The Making of Music

Volume 2

Writer: James Naughtie
Presenter: James Naughtie
BBC Audio
RRP: 25.99
ISBN: 978 1 405 67779 0
Available 22 October 2007

James Naughtie, in this major BBC Radio 4 series, uncovers the roots of our music, revealing how composers and performers, princes, patrons and chance happenings built a classical tradition that has become the soundtrack to our history. Volume 2 opens with the modernism of Wagner and Liszt and takes us up to the current day examining the work of Tavener, Birtwistle and Maxwell Davies...

The Making of Music: Volume 2 is not a release for the casual listener. It might be stating the obvious, but you'll need to have a fairly serious interest in classical music to really appreciate this. If you only have a passing familiarity with composers like Bartok and Elgar then you really won't get much out of this collection.

James Naughtie takes us through different eras and examines how various elements helped build the diverse range of classical music that is open to music fans worldwide.

On the eve of a century of cataclysmic political and social upheaval, music reflected the spirit of the age. To contemporary ears Wagner's music was revolutionary and shocking, his lifestyle seen as a threat to moral traditions. The Paris Exhibition in 1889 brought the gamelan music of the distant Far East to Europe, fascinating composers like Debussy, whilst Verdi and Smetana were giving voice to the nationalist movements rising up in their countries. But as Europe moved towards the First World War and the Russian Revolution, the contrast between Elgar's nostalgic, elegiac style and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring was telling.

With Schoenberg and Bartok rejecting the classical style and writing intellectual, almost scientifically-based music, and with jazz and film scores emerging as new art forms, the question of the purpose of music became more relevant than ever before. Music for the elite - or music for the masses? Nowhere was this debate more intimately connected with politics than in Stalin's Russia.

As composers and musicians fled Europe for America or remained to suffer the consequences of war in the 1940s, new styles emerged, and with rapid technological change the musical landscape broadened as never before. And in the Britain of the Beatles, the classical giants Britten and Tippett gave way to Tavener, Birtwistle and Maxwell Davies, arguably a generation of composers who combined tradition, modernity and accessibility.

Naughtie's presentation is a flawless as you'd expect. And, as this is a subject that he obviously cares passionately about, the enthusiasm comes across in this beautiful collection.

Classical music fans really should add this to their collection - it really does offer plenty of insight into the music that we all know and love, and now a new appreciation can be given to the origins of a lot of the composers examined here.

Pete Boomer

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