Music In Its Time

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Episodes

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01Haydn: Symphony No 100 (Military)20140922

01Haydn: Symphony No 100 (Military)2014092220150824 (R3)

Stephen Johnson considers how five seminal pieces of music would have been appreciated by the audiences who heard them first. He probes the societies and cultures that shaped the experience of those original listeners to reveal what our modern ears might be missing.

Haydn's famous Symphony No.100, his "Military Symphony", stands as model of classical elegance. Its famous bugle and percussion effects feel, by modern standards, sophisticated and refined. However, in 1794, war with France was a frightening reality; his first London audiences would have included a good few aristocratic refugees from revolutionary Paris. One contemporary critic remarked: "It is the advancing to battle; and the march of men, the sounding of the charge, the thundering of the onset, the clash of arms, the groans of the wounded, and what may well be called the hellish roar of war increase to a climax of hellish sublimity.".

01Haydn: Symphony No 100 (Military)2014092220150824 (R3)

Stephen Johnson considers how five seminal pieces of music would have been appreciated by the audiences who heard them first. He probes the societies and cultures that shaped the experience of those original listeners to reveal what our modern ears might be missing.

Haydn's famous Symphony No.100, his "Military Symphony", stands as model of classical elegance. Its famous bugle and percussion effects feel, by modern standards, sophisticated and refined. However, in 1794, war with France was a frightening reality; his first London audiences would have included a good few aristocratic refugees from revolutionary Paris. One contemporary critic remarked: "It is the advancing to battle; and the march of men, the sounding of the charge, the thundering of the onset, the clash of arms, the groans of the wounded, and what may well be called the hellish roar of war increase to a climax of hellish sublimity.".

01Haydn: Symphony No 100 (military)20140922

Stephen Johnson considers how five seminal pieces of music would have been appreciated by the audiences who heard them first. He probes the societies and cultures that shaped the experience of those original listeners to reveal what our modern ears might be missing.

Haydn's famous Symphony No.100, his "Military Symphony", stands as model of classical elegance. Its famous bugle and percussion effects feel, by contemporary standards, sophisticated and refined. However, in 1794, war with France was a frightening reality; his first London audiences would have included a good few aristocratic refugees from revolutionary Paris. One contemporary critic remarked: "It is the advancing to battle; and the march of men, the sounding of the charge, the thundering of the onset, the clash of arms, the groans of the wounded, and what may well be called the hellish roar of war increase to a climax of hellish sublimity.".

02Victoria: Lamentations20140923

02Victoria: Lamentations2014092320150825 (R3)

Stephen Johnson considers how five seminal pieces of music would have been appreciated by the audiences who heard them first. He probes the societies and cultures that shaped the experience of those original listeners to reveal what our modern ears might be missing.

The Lamentations by Victoria offer modern listeners a window into a Golden Age of sacred harmony, a period when the ethereal harmonies of Renaissance masters seemed to mirror the ageless music of the spheres. Might Victoria's own congregation have detected more human qualities in his music? He lived and worked in Rome, a city rife with evangelical zeal and foul corruption. As a naïve young priest, he was plunged into this swarming, cultural melting-pot with, at its heart, a church that burned with the muscular, newly re-energised faith of the Catholic Counter-Reformation.

02Victoria: Lamentations2014092320150825 (R3)

Stephen Johnson considers how five seminal pieces of music would have been appreciated by the audiences who heard them first. He probes the societies and cultures that shaped the experience of those original listeners to reveal what our modern ears might be missing.

The Lamentations by Victoria offer modern listeners a window into a Golden Age of sacred harmony, a period when the ethereal harmonies of Renaissance masters seemed to mirror the ageless music of the spheres. Might Victoria's own congregation have detected more human qualities in his music? He lived and worked in Rome, a city rife with evangelical zeal and foul corruption. As a naïve young priest, he was plunged into this swarming, cultural melting-pot with, at its heart, a church that burned with the muscular, newly re-energised faith of the Catholic Counter-Reformation.

