John Eliot Gardiner goes in search of Bach the man and the musician. The famous portrait of Bach portrays a grumpy 62-year-old man in a wig and formal coat, yet his greatest works were composed 20 years earlier in an almost unrivalled blaze of creativity. We reveal a complex and passionate artist; a warm and convivial family man at the same time a rebellious spirit struggling with the hierarchies of state and church who wrote timeless music that is today known world-wide. Gardiner undertakes a 'Bach Tour' of Germany, and sifts the relatively few clues we have - some newly-found. Most of all, he uses the music to reveal the real Bach.
2013 • Music
Suzy Klein explores the use, abuse and manipulation of music in the Second World War - from swinging jazz to film soundtracks and from ballads to ballets. The war, she demonstrates, wasn't just a military fight but an ideological battle where both sides used music as a weapon to secure their vision for civilisation. Suzy reveals how the forces' sweetheart Vera Lynn was taken off air by the BBC for fear her sentimental songs undermined the British war effort. She reveals the war work of two British composers. Walton's Spitfire Prelude became the archetype for a particularly British form of patriotic music. By contrast, Tippett was sent to prison for being a conscientious objector, but his anti-war oratorio A Child of Our Time was showcased at the Royal Albert Hall. Suzy examines Olivier Messiaen's haunting Quartet for the End of Time, written in a POW camp. At Auschwitz, Suzy reveals how music was co-opted to serve the Nazis' evil purposes.
Suzy Klein reaches the 1930s, when the totalitarian dictators sought to use and abuse music for ideological ends. Suzy looks at the lives of Richard Strauss, Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev, who produced some of the 20th-century's best-loved music whilst working for Hitler and Stalin. The political message of Peter and the Wolf is revealed as well as the secret code hidden in Shostakovich's quartets and Strauss's personal reasons for trying to please the Nazis. Suzy also uncovers why Hitler adored Wagner but banned Mendelssohn's Wedding March; how Stalin used music to subtly infiltrate minds; and why Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, a Nazi favourite, appeals to our most primitive senses. Suzy also raises some intriguing questions: Can we pin meaning onto music? What are the moral responsibilities of artists? And did the violence and tyranny of those regimes leave an indelible stain on the music they produced?
Suzy Klein takes us back to the volatile years following the Russian Revolution and World War I, when music was seen as a tool to change society. Suzy explores the gender-bending cabarets of 1920s Berlin and smashes a piano in the spirit of the Bolshevik revolution. She also reveals why one orchestra decided to work without a conductor, uncovers the dark politics behind Mack the Knife and probes the satirical songs which tried to puncture the rise of the Nazis. Suzy's musical stories are brought to life with the help of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and its Chorus, as well as solo performers. This was a golden age for music, and its jazz, popular songs, experimental symphonies and classics like Rachmaninoff all provoke debate - what kind of culture do we want? Is music for the elite or for the people? Was this a new age of liberal freedom to be relished - or were we hurtling towards the apocalypse?
A film about one of the greatest singers of all time. Whitney Houston was the epitome of superstar, an 'American princess' and the most awarded female artist ever. Even though Whitney had made millions of dollars, had more consecutive number ones than The Beatles and became recognised as having one of the greatest voices of all time, she still wasn't free to be herself and died at the age of 48. Made with largely never-before-seen footage and exclusive live recordings, Whitney: Can I Be Me tells Whitney Houston's incredible and poignant life story with insights from those closest to her.
2017 • Music
A journey into the BBC archives unearthing glorious performances and candid interviews from the golden age of jazz. Featuring some of the greatest names in American music, including the godfather of New Orleans jazz Louis Armstrong, the King of Swing Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald. Broadcasted as part of the Old Masters, Rising Stars: Jazz On BBC Four season, this film unlocks the BBC archives to explore the words and music of some of the greatest names in jazz. The BBC soon moved on from Lord Reith's proclamation, made in the 1930s, that jazz was "a filthy product of modernity", and invited some of the legends from the golden age of American jazz to perform and talk on British television. This film is a series of revealing portraits, from Louis Armstrong, jazz's first great soloist and global ambassador, to Duke Ellington, the ever-suave bandleader and composer who brought a new sophistication and ambition to the music. Count Basie is sheer swing, Dizzy Gillespie provoked a musical revolution with bebop, and Ella Fitzgerald is just incomparable. Through long-forgotten archive and specially shot interviews, Jazz Legends In Their Own Words tells the story of an art form that has been called "America's gift to the world".
