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.
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.
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.
The composer examines the middle to late 19th century, exploring the European craze for opera and music that dealt with death and destiny. He suggests that composers were inspired by Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique to write about witches, ghouls, trolls and hellish torment, and that the death of the heroine in Verdi's La Traviata was a comment on the hypocrisies of wider society. Howard also argues that the image of the composer as a misunderstood genius was cemented in the public imagination during this period.
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.
The composer examines the age of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Chopin. This period from 1750 to 1850 saw composers going from being paid, liveried servants of princes and archbishops to working as freelancers required to appeal to a new, middle-class audience. The era also saw tremendous social upheaval, including the American, French and Industrial revolutions, but until around the turn of the 19th century, the music that was being written bore little relevance to the tumultuous changes in society.