02Victoria: Lamentations20140923

Stephen Johnson considers how five seminal pieces of music would have been appreciated by the audiences who heard them first. He probes the societies and cultures that shaped the experience of those original listeners to reveal what our modern ears might be missing.

The Lamentations by Victoria offer contemporary listeners a window into a Golden Age of sacred harmony, a period when the ethereal harmonies of Renaissance masters seemed to mirror the ageless music of the spheres. Might Victoria's own congregation have detected more human qualities in his music? He lived and worked in Rome, a city rife with evangelical zeal and foul corruption. As a naïve young priest, he was plunged into this swarming, cultural melting-pot with, at its heart, a church that burned with the muscular, newly re-energised faith of the Catholic Counter-Reformation.

03Scenes from Childhood20140924

03Scenes From Childhood2014092420150826 (R3)

Stephen Johnson considers how five seminal pieces of music would have been appreciated by the audiences who heard them first. He probes the societies and cultures that shaped the experience of those original listeners to reveal what our modern ears might be missing.

The delightful charm of Schumann's Scenes from Childhood masks a surprising sophistication which marks them among his most popular pieces. Today, we might prefer to look past his music's sentimentality to plumb its hidden subtleties; Schumann's audience would have revelled in it. In his world, domesticity and gentility were something to be cherished and celebrated. Individual expression, too, was a new credo for all kinds of artistic endeavours; perhaps the listener for whom this music held the deepest meaning was the composer himself.

03Scenes from Childhood20140924

Stephen Johnson considers how five seminal pieces of music would have been appreciated by the audiences who heard them first. He probes the societies and cultures that shaped the experience of those original listeners to reveal what our modern ears might be missing.

The delightful charm of Schumann's Scenes from Childhood masks a surprising sophistication which marks them among his most popular pieces. Today, we might prefer to look past his music's sentimentality to plumb its hidden subtleties; Schumann's audience would have revelled in it. In his world, domesticity and gentility were something to be cherished and celebrated. Individual expression, too, was a new credo for all kinds of artistic endeavours; perhaps the listener for whom this music held the deepest meaning was the composer himself.

04Bach: St Matthew Passion20140925

04Bach: St Matthew Passion2014092520150827 (R3)

Stephen Johnson considers how five seminal pieces of music would have been appreciated by the audiences who heard them first. He probes the societies and cultures that shaped the experience of those original listeners to reveal what our modern ears might be missing.

Since its revival in the 19th century, Bach's St. Matthew Passion has been hailed as one of the pillars of Western music; universally regarded, and with a powerful influence that reaches into our own time. How differently, then, would his music have fired imaginations in the provincial church-goers of 18th century Leipzig? People whose experience of music was so much more limited than our own, and whose pietist religious sensibilities coloured every aspect of their daily lives.

04Bach: St Matthew Passion20140925

Stephen Johnson considers how five seminal pieces of music would have been appreciated by the audiences who heard them first. He probes the societies and cultures that shaped the experience of those original listeners to reveal what our modern ears might be missing.

Since its revival in the 19th century, Bach's St. Matthew Passion has been hailed as one of the pillars of Western music; universally regarded, and with a powerful influence that reaches into our own time. How differently, then, would his music have fired imaginations in the provincial church-goers of 18th century Leipzig? People whose experience of music was so much more limited than our own, and whose pietist religious sensibilities coloured every aspect of their daily lives.

05The Firebird20140926

05The Firebird20140926
05The Firebird2014092620150828 (R3)

Stephen Johnson considers how five seminal pieces of music would have been appreciated by the audiences who heard them first. He probes the societies and cultures that shaped the experience of those original listeners to reveal what our modern ears might be missing.

It's easy for us to recognise, in Stravinsky's first ballet score, portents of the musical revolution that would soon follow. This is music that teeters on the brink of a breakdown in traditional tonality, and points forward to the complex, fractured world of twentieth century art. Did that first Parisian audience of 1910 glimpse such things in The Firebird? Or were they simply seduced by its colourful oriental influences, which were the height of fashion in Europe at the time. People were fascinated by the outlandish, the gothic, the occult; and they gorged themselves on Firebird's exotic pleasures.

