Wednesday 24 Sep 2014
Conductor Charles Hazlewood explores the development of British music through the lives, times and music of Henry Purcell, George Frideric Handel, Joseph Haydn and Felix Mendelssohn in a major new four-part series to be shown on BBC Two in May 2009.
The Birth Of British Music marks anniversaries for each of these composers and reveals how classical music became a key component of our national identity between 1650 and 1850.
Although only Purcell was born in Britain, Charles explores how the music of each of the four composers was fully absorbed into our musical life, and looks at how they contributed towards an age of revolution in music.
He journeys through locations and archives integral to the personal stories of these major cultural figures and meets the biographers, social historians and practitioners who have brought to life the social and musical worlds in which each composer operated; and traces the dramatic transformation of the composer from servant of the king to celebrity idol.
Sir John Tomlinson, Danielle de Niese and Ian Bostridge are among the soloists who join Charles and his own ensemble Army Of Generals to perform music illustrating the narrative.
Other contributors throughout the series range from poet laureate Andrew Motion, astrophysicist Dr Chris Lintott to comedian Phill Jupitus, Riccardo Chailly, Music Director of Leipzig Gewandhaus, Tim Richardson, the first ever international confectionary historian, and James O'Donnell, Organist and Master of the Choristers of Westminster Abbey.
Charles Hazlewood said: "The composers who had the most influence upon the British musical landscape since the Act of Union in 1707 were for the most part from elsewhere: Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn in particular.
"A dominant British characteristic is quiet self-confidence, pragmatism, an ability to look beyond our borders at great creative spirits from elsewhere, and lure them in to work with us here.
"Our contemporary musical culture is rich because of our diversity. The Birth Of British Music uses music as a prism through which to explore a little bit of who we are."
The series opens with a look at Henry Purcell, one of the most seminal but mysterious figures of British musical history.
Charles investigates what life would have been like for a composer in 17th century London through a wide range of Purcell's music, from the vast but often overlooked output of tavern songs to his glorious sacred music and pioneering stage works such as Dido And Aeneas.
He discovers how Purcell's work is still central to our national life today, visiting the Grenadier Guards at Wellington Barracks and attending the Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph.
German composer Handel made his home in Britain and became a celebrity and national icon in the process. People across the world heard Handel's Zadok The Priest when Elizabeth II was crowned Queen at Westminster Abbey in 1953.
He was immensely popular in his own lifetime too – a public rehearsal of Handel's Music For The Royal Fireworks attracted over 12,000 people.
Included in this programme is an unusual take on John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, the eighteenth century smash hit, which poked fun at Handel's world.
Charles invites comedian Phill Jupitus to take a new approach to the music along with the acclaimed folk singers Rachel and Becky Unthank, guitarist Adrian Utley from Portishead and distinguished jazz drummer Martin France.
The third programme looks at the crucial two-way relationship Haydn had with Britain. He first arrived here in 1791, where he found a country with a great appetite for the new and exciting – and he was as fascinated with the British as they were with him.
Aged nearly 60, he was already famous and had recently been freed from the obligation to serve the noble Esterhazy princes.
An astute businessman, Haydn chose London as the destination to make his personal fortune by taking opportunity of the demand for subscription concerts as well as writing for the lucrative domestic market.
Charles also explores fascinating links between the composer's musical and personal life – such as his passion for musical structure which is reflected in his love of science and interest in the work of William Herschel.
Concluding the series, Charles Hazlewood centres on the work of Felix Mendelssohn, who first came to London in 1829 as a 20-year-old wunderkind of the concert hall.
A friend of both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, he made 10 visits here and his music embodies the sound of the Victorian age.
Melodies such as O For The Wings Of A Dove and Hark The Herald Angels Sing caught the mood of the time and his Wedding March has become an integral part of national life.
A composer, conductor and pianist of dazzling gifts, Mendelssohn was renowned for raising the standards of orchestral playing and, in Britain, he captured the public imagination with his pioneering use of a new conductors' tool – the baton.
The Birth Of British Music joins with BBC Radio 3's special programming as part of the station's Composers Of The Year celebrations.
Focusing on the four anniversary composers, the station broadcasts major performances taking place throughout the UK and Europe, specially staged concerts and events, commissions of new music inspired by their works alongside features, essays, drama and talks.
