UK’s classical music soundtrack explored with host of well-loved guests in documentaries and performances, celebrating the most memorable musical moments from 1918-2018.
Sir Lenny Henry is the first to join Suzy Klein in a four-part chronological series on BBC Four as part of Our Classical Century. A range of guides across the season include Brian Cox and Lucy Worsley on BBC Two, and Katie Derham, Tom Service and Josie D’Arby on BBC Four. BBC Orchestras welcome television audiences into the studio for a series of broadcast Discovery Concerts and BBC Radio 3 celebrates the season throughout the year with coverage across the network.
Our Classical Century ends with a newly commissioned work on the First Night of the BBC Proms, bringing the classical music story to the present day.
Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC, says: “The UK has a rich creative history in classical music and a bright future too. At the BBC we’re proud to have played a vital role in that story and we’re keen to ensure classical music can be enjoyed as widely as possible.
"This autumn marks the most ambitious classical music programming to date, exploring a century of classical music across BBC TV and radio. We’re also releasing some of our archive and hope to give audiences the rich history of these great performance moments as we look forward to those to come.”
Sir Lenny Henry, co-presenter Our Classical Century (Episode One), says: “Classical music has always been there in the background - I used to have a beatbox back in the day, blaring out Mahler and Mozart on the passenger seat of my van. This music has always been with me and I’m on a journey to get to know it a little bit better; I’m learning the piano, I go to concerts - I love it. To have been in the same room as the BBC Symphony Orchestra - with almost 100 people playing Mars (from Holst’s Planets Suite) in the studio - well, it was mind-blowing. It’s an incredible experience, to be there with a full orchestra. If every six-year old kid could experience that it would change their life. This is music for everyone. I was particularly interested to learn about Samuel Coleridge-Taylor in the series. He was incredibly talented, fought against the tide, and was championed by Elgar. He’s like Prince to late 19th-century London - the man was a genius.”
Suzy Klein, presenter of Our Classical Century (BBC Four, Radio 3), says: “We wanted to tell the story of the UK through our encounters with classical music - both public and private - honing in on the moments where orchestras and musicians brought into focus what was happening in the country at large. We didn’t set out to do a straight ‘history’ here - so it’s not a definitive guide, we wanted to start a conversation. I’ve really enjoyed witnessing the range of perspectives from my brilliant co-presenters. As a keen musician, writer and performer, Sir Lenny Henry has only recently started his classical journey but brought a sense of passion and wonder to everything we discovered. The BBC’s World Affairs Editor John Simpson is a huge classical fan, learnt the flute, and has a favourite classical playlist that accompanies him to war zones across the globe. As one of the UK’s leading cultural commentators, Joan Bakewell is a real hero of mine whose work I’ve admired for many years. And Alexandra Burke brought effervescence and a real spirit of joy to proceedings, meeting young musicians and having her ideas of what a classical musician ‘could’ or ‘couldn’t’ be challenged.”
Jan Younghusband, Head of Commissioning, BBC Music Television, says: “Classical music has never been more vibrant in the UK than today, and it all started one hundred years ago when the UK firmly positioned itself back at the centre of the musical world, in the wake of the tragedy of World War One. We have seen how classical music has grown and developed in the UK as the life blood of our existence. We look back to reflect and celebrate this great story in a way only the BBC can; by joining forces, we can revisit this great music and look to the future. BBC Four, in partnership with Radio 3, BBC Two, all the BBC Orchestras and Choirs and BBC Proms will mark this legacy. We will explore how classical music has comforted and defined the UK in difficult times and we will re-live the artistry of performers and composers who have brought outstanding experiences in classical music to audiences.”
Cassian Harrison, Channel Editor, BBC Four, says: “BBC Four has long been the home of classical music on British television, with definitive coverage of the Proms and major events including the Leeds Piano Festival, Cardiff Singer of the Year, and of course BBC Young Musician. It’s terrific to be able to scale this up even more over the coming year with an account of how classical music has shaped our culture over the last 100 years, alongside accompanying concerts and programming, and to be able work so brilliantly in concert with our colleagues on Radio 3 and BBC Two.”
Alan Davey, Controller of BBC Radio 3, says: “In a frantic world classical provides a way to understand others and the human quest for innovation and creation. I believe we’re on a tipping point, in an increasingly genre-less age, where young, curious minds are open to discovering this, and that’s exciting to see. BBC Radio 3 has always been a bold pioneer in the cultural landscape. As the most significant commissioner of new and contemporary music we’re aware of our role and responsibility in defining and continually shaping the musical output of the UK now and over the past century. I’m delighted that the BBC’s orchestras continue to provide communities throughout the UK with exceptional music, and to share the UK’s excellence in music-making with the world, bringing world-class music to all ages, live, on-air. They are truly the Peoples’ Orchestras. On Radio 3, we’ll explore every facet of the last 100 years, in partnership with the BBC Orchestras and Choirs through to BBC Proms 2019, to celebrate this culturally prolific century in the UK’s history.”
