The composer examines the history of the past 100 years in music, known as the popular age. During this period, classical music - as it is now termed - seemed to be in decline, but Howard argues that while some cutting-edge works proved too challenging to be appreciated by the mainstream audience, the DNA of the genre is alive and well in musical theatre, cinema and popular music.
Howard Goodall examines the ways in which modernism and the birth of recorded sound in the late 19th century changed the way music was played, heard and distributed. He reveals how the works of Mussorgsky made a huge impression on European composers when aired at the 1889 Paris World Fair, and discusses how increasingly disparate musical influences were woven together to create groundbreaking new sounds.
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.
The composer examines the history and development of music, beginning by looking back at the first faltering steps humanity took toward creating it. He considers archaeological evidence showing that music was as important in the late Stone Age as it is now and charts how Gregorian chant started with a handful of monks singing the same tune in unison. Over the course of several centuries, medieval musicians painstakingly put together the basics of what has become termed harmony and then added rhythm - the building blocks of the music the world enjoys today
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.
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.