Listen now 45 mins
Simon Russell Beale celebrates the 850th anniversary of Notre Dame, Paris, by exploring the tension between the sacred and secular as expressed in the musical and cultural life of this city.
Eight hundred and fifty years ago the magnificent Cathedral of Notre Dame was founded. The technological and intellectual innovations that erupted at this time gave birth not only to advances in architecture but also to a revolution in western music. Mediaeval musicians veered away from single line plainchant, adding multiple voices and complex harmonies. This extraordinary advance changed the face of music forever as polyphony from Notre Dame flooded across Europe.
But the pre-eminence of Paris wasn't to last as the conservatism of the church came into conflict with the innovation of composers. Simon will discover that the tension between the sacred and the secular, which is so prevalent within France's history, caused musicians to turn away from the churches and towards the secular sphere. But rather than killing the tradition, Simon discovers that the sense of the sacred makes its way into French music in the most surprising places. As composers clash with the clergy, their expression of mystery through music becomes all the more poignant leading to some of the most innovative and effective expressions of the divine.
Despite the restrictions of religion, the violence of the Revolution and the official separation of Church and State, through adaptation and innovation, French sacred music has survived against all odds and it all began at Notre Dame.
Producer: Katharine Longworth
First broadcast in March 2013.