05 LASTThe Firebird20140926

Stephen Johnson considers how five seminal pieces of music would have been appreciated by the audiences who heard them first. He probes the societies and cultures that shaped the experience of those original listeners to reveal what our modern ears might be missing.

It's easy for us to recognise, in Stravinsky's first ballet score, portents of the musical revolution that would soon follow. This is music that teeters on the brink of a breakdown in traditional tonality, and points forward to the complex, fractured world of twentieth century art. Did that first Parisian audience of 1910 glimpse such things in The Firebird? Or were they simply seduced by its colourful oriental influences, which were the height of fashion in Europe at the time. People were fascinated by the outlandish, the gothic, the occult; and they gorged themselves on Firebird's exotic pleasures.

06Mahler's Symphony No 820160229

Stephen Johnson considers how five seminal pieces of music would have been appreciated by the audiences who heard them first. He probes the societies and cultures that shaped the experience of those original listeners to reveal what our modern ears might be missing.

When Mahler's eighth symphony was premiered in 1910, he might have expected yet another evening of disappointment. Up to now, the public hadn't warmed to his music as they had to his conducting. So, he hired a famous impresario to take charge of the event, and give his 'Symphony of a Thousand' the launch it really deserved. Emil Gutman set about stirring up interest; so much so that that Mahler worried it would turn into a 'catastrophic Barnum and Bailey show'. In the end, though, he found there was only one person at the premiere whose opinion really counted.

07Byrd: Mass for Four Voices20160301

Stephen Johnson considers how five seminal pieces of music would have been appreciated by the audiences who heard them first. He probes the societies and cultures that shaped the experience of those original listeners to reveal what our modern ears might be missing.

For four hundred years, William Byrd has been celebrated as one of Britain's greatest composers. But while the music of his contemporaries like Palestrina and Victoria were sung before Popes and Cardinals at the grandest cathedrals in Europe, Byrd's own Masses could only be performed in secret during his lifetime. In Elizabethan England, attending a performance was a criminal offense.

07Byrd: Mass for Four Voices20160301

08Shostakovich: Symphony No 520160302

Stephen Johnson considers how five seminal pieces of music would have been appreciated by the audiences who heard them first. He probes the societies and cultures that shaped the experience of those original listeners to reveal what our modern ears might be missing.

Everybody at the premiere of Shostakovich's Symphony No.5 knew what was at stake. Would Leningrad's favourite musical son risk everything and create another great work that spoke to and for the spirit of the Russian people, as they suffered together under Stalin's tyrannical rule? Or, would Shostakovich capitulate to official pressure and produce the kind of anodyne musical propaganda that would secure his safety, and future career? What actually happened was more unexpected still.

09Beethoven: Piano Concerto No 420160303

Stephen Johnson considers how five seminal pieces of music would have been appreciated by the audiences who heard them first. He probes the societies and cultures that shaped the experience of those original listeners to reveal what our modern ears might be missing.

Stephen takes us to Vienna, 1808, where Ludwig van Beethoven is a composer in his prime. He is churning out masterpiece after masterpiece, adding the dazzling canon of work that would mark him out as one of the greats in all of Western art. So, when he decided to unveil not one but three major new works in a grand public concert at the city's smartest new venue, what could possibly go wrong?

10Handel: Music For The Royal Fireworks20160304

Stephen Johnson considers how five seminal pieces of music would have been appreciated by the audiences who heard them first. He probes the societies and cultures that shaped the experience of those original listeners to reveal what our modern ears might be missing.

The British love a grand Royal celebration and this one promised to be spectacular: a state-of-the-art, open-air entertainment with mechanical wonders, pyrotechnics and a massive orchestra led by London's own George Frederick Handel. The music he wrote for the occasion has endured as one of his most popular works, meaning those 'Royal Fireworks' continue to live in our imagination. But what really happened that night?