Music on the Brink: Radio 3 explores the culture of five capital cities on the eve of World War One

In a year when the BBC will be remembering and reassessing World War One, we hope our millions of listeners will be enlightened by this cultural aspect of a continent about to be changed forever by the conflict." Roger Wright, Controller, BBC Radio 3
Date: 09.12.2013     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 18.06
Category: Radio 3
  • Radio 3’s schedule dedicated to the music of five cities in five days: Vienna, Paris, Berlin, St Petersburg and London
  • Actor Jonathan Pryce reads daily dramatised postcards of musical life in January 1914
  • Novelists William Boyd and AS Byatt discuss the art and literature of 1914
  • In Tune comes live from the Imperial War Museum North in Salford
  • BBC correspondents report on the legacy of 1914 in the cities today
  • Pat Barker, author of the Regeneration Trilogy appears on Private Passions

From 6 to 11 January 2014, BBC Radio 3 steps into the cultural ferment of Europe at the outset of 1914, as the world teetered unknowingly on the edge of war. As part of World War One on the BBC, Radio 3’s 'Music on the Brink' relives the music of five capitals about to undergo a shock.

The week-long exploration captures the mood of January 1914, through concert halls, cafes, theatres and opera houses, when conductors and soloists toured the globe and crossed European borders on a regular basis and modernist experiments in music, art and literature were already present. Seven months later, in the summer of 1914, this world would end.

Each day Radio 3 focuses on a different city, beginning on Monday with Vienna and taking in Paris, Berlin and St. Petersburg, before heading to London. As these capitals embarked on a calamitous year, how did they stand on the brink of war? Facing the future – or pondering their glorious past?

Roger Wright, Controller, BBC Radio 3 and Director, BBC Proms, says: "In January, Radio 3 aims to shine new light on a moment of immense historical significance. As the home of classical music, it’s natural for us to explore the culture on the eve of war in 1914 through the music of late romantic composers like Rachmaninov and Elgar, alongside the ground-breaking new music of the time from composers such as Prokofiev and Schoenberg, and the hot new trends like tango and ragtime that were sweeping across Europe from the New World. In a year when the BBC will be remembering and reassessing World War One, we hope our millions of listeners will be enlightened by this cultural aspect of a continent about to be changed forever by the conflict."

Each morning throughout the week Radio 3 Breakfast (weekdays, 6.30-9am) host Petroc Trelawny introduces the five cities, playing musical highlights and exploring popular entertainment.

In Essential Classics (weekdays, 9am-12midday) Sarah Walker delivers some of the well-known classics from each city, and uncovers little known gems. Historian and writer Charles Emmerson is her guest through the week. Author of 1913: The World Before The Great War, he discusses the cities in depth, giving a fresh perspective of the time before the Great War, untinged by hindsight.

In Composer Of The Week (weekdays, 12midday-1pm) Donald Macleod focusses on the key musical figures that were stirring up the traditionalists in pre-war Vienna: Mahler, Korngold, Zemlinsky, Schoenberg, and his followers, ending the week with the ‘Skandalkonzert’ of 1913, which triggered a riot similar to that in Paris after Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

Throughout the week in Afternoon On 3 (weekdays, 2-4.30pm) Katie Derham features prominent composers and major new works from the key cities at that time, including Vaughan Williams’ work which described the sounds of the age, A London Symphony.

On In Tune (weekdays, 4.30-6.30pm) each day Suzy Klein hosts a 1914 'salon' from each city, with live music from some of the most popular composers being played at that time. She also receives specially commissioned musical postcards read by the actor Jonathan Pryce, reflecting on concert life and the sounds and smells of each place in early 1914. The programme will also feature tango and ragtime, the new fashions that so shocked Kaiser Wilhelm that he banned soldiers from doing the tango in uniform!

Friday’s In Tune on 10 January takes to the road with Sean Rafferty live at the Imperial War Museum North in Salford. At the start of 1914 few musicians could have imagined the situation six months later. In looking ahead to the summer of 1914 we hear music by teacher and pupil Ravel and Vaughan Williams, both of whom would be caught up in the conflict. Guests include the pianist Martin Roscoe and the tenor Nick Pritchard, together with a curator from the IWM North.

In The Essay (weekdays, 10.45-11pm) today’s BBC correspondents examine the legacy of 1914 in the city where they are currently based. On Monday Bethany Bell discusses Vienna; on Tuesday Hugh Schofield looks at Paris; Berlin Correspondent Steve Evans is the essayist on Wednesday, before BBC Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg examines St Petersburg on Thursday. The series ends with a London Essay on Friday.

Opera On 3 (Monday 6 January, 7.30pm) features Richard Strauss’s Elektra, the 1910 work in which he was the most experimental in his musical language.

Live In Concert features a Parisian recital (Tuesday 7 January, 7.30pm), live from the Institut Francais in London, with the acclaimed French pianist Anne Queffelec and the soprano Ruby Hughes, formerly a Radio 3 New Generation Artist, with pianist Iain Burnside. They each bring music from Paris in 1913-14.

Each evening, after the live concert, Tom Service offers a Modernist Moment when he takes his pick of the avant-garde works from each city at the time.

In Tuesday’s Free Thinking (10pm) the novelist AS Byatt, the film expert Neil Brand and cultural historians Alexandra Harris and Philipp Blom select artworks from the period and explore the spirit of the European capital cities on the Brink of WW1 with Anne McElvoy. Later in the week Matthew Sweet is joined by author William Boyd to discuss Robert Musil's novel The Man Without Qualities, one of the early accounts of the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Wednesday 8 January, 10pm). On Thursday Philip Dodd chairs a landmark discussion about George Dangerfield’s 'The Strange Death Of Liberal England'. His guests are Baroness Shirley Williams, Professor Roy Foster, journalist and author Nick Cohen, author Bea Campbell and Duncan Brack of the Liberal Democrat Party History Group. Together they discuss Dangerfield’s analysis of liberal thinking and whether it has a message for political debate and the wider culture now (Thursday 9 January, 10pm).

Ian Macmillan hosts The Verb on the poetry and cabaret of 1914 (Friday 10 January, 10pm). George Szirtes explores the work of Rainer Maria Rilke, the Ruby Dolls entertain with cabaret from Le chat noir in 1914, and Keven Jackson muses on a fictional meeting between key writers from the age.

In associated programming, the Booker Prize winner Pat Barker is Michael Berkeley’s guest on Private Passions (Sunday 5 January, midday). Author of the Regeneration Trilogy; which is concerned with her step-grandfather’s experiences of the war, she discusses her musical loves and hates and talks about the influence music has had on her life.

The Sunday Feature explores poet Paul Farley’s journeys down the Somme: France's sleepiest river whose character belies its violent history (Sunday 5 January, 7.15pm), while Words And Music features the world on the brink of war in poetry, letters, diaries and music (Sunday 5 January, 6pm).

In Hear And Now, Robert Worby talks to musicologist and producer Luciano Chessa about the Italian Futurist movement of the pre-war years (Saturday 11 January, 10.30pm). And throughout the week Through The Night includes concerts of music from 1909-1914, together with recordings made by notable artists of the day for the Welte-Mignon piano rolls, including the virtuoso pianist Paderewski, and the celebrated conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, Artur Nikisch (weekdays, 1-7am).