2014 • Music
In the 1970s, America was one nation under a groove as an irresistible new style of music took hold of the country - funk. The music burst out of the black community at a time of self-discovery, struggle and social change. Funk reflected all of that. It has produced some of the most famous, eccentric and best-loved acts in the world - James Brown, Sly & the Family Stone, George Clinton's Funkadelic and Parliament, Kool & the Gang and Earth, Wind & Fire. During the 1970s this fun, futuristic and freaky music changed the streets of America with its outrageous fashion, space-age vision and streetwise slang. But more than that, funk was a celebration of being black, providing a platform for a new philosophy, belief system and lifestyle that was able to unite young black Americans into taking pride in who they were. Today, like blues and jazz, it is looked on as one of the great American musical cultures, its rhythms and hooks reverberating throughout popular music. Without it hip-hop wouldn't have happened. Dance music would have no groove. This documentary tells that story, exploring the music and artists who created a positive soundtrack at a negative time for African-Americans. Includes new interviews with George Clinton, Sly & the Family Stone, Earth, Wind & Fire, Kool & the Gang, War, Cameo, Ray Parker Jnr and trombonist Fred Wesley.
2014 • Music
Asif Kapadia's poignant and critically acclaimed documentary portrait of singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse, the English soul, jazz and R 'n' B phenomenon who died tragically before her time. Kapadia traces her volatile life and artistic success over the 13 years preceding her death from alcohol poisoning on 23rd July 2011, aged just 27. The documentary tells Amy's story via her music and autobiographical song lyrics, video footage shot by her friends and family, archive clips from TV appearances, plus voiceover interviews with people who were personally and professionally close to her. But, as the film progresses, the hope and promise of her early career is steadily undermined by the self-destructive chaos of alcohol and drug addiction and the pressures of a life lived under the intense focus of global media attention.
2016 • Music
There was nothing predictable about David Bowie. Everything was designed to intrigue, to challenge, to defy all expectations. But perhaps no period in David Bowie's extraordinary career raised more fascination, more surprise, and more questions than the last five years. This is an intimate portrait of one of the defining artists of the twentieth and early twenty first centuries, told by the people who knew him best - his friends and artistic collaborators. This film takes a detailed look at Bowie's last albums, The Next Day and Blackstar, and his play Lazarus. In his final five years, Bowie not only began producing music again, but returned to the core and defining themes of his career. This film explores how Bowie was a far more consistent artist than many interpretations of his career would have us believe. It traces the core themes from his final works and relates them to his incredible back catalogue. His urge to communicate feelings of spirituality, alienation and fame underpin his greatest works from the 1960s to 2016. This is what lies at the heart of his success and appeal - music that deals with what it means to be human in a way that goes far beyond the normal palette of a rock star. The film is not a comprehensive overview of his entire career, but an in-depth exploration of pivotal moments that show how the themes, the narrative and the approach is consistent - it is simply the palette that changes. The film includes every key member of the Next Day band, the Blackstar band and those who worked with him on the stage play Lazarus. In addition, old friends and colleagues are on hand to explore how the work of the last five years relates to Bowie's back catalogue. And, as in David Bowie: Five Years, there is a wealth of unseen and rare archive footage.
2017 • Music
In the 1970s, Jamaica came alive to the sounds of roots reggae. British rapper, poet and political commentator Akala tells the story of this golden period in the island's musical history, a time when a small group of musicians took songs of Rastafari, revolution and hope to the international stage.