A major website supporting both the BBC Two series and BBC Radio 3's coverage can be found at bbc.co.uk/composers with background information about each of the composers, programme summaries and a selection of music from the series along with expert commentary.
The Birth Of British Music was commissioned by Adam Kemp, BBC In-house Commissioner for Arts, Music, Performance and Religion, and will be executive produced for BBC Vision Productions by Peter Maniura, Head of Classical Music TV.
Director General Mark Thompson recently pledged a deeper commitment to arts and music on the BBC, with a range of initiatives aimed at supporting cultural Britain and better serving the public.
Detailed information on the four programmes in The Birth Of British Music
Henry Purcell: The Londoner
The opening programme examines one of the most seminal but mysterious figures of British musical history – Henry Purcell.
Charles Hazlewood investigates what life would have been like for a composer in 17th century London through a wide range of Purcell's music, from the vast but often overlooked output of tavern songs to his glorious sacred music and pioneering stage works such as Dido And Aeneas.
He discovers how Purcell captured the sounds of the time through a rich mixture of the sophisticated poetry of the palaces and courts and the vibrant language spoken on the streets.
In bringing Purcell's world to life, Charles visits numerous locations in and around London including Westminster Abbey, the National Portrait Gallery, Hampton Court Palace and Wellington Barracks.
He walks the London streets that Purcell would have known with historian Leo Hollis and journeys further afield to the Drottningholm Palace Theatre in Sweden to investigate the practical complexities of restoration theatre.
Charles also pays a visit to Worksop to visit an organ building workshop still using techniques which would have been familiar to the composer.
Through his exploration of Purcell's life and work, Charles discovers how the composer was able to create music that set a benchmark for generations of British composers since.
Contributors include bass Sir John Tomlinson, soprano Elin Manahan Thomas, James O'Donnell (Organist and Master of the Choristers of Westminster Abbey); Andrew Gant (Organist, Choirmaster and Composer at Her Majesty's Chapel Royal), Dr Sandra Tuppen (Curator of Music Manuscripts, British Library), Dominic Gwynn and Martin Goetze (organ builders) and The Band of the Grenadier Guards.
George Frideric Handel: The Conquering Hero
German composer Handel made his home in Britain and, in the process, became a celebrity and a national icon. People all across the world heard Handel's Zadok The Priest when Elizabeth II was crowned Queen at Westminster Abbey in 1953.
But Handel's fame and popularity are not just a modern phenomenon – he was celebrated and revered in his own lifetime, his image cemented into the wall of Westminster Abbey.
London in the 18th century had become the vibrant capital city of the newly created United Kingdom and was an obvious choice of residence for the ambitious Handel. Here were the wealthy and sophisticated audiences the young composer wanted, the ideal place in which to bring over singers from Italy to perform his beloved Italian operas.
But the fashion for sumptuous theatrical productions declined and John Gay's The Beggar's Opera marked a crucial turning point. A satire on the aristocratic world of the opera and the biggest theatrical success of the 18th century, it poked fun at Handel's world and even included parodies of his music.
Charles attempts to recreate some of the impact the work originally had by inviting comedian Phill Jupitus to take a new approach to the music alongside the acclaimed folk singers Rachel and Becky Unthank, guitarist Adrian Utley from Portishead and distinguished jazz drummer Martin France.
Handel's response to The Beggar's Opera was to create an entirely new form – the oratorio – where dramatic texts can be played out in non-theatrical space, bound together by thrilling choruses.
Charles visits Handel's birthplace in Halle as well as numerous British locations including the Handel House Museum, the Foundling's Hospital Museum and the glorious baroque church of St Lawrence where Handel worked as resident composer to the Duke of Chandos.
Set against the political and social world in which the composer lived, Charles discovers how Handel saw what society desired and harnessed it in his music – from the celebratory Music for the Royal Fireworks to Where E'er You Walk.
Handel's oratorios would become a significant expression of an emerging sense of national identity with the "Handelian" style part of the make up of British music.
Contributors include soprano Danielle de Niese, tenor Ian Bostridge, harpist Catrin Finch, comedian Phill Jupitus, folk singers Rachel and Becky Unthank, historian Suzanne Aspden, Martin Wyatt (Handel House Museum), Katherine Hogg (Curator, Foundling's Museum) Father Paul Reece (Rector of St Lawrence), tenor Daniel Norman, soprano Sarah Fox, baritone Rodney Clarke, Professor Donald Burrows (Open University) and Jeremy Barlow (artist and historian).
