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.
The composer examines the extraordinarily fertile musical period between 1650 and 1750, which saw innovations including the orchestra, the overture, modern tuning, the oratorio and the piano. Vivaldi developed a form of concerto where a charismatic solo violin was pitted against the rest of the orchestra, Bach wrote complex and heartfelt music in his mission to glorify God, and Handel brought all the techniques of the preceding 100 years to his oratorio Messiah.
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
The series concludes with Be My Baby, which reflects on the evolution of rock 'n' roll music and its impact in America, including Buddy Holly's tragic death in a plane crash in 1959 at the age of 22, the game-changing arrival of The Beatles in America in 1964, and everything in between. Philadelphia produced 'teen idols' like Fabian who were beamed around the country by the daily TV show Bandstand. Rock 'n' roll even fuelled the Motown sound in Detroit and soundtracked the sunshiny west coast dream from guitar instrumental groups like The Ventures to LA's emerging Beach Boys. In the early 60s, rock 'n' roll was birthing increasingly polished pop sounds across the States, but American teens seemed to have settled back into sensible young adulthood. Enter the long-haired boys from Liverpool, Newcastle and London.
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?
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