The Making of Music: Volume Two “The Shock of the Future … Where We Are Now”
Written and presented by James Naughtie
30 episodes: originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4 between 10 September and 19 October 2007
“I cannot imagine that music-lovers will forgive the decision to ignore one of the greatest composers of the late-19th-century – Bruckner – and one of the greatest of the early-20th-century, Nielsen. Certainly it has been fashionable to ignore these two amazing musicians, but musical appreciation has flowered since then and their absence is a serious flaw in James Naughtie’s otherwise-admirable and indeed adventurous exploration of musical history.” (from Antony Hodgson’s review)
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: December 2007
CD No: BBC AUDIO BOOKS
[ISBN: 978 1405 677790]
Duration: 6 hours 42 minutes
The first part of this survey – skilfully-presented – ended in the mid-19th-century. Volume 2 is organised with five 13-minute tracks per CD rather than, as previously, 15 tracks of varying shorter lengths, but since there are fewer composers and there is more to say about each, this change makes good sense.
To present music chronologically whilst also grouping composers by style or nationality was previously achieved quite well with just a slight wavering at the close of that previous edition when Elgar was brought in to the sequence somewhat early. Chronology becomes more of a problem as musical history progresses but to commence with Brahms, and cross-referencing to Schumann and Liszt seems a very good way to start analysing this new era.
I made only a few adverse criticisms of the previous presentation although the over-exposure of opera did concern me in the later sequences and first disc of the new set creates similar reservations. This CD proceeds to the end of the 19th-century but the whole of track 3 is devoted to Verdi and the whole of track 5 to Wagner – virtually all is operatic music. Chronology is very shaky here – why should Wagner take up track 5 when he had died two decades before Verdi and in the intervening track 4 we have a brief section representing Sibelius who died 74 years later than did Wagner. Elsewhere, and less vocally biased, it is good to have Smetana well represented and the choice of his Má vlast as a centre-point of his art is useful although this does lead to the over-stressing of nationalistic influences.
Elgar suitably appears next and his “Englishness” is an ideal basis for analysis. Time too for Stravinsky and inevitably The Rite of Spring. I like the description of the première as “the best first-night riot in the history of music” but a whole 13-minute track is allotted the composer. Is Stravinsky really that important?
Stravinsky died in 1971 – how then shall James Naughtie now fill four further CDs with 20th-century history?
Disc 6 starts with a section, entitled “The Sixties”. Here Stockhausen is cheerfully linked to The Beatles (he appears on the sleeve of “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”). Steve Reich and Gorecki represent the next stage but, despite the unconventional philosophy of such composers, melody has returned and the subsequent rise of Minimalism is almost a relief. The political inclinations of Henze, Nono and Berio are discussed (and this underlines the irrelevance of politics in relation to music) but musical technology is also addressed – commencing with the Ondes Martenot before comfortably returning to Tavener, Pärt and Glass.
It must have been extremely difficult to finalise the project on the last track yet Naughtie manages to summarise his script skilfully – referring to the contents of the whole two-volume 12-disc sequence (itself an abbreviated transcript of the many broadcast programmes) and linking the latest music with the earliest roots. Of course there will be composers that listeners will feel to have been neglected and neglect of this nature is more evident in this second volume. I cannot imagine that music-lovers will forgive the decision to ignore one of the greatest composers of the late-19th-century – Bruckner – and one of the greatest of the early-20th-century, Nielsen. Certainly it has been fashionable to ignore these two amazing musicians, but musical appreciation has flowered since then and their absence is a serious flaw in James Naughtie’s otherwise-admirable and indeed adventurous exploration of musical history.