” symphony by writing a work of unprecedented complexity and length – it runs to over double the length of what previously had been considered the norm for a symphonic composition. 

Some late Romantics such as Mahler and Bruckner tried to out-Beethoven Beethoven’s 9th (which runs to about 70 minutes) with works requiring enormously expanded forces and lasting around 90 minutes.

Roughly the “norm” as standardised in the 19th century, and typified in works by Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Dvorak, would be around 45.  

And in that way, we can compare the length of a symphony with the length of an average podcast episode. Regarding some internet research, it is around 40 minutes. 

Top 3 longest symphonies

  1. Symphony No 1. ‘The Gothic’ by Havergal Brian is, at the moment, the longest Symphony ever written, is circa 111 minutes.
  2. Symphony No. 3 by Gustav Mahler – with an average performance time of around 90 -100 minutes.
  3. Symphony No. 7 by Anton Bruckner, 80 – 90 minutes.

Top 3 shortest symphonies

  1. The 2nd Symphony by Joseph Haydn is the shortest, coming in at under 10 minutes
  2. The first Symphony, the “Classical Symphony” by Sergei Prokofiev, is around 15 minutes.
  3. Symphony No. 10 and 11 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, both under 10 minutes.

The Power of Music Thinking Podcast in Symphony length

Well this comes very close to my own experience and The Power of Music Thinking podcast. On the podcast, I have a mix of special episodes – relatively short and under 30 minutes – and conversations that come close to a Mahler 3rd. The conversations I have are with exceptionable people that are also musicians, and because there is no agenda, there is also no limit, and we just let it flow.

Top 5 shortest podcast episodes

  1. Green Listening and how green vinyl records is revolutionising the vinyl business, 17 minutes
  2. Listening Walk, 18 minutes
  3. Healthcare, Sound Healing and Mantras Rasa Priya from Hawaii, 34 minutes
  4. Finding your Side B with Paula White, 38 minutes
  5. Modular Strategies with Rikkert Achtereekte, 42 minutes

Top 5 longest podcast episodes

  1. Performing in Japan with Bjoern, 90 minutes
  2. World-building and empathic storytelling with Eelko Lommers from IKEA, 75 minutes
  3. Blend sound science with sound art to make sound decisions with Steve Keller, from SXM Media, 63 minutes
  4. The Jazz Process to innovation with Adrian Cho, 62 minutes
  5. Cross-pollination in leadership with Ilkka Mäkitalo, from Howspace, 56 minutes

Next week I will speak to Charles Brooks, famous for the incredible pictures he makes from inside of musical instruments; Charles was for 20 years a cellist at top symphony orchestras in different parts of the world. So we speak about his photography, music, technique and technology, business and personal experiences. 

This will be a very long ‘symphony’ 🙂