2016 • Music
Ian Hislop and John Eliot Gardiner reveal the story behind Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Described as the 'greatest 'great' piece ever written,' its opening notes are among the most recognisable in history. But no one really knows what Beethoven was trying to express with this piece. The traditional wisdom is that he is railing against fate and his deafness. But John Eliot believes the music expresses Beethoven's belief in the French Revolution. This is turbulent music from a turbulent man living in a turbulent age. John Eliot and Ian Hislop bring to life the exciting and dangerous times that shaped Beethoven personally and creatively.
2016 • Music
Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique perform the world's most iconic piece of classical music, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Bringing out all the revolutionary fervour that Gardiner believes underpins the work and performing on period instruments of Beethoven's day, this performance brings us an authentic re-imagination of the sounds Beethoven's original audiences would have heard. Shot on location in St John's Smith Square, the performance looks and sounds stunning. Ahead of the performance, Gardiner and the principals of the orchestra discuss the issues in trying to breathe new life into such a famous piece and how their period instruments transform the symphony's sound.
2016 • Music
Composer and musician Neil Brand's series exploring the alchemy that creates great songs reaches the modern era, when a revolution in how they were made took place. From the synthesisers of symphonic rock to the mixes of disco and the samplings of hip hop, music was transformed by the arrival of digital technology and the computer, which gave some songwriters more power but others much less. Along the way Neil talks synths with Rick Wakeman from Yes, samples with Public Enemy's Hank Shocklee, uncovers the surprising lo-fi origins of Bruce Springsteen's stadium-busting Born in the USA, and finds out how Cher changed the sound of her voice on the smash hit Believe.
Musician Neil Brand explores the magical elements that come together to create great songs by recreating some of the most memorable and innovative recording sessions in music history - from Elvis's slapback echo in Memphis and the Beatles' tape loops at Abbey Road to Phil Spector's Wall of Sound and the Beach Boys' pop symphonies. He shows that all this was made possible by the discovery of magnetic tape by an American soldier in the ruins of WWII Germany, the invention that, more than any other, drove the emergence of the music studio as a compositional tool and the rise of the producer as a new creative force shaping the sound of song.
Composer and musician Neil Brand presents a series which explores the magical elements that come together to create our favourite songs, and how music changed forever the moment it was recorded. Recording radically changed music performance itself, and became an integral part of the artistic process. Told through archive clips and interviews series tells the story of popular song, covering hundred years from Tin Pan Alley song-publishing industry and jazz era singers to modern-day pop artist. Songs are the soundtrack of our lives and it takes a kind of genius to create a true pop masterpiece. But, as Neil Brand argues, there is more to consider in the story of what makes a great song. Neil looks at every moment in the life cycle of a song - how they are written, performed, recorded and the changing ways we have listened to them. He reveals how it is the wonderful alchemy of all of these elements that makes songs so special to us. To open the series, Neil investigates how songs were recorded for the first time, the listening revolution in the home that followed and the birth of a new style of singing that came with the arrival of the microphone - crooning. He also looks at the songwriting genius of Irving Berlin and the interpretative power of singers Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby.
In-depth documentary investigation into the story of a popular music genre that is often said to be made to be heard but not listened to. The film looks at easy listening's architects and practitioners, its dangers and delights, and the mark it has left on modern life. From its emergence in the 50s to its heyday in the 60s, through its survival in the 70s and 80s and its revival in the 90s and beyond, the film traces the hidden history of a music that has reflected society every bit as much as pop and rock - just in a more relaxed way. Invented at the dawn of rock 'n' roll, easy listening has shadowed pop music and the emerging teenage market since the mid-50s. It is a genre that equally soundtracks our modern age, but perhaps for a rather more 'mature' generation and therefore with its own distinct purpose and aesthetic. Contributors include Richard Carpenter, Herb Alpert, Richard Clayderman, Engelbert Humperdinck, Jimmy Webb, Mike Flowers, James Last and others.