Our Classical Century will take place across the year in four parts, ending on the First Night of the Proms 2019. Further programming will be announced throughout the season.
PART ONE: November - December 2018 (1918-36)
Our Classical Century episode one, 1918-1936
Presented by Suzy Klein and Sir Lenny Henry
Holst & Vaughan Williams - Making Music English
Presented by Tom Service & Amanda Vickery
Discovering… Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue
Performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Thomas Dausgaard
Presented by Josie D’Arby
The Prince and the Composer: The Prince and the Composer: A Film about Hubert Parry by HRH The Prince of Wales (archive)
BBC Radio 3
Top 100 Countdown in Essential Classics (1-25)
PART TWO: February - March 2019 (1936-53)
Our Classical Century episode two, 1936-1953
Presented by Suzy Klein and John Simpson CBE
Discovering… Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra
Performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Moritz Gnann
Presented by Katie Derham
Britten’s War Requiem at English National Opera
BBC Radio 3
Top 100 Countdown in Essential Classics (26-50)
PART THREE: April - May 2019 (1953-71)
Our Classical Century episode three, 1953-1971
Presented by Suzy Klein and Joan Bakewell
Brian Cox on Holst’s The Planets
Performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ben Gernon
Discovering… Arnold’s The Bridge on the River Kwai
Performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Christopher Seaman
Presented by Katie Derham
BBC Radio 3
Top 100 Countdown in Essential Classics (51-75). NB: Radio 3 will explore 1954-79.
PART FOUR: June - July 2019 (1980s-Present)
Our Classical Century episode four, 1980s-Present
Presented by Alexandra Burke and Suzy Klein
Lucy Worsley presents Queen Victoria and the British Musical Revolution
Discovering… Saariaho’s Graal Théâtre
Performed by the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Ludovic Morlot
Presented by Tom Service
BBC Radio 3
Top 100 Countdown in Essential Classics (76-100)
First Night of the Proms 2019
Our Classical Century - BBC Four
A four-part series on BBC Four (Our Classical Century) explores the chronological journey through classical music in four chapters across the year. Presenter Suzy Klein is joined in each episode by a much-loved personality looking to deepen their love of classical music.
In episode one (1918-36), writer, actor and comedian Sir Lenny Henry explores the interwar period, learning more about the extraordinary composers who sought to define a shared identity to comfort a nation into turmoil; in episode two (1936-53), we explore the legacy of World War Two in defining a new artistic vision for Britain with the BBC’s World Affairs Editor, John Simpson CBE; we revisit the Sixties and Seventies with broadcaster and author Joan Bakewell to explore the birth of a generation of classical-music superstars, as well as the impact that technology had upon musical ambition in episode three (1953-71); whilst singer and actress, Alexandra Burke, joins Suzy in episode four (1980’s-present day) to bring the story up to the present day, looking at the ways in which the classical industry reinvented itself with a new breed of crossover artists to attract a new audience.
The series, which has been produced by Lion Television, is one of the most ambitious single commissions for classical music, using resources across the BBC including the BBC Orchestras and Choirs.
“We will explore how classical music has comforted and defined the UK in difficult times and we will re-live the artistry of performers and composers who have brought outstanding experiences in classical music to audiences.” - Jan Younghusband, Head of Commissioning, BBC Music Television
Special documentaries - BBC Two
A series of presenters, including Brian Cox and Lucy Worsley, explore key stories from each of the four periods on BBC Two.
Tom Service explores the early decades of the century (Holst and Vaughan Williams: Making Music English) with professor of history, Amanda Vickery; physicist, Brian Cox, explores the intergalactic qualities of Holst’s The Planets suite (Brian Cox on Holst’s The Planets); whilst Lucy Worsley goes back to look at the influence Queen Victoria had upon patronage of music (Queen Victoria and the British Musical Revolution).
Discovery Concerts - BBC Four
A range of guided concerts dissect music from the inside out. From the recording studio, audiences discover how and why key pieces of the orchestral repertoire were constructed in a series of performances for television.
Presented by Tom Service, Katie Derham, and Josie d’Arby, the BBC Orchestras will each perform. The concerts explore and aim to deepen knowledge of Gershwin’s virtuosic Rhapsody in Blue; Britten’s enduringly-popular Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra; Malcolm Arnold’s famous film-score Bridge on The River Kwai; and Kaaija Saariaho’s violin concerto Graal Théâtre, composed in 1994.
Britten’s War Requiem is also broadcast on BBC Four. Filmed over twelve months, the programme follows English National Opera staff as they prepare for their debut performance of Britten’s War Requiem, staged to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the armistice.
BBC Radio 3 and the BBC Orchestras and Choirs
BBC Radio 3 explore each musical facet of the last 100 years, in partnership with the BBC Orchestras and Choirs, to celebrate the prolific period. The station presents the Top 100 pieces from the century throughout the course of the year which will be led by presenters Kate Molleson, Kate Romano and Gillian Moore. Exciting content features throughout the schedule to mark the season.