Joseph Haydn: The Celebrity
When Haydn first arrived in Britain in 1791, it was the most progressive and wealthy country in Europe. Economic, political and cultural power was in the process of shifting from the aristocracy and the church to the new and confident middle class.
Aged nearly 60, Haydn was already famous and had recently been freed from his obligation to serve the Esterhazy princes. He also had an astute eye for business and it was no coincidence that he chose Britain as the destination to make his personal fortune.
Haydn's two extended visits here had a profound effect on his music but at the same time he took our national musical life forwards towards a new modern identity.
One of the key characteristics of Haydn's work is his gift for musical structure. Charles Hazlewood discovers that this yearning for form and order parallels contemporary Britain's passion for science and Haydn's interest in it.
The Royal Institution of Great Britain, founded in the 1790s, was a hothouse of debate and discovery, its public meetings so popular that carriages regularly blocked the road outside.
Charles also investigates Haydn's association with the astronomer, composer and impresario William Herschel, who ran the music scene in Bath and who famously discovered the planet Uranus.
This preoccupation with the cosmos had a profound impact on Haydn's music. It was no accident that he chose to use a truly British form – the oratorio – for one of his greatest works, The Creation, which explored humankind's position in the universe.
In his journey to discover more about Haydn, Charles visits Finchcocks Musical Museum, where he speaks to Howard Moody about the particular characteristics of English pianos of the time and finds out why this so interested the composer.
Charles also travels to Austria to visit the stunning Esterhazy Palace near Vienna where Haydn worked for over three decades before journeying to Scotland to investigate Haydn's rather curious association with some of our most famous Scottish folk songs.
When Haydn left Britain in 1795 he left a priceless legacy – he had not just drawn on the creative landscape of Britain's dynamic musical culture but had pushed it to a new level.
Contributors include: Dr Walter Reicher (Haydn Festival), Marshall Marcus (Head of Music, South Bank Centre), pianist Howard Moody, soprano Sophie Daneman, The Esterhazy Ensemble, Professor Simon McVeigh (Goldsmith's, London), Professor Frank James (The Royal Institution of Great Britain), Dr Chris Lintott (Oxford University) and Dr Kirsteen McCue (Glasgow University).
Felix Mendelssohn: The Prophet
The final programme centres on the work of Felix Mendelssohn, who first came to London in 1829 as a 20-year-old wunderkind of the concert hall.
A friend of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, he made 10 visits here and his music embodies the sound of the Victorian age.
A composer, conductor and pianist of dazzling gifts, Mendelssohn's music blended Germanic romanticism into the British soundscape bringing a new moral seriousness to both concert hall and parlour.
Mendelssohn's work appealed strongly to British tastes. His astonishing overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream, written when he was just 17, became hugely popular here, identifying with the Victorians' fondness for Shakespeare and fairy stories.
With works such as the "Scottish" Symphony and the Hebrides Overture he portrayed the grandeur of Scotland through a romanticism shared with poets such as Keats and Wordsworth.
As a conductor, Mendelssohn was renowned for raising the standards of orchestral playing. In Britain he captured the public imagination with his pioneering use of a new conductors' tool – the baton.
Charles Hazlewood hears Mendelssohn's O For The Wings Of A Dove played on a magnificent carillon overlooking Bournville village green; meets Mendelssohn's successor Riccardo Chailly at the Leipzig Gewandhaus; travels to Abbotsford, Sir Walter Scott's home, where a famous meeting between the composer and writer took place; and makes a stormy journey to Staffa to visit Fingal's Cave in the footsteps of the composer.
The series finishes with an exploration of one of the great occasions of Victorian civic pride - the 1846 premiere of Mendelssohn's Elijah in the recently restored Birmingham Town Hall. A massed choir comprising choral groups from across the West Midlands is brought together with the BBC Concert Orchestra and soloist Andrew Shore to perform this iconic work.
Contributors include Riccardo Chailly (Music Director, Leipzig Gewandhaus), Andrew Motion (Poet Laureate), Peter Ward Jones (Bodleian Library, Oxford), Professor John Deathridge (King's College, London), Professor Carl Chinn (Birmingham University), Professor Phyllis Weliver (St Louis University), Tim Richardson, the world's first international confectionary historian, baritone Andrew Shore, pianist Ronald Brautigam, soprano and Professor Douglas Gifford (Glasgow University).
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