2011 • Music
A film about the sound of Australian rock and the emergence of one of the world's greatest rock bands - AC/DC, or Acca Dacca as they are known in Australia, and the legendary music company, Albert Music (Alberts) that helped launched them on to the global rock scene. Through the 1960s, 70s and 80s, Alberts created a house of hits in Australia that literally changed the sound of Australian popular music. It started with the Easybeats and their international hit Friday On My Mind back in the 60s. In the 1970s when Australia was in the midst of a deep recession, a rough and ready pub rock sound emerged, characterised by bands like Rose Tattoo who were promoted by family-run company, Alberts. The raw power and fat guitar sound that characterised Aussie rock was pioneered by the Alberts and took Australia and the world by storm.
2016 • Music
Kurt Cobain, legendary lead singer, guitarist and songwriter of Nirvana, “the flagship band of Generation X,” remains an object of reverence and fascination for music fans around the world. His story is told for the first time in KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK
2015 • Music
It was 1985. Guns N' Roses were soon to be known as the last mammoth rock entity to come out of LA after selling over 100 million albums. Jon Brewer brings alive never-before-seen video footage of Guns N' Roses in their earliest days as a fledgling band, filmed and meticulously archived over the years by their close friend. They became known as 'the most dangerous band in the world' and retained the title for reasons this film portrays, via interviews with band members and those who were there on, and off, tour. Venture down seedy Sunset Strip to the Whiskey, the Rainbow and the Roxy, all known as 'the Jungle'.
2016 • Music
Filmed over the course of four years, award-winning director Phil Grabsky follows one of the world's greatest pianists, Leif Ove Andsnes, as he attempts, in a series of sold-out worldwide performances, to interpret one of the greatest sets of works for piano ever written - Beethoven's five piano concertos.
2015 • Music
Film about the pop culture phenomenon that is Daft Punk, the duo with 12 million albums sold worldwide and seven Grammy awards. Throughout their career Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo have always resisted compromise and the established codes of show business. They have remained determined to maintain control of every link in the chain of their creative process. In the era of globalisation and social networks, they rarely speak in public and neither do they show their faces on TV. This documentary explores this unprecedented cultural revolution, revealing two artists on a permanent quest for creativity, independence and freedom. Between fiction and reality, magic and secret, future and reinvention, theatricality and humility, The Robots have built a unique world. The film combines rare archive footage as well as exclusive interviews with their closest collaborators who talk about their work with Daft Punk, including Pharrell Williams, Giorgio Moroder, Nile Rodgers and Michel Gondry.
2016 • Music
Like an actor's script, a sheet of music instructs a musician on what to play (the pitch) and when to play it (the rhythm). Sheet music may look complicated, but once you've gotten the hang of a few simple elements like notes, bars and clefs, you're ready to rock.
In standard notation, rhythm is indicated on a musical bar line. But there are other ways to visualize rhythm that can be more intuitive. John Varney describes the ‘wheel method’ of tracing rhythm and uses it to take us on a musical journey around the world.
How many times does the chorus repeat in your favorite song? How many times have you listened to that chorus? Repetition in music isn’t just a feature of Western pop songs, either; it’s a global phenomenon. Why? Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis walks us through the basic principles of the ‘exposure effect,’ detailing how repetition invites us into music as active participants, rather than passive listeners.
When you listen to music, multiple areas of your brain become engaged and active. But when you actually play an instrument, that activity becomes more like a full-body brain workout. What's going on? Anita Collins explains the fireworks that go off in musicians' brains when they play, and examines some of the long-term positive effects of this mental workout.
We don't know much about the human brain on music. Do people instinctively know the sound patterns of the pentatonic scale? Is there a base level of musical knowledge in all of us, just waiting to be tapped? Or is the pentatonic scale simply so common in Western music that it has become ingrained in all of our minds? Improvisational genius Bobby McFerrin uses audience participation to demonstrate the power of the pentatonic scale - or at least the audience's familiarity with it.
2011 • Music