Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

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Discovering Music  
  BBC Radio 3 and BBC Music Magazine 
Vol 8 No 8 April 2000 £3.99 in the retailers

Back copies: BBC Music Magazine, PO Box 279, Sittingbourne, Kent ME9 8DF, UK (+44) 01795 414555 £4.95 and Radio3


Through the fifties and sixties the highspot on a Sunday was a half-hour broadcast by Anthony Hopkins Talking about Music. This was the composer and conductor Anthony Hopkins not the well-known actor, but they both had in common a calm mellifluous speaking voice. Each Sunday a work that was going to be broadcast later that week was discussed in detail without becoming too technical and without once talking down to the audience. The talks were accompanied on the piano or by recordings. Two that particularly stick in my mind were Britten's War Requiem in 1962 (a two-parter) and Bartok's Sonata for two pianos and percussion.  The description ran along the lines of ...'imagine you are walking down a country lane on a very dark night gently feeling your way, when suddenly a bramble hits you full in the face'. Play the opening of the first movement to hear how apt that description is.

The programme ran for years (AH estimated over 1000 broadcasts)  but it seems the BBC never had faith in them and only ever issued contracts for three month periods. There was never any real attempt to market the programmes, certainly not by the BBC,  although I seem to recall one LP that was  issued and Hopkins wrote several 'Talking About ...' books. I have never understood this and Talking about Music is fondly remembered by all musical acquaintances of similar age to myself and would stand repeating even now.

The programmes have been sorely missed  - but in recent weeks the BBC has been broadcasting a 45-minute  Discovering Music series at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon. These are very reminiscent of Talking about Music although several presenters are used. The main difference is that the  examination of the structure of the music is more technical than I remember from Talking about Music but with the overwhelming advantage of having an orchestra or group of players present so that passages can be played by isolated sections of the orchestra. There have been some brilliant examples where sections have been gradually built up that I have found particularly enlightening - particularly in the Brahms and Mozart piano concerto. The speakers have been carefully chosen and again manage that difficult task of explaining without talking down.  We have had Anthony Payne discussing Elgar's Symphony No 2 (not No 3), Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante and the Berlioz Romeo and Juliet, Chris de Souza on Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances and Mozart's Concerto No 21, and Gerard McBurney on Brahms 4th symphony and the Ravel Quartet.

BBC Music Magazine for April have reproduced the text of McBurney's Ravel programme on pages 118-119 but as it is nowhere mentioned on the accompanying CD booklet you might be forgiven for not realising that there is also a CD-ROM version with the audio examples used in the programme. This delighted me as I missed that  particular broadcast. I only learned about this through playing a tape of the Mozart 21 programme in my car! The full text is provided in a scrolling script with cue click points for the sound samples (see green arrow head in screen shot below).

I made a point of purchasing the magazine to secure this - but once again I wonder if the BBC really understand the market that exists for this type of material. They seem to be more interested in pushing the free internet access the BBC now provides through free

To do justice to BBC Music Magazine I ought to discuss the content of the rest of the disc which is devoted to Berlioz with Les nuits d'été sung by Katarina Karnéus, Overtures to Le Corsaire, Le Carnaval Romain and  Le Roi Lear, finishing with the Hungarian March from La Damnation de Faust all played by the BBC Philharmonic orchestra conducted by Vassily Sinaisky. Also provided is  a biographical background on Berlioz,  a discussion of each work with clickable excerpts and finally the full text for Les nuits d'été.

This is highly instructive and remarkable value for £3.99. It remains to be hoped that the BBC will eventually release the whole series of Discovering Music either as audio CD or as CD ROM.  At a similar price it could not fail.


Len Mullenger


Len Mullenger

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