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  • MUSIC: "Holberg Suite" by Grieg

  • Music, one of the most dazzling fruits of human civilisation,

  • can make us weep, or make us dance.

  • It's reflected the times in which it was written,

  • it has delighted, challenged, comforted and excited us.

  • In this series I've been tracing the story of music from scratch.

  • To follow it on its miraculous journey,

  • misleading jargon and fancy labels are best put to one side.

  • Instead, try to imagine how revolutionary and how exhilarating

  • many of the innovations we take for granted today were

  • to people at the time.

  • There are a million ways of telling the story of music, this is mine.

  • MUSIC: "The Rite Of Spring" by Stravinsky

  • In the 31 years between the death of Richard Wagner in 1883

  • and the outbreak of the First World War

  • music was shaken by a series of rebellions.

  • "Pictures At An Exhibition" by Mussorgsky

  • MUSIC: "The Firebird" by Stravinsky

  • Russian music swept westwards exuberantly,

  • as did the exotic sounds of distant continents.

  • "Voiles" by Debussy

  • And symphonies and operas of astonishing intensity

  • amazed and startled audiences.

  • Modernism in music was born.

  • The world was becoming a smaller place,

  • with millions of poor European immigrants seeking refuge

  • in the New World,

  • to join the white settlers, African Americans and Chinese workers already there.

  • From this rich mix of musical cultures,

  • soon to be heard on newfangled record players and radios,

  • would spring the blues, ragtime and jazz.

  • "Maple Leaf Rag" by Scott Joplin

  • In just over three decades music underwent a series of gigantic convulsions.

  • Change came in many different forms, some exciting, some bewildering.

  • Revolution was in the air

  • and all of music's laws and traditions were about to be shaken to their roots.

  • What happened was a series of musical rebellions.

  • MUSIC: "The Rite Of Spring" by Stravinsky

  • The first was aimed at displacing the musical giant of the late 19th century, Richard Wagner.

  • His ideas, his style and his musical philosophy

  • had been such a pervasive presence in classical music

  • that what might have followed him was a plague of pseudo-Wagners.

  • In fact what followed in his wake was an explosion of musical activity

  • that sought to do things very differently indeed.

  • It may not always have been deliberate

  • but there was a kind of not-Wagner renaissance.

  • All the things he hated most came to life. The French, for a start.

  • MUSIC: "Carnival Of The Animals" by Saint-Saens

  • In France a new wave of composers made it their business

  • to write music of deliberate simplicity and clarity

  • and to banish pretention and earnestness of all kinds.

  • The French were about to enjoy a musical golden age

  • thanks to their reaction against Wagner.

  • Their best 50 years ever in music blossomed

  • after he went off to his personal Valhalla,

  • with Faure, Debussy and Ravel leading a glorious riposte

  • to German musical dominance.

  • MUSIC: "Gymnopedie Number 1" by Satie

  • The movement was set in train by one of the most remarkable figures in music, Erik Satie.

  • Erik Satie's first Gymnopedie of 1888,

  • as well as sounding like a long, hot afternoon after a boozy lunch,

  • can be seen as the first shot in a war

  • to debunk pomposity and declutter French music.

  • Satie, described by his tutors at the Paris conservatoire

  • as "the laziest student ever", was an eccentric intellectual

  • who hung out with other arty dreamers in Montmartre.

  • Satie's music could hardly sound less like Wagner

  • and what the Germans were up to.

  • The irony is that there was a German influence

  • on the work of Satie's Parisian contemporaries.

  • Here's a clue. Composers like Cesar Franck, Charles-Marie Widor,

  • Camille Saint-Saens and Gabriel Faure were all trained organists,

  • and playing the organ means above all

  • knowing one particular composer's work inside out - JS Bach.

  • MUSIC: "Toccata" by Widor

  • More than a hundred years after his death,

  • these organist-composers in France

  • were invigorated and inspired by Bach's clarity and economy.

  • Even the master himself might have admired

  • Charles-Marie Widor's famous Toccata.

  • It was first performed by Widor himself

  • at the Trocadero Palace in Paris in 1889

  • and it's given a rousing send-off

  • to many a newly hitched bride and groom ever since.

  • The dignity and dexterity of Bach can also be heard

  • in the music of Gabriel Faure,

  • perhaps the most talented of these French organist-composers.

  • Listening to Faure after Brahms, Liszt, Wagner or Tchaikovsky,

  • it's as if someone has spring-cleaned and redecorated

  • a teenage boy's bedroom.

  • Gone are the posters of death, psychological torment,

  • superheroes and tragedy.

  • The augmented piles of clothes have been put away

  • and the windows have been opened

  • to dispel the diminished sneaker-smelling air.

  • Faure's exquisite music simply says, "Chill,"

  • or, perhaps, refrigerez-vous.

  • The exquisite pieces of Satie, Saint-Saens, Faure

  • and the new wave of French composers were mostly small in scale.

  • The next important step in the non-Wagner rebellion took place

  • in the realm of symphonic music.

  • And the composer who carried the torch

  • for large-scale orchestral and vocal music after Wagner

  • was about as different from him as a human being could be.

  • Though he championed Wagner's operas

  • as music director of the Vienna State Opera House,

  • Wagner would have despised him because he was Jewish.

  • He was Gustav Mahler.

  • The hallmark of Mahler's music is that of openness.

  • Unlike Wagner, Mahler invited into his music

  • all the sounds and rhythms and the noisy diversity

  • of the bustling East European communities at Vienna's doorstep,

  • capital of the sprawling Austro-Hungarian empire.

  • As an outsider in Vienna - a Jew, a Czech,

  • a poor country boy in a profession full of toffs -

  • it's not surprising that Mahler should identify

  • with the folklore and music of his small-town childhood.

  • In his symphonies it's possible to identify, for example,

  • the Klezmer style of strolling Jewish folk musicians.

  • His music encompasses passing military bands.

  • And he's not afraid to include boisterous children's choruses.

  • Mahler's symphonies are music's gateway to the 20th century,

  • a musical equivalent of New York's Ellis Island,

  • where Europe's exhausted and oppressed peoples

  • sought refuge and a new start.

  • The musical cultures they left behind in Europe

  • found a home in Mahler's generous symphonic embrace.

  • One way we can see a modern perspective emerging in his music is

  • its sense of reality, of truthfulness, warts and all.

  • The frankness of his approach is a major break with the past

  • and is much more characteristic of the 20th than the 19th centuries.

  • How can music be honest?

  • Well, before Mahler if you were composer

  • and you wanted to write a piece about loneliness or despair or depression,

  • you'd call it something generic like a nocturne, or a sonata pathetique.

  • In an opera you could have singers act out emotional or political issues

  • pretending to be someone from another era, in a fancy costume.

  • But Mahler stopped all this role-playing.

  • He wanted to evoke the real, contemporary world

  • with all its actual suffering and joy, without pretence.

  • He told it how it was.

  • Mahler took our worst fears and set them to music.

  • This may seem an unremarkable concept to us

  • but in 1900 it was shockingly, distressingly new.

  • The unflinching honesty of Mahler's approach is at times unbearable.

  • From 1901, for example,

  • he set to music five German poems called Kindertotenlieder -

  • Songs On The Death Of Children.

  • The sentiments of the songs are those of a parent's most unspeakable nightmares.

  • MEZZO SINGING IN GERMAN

  • In Mahler's unflinching settings,

  • these distant people of another century suddenly become like us.

  • He's made them real.

  • In a horrible irony, four years after he wrote the songs

  • Mahler's own five-year-old daughter, Anna-Maria, died of scarlet fever,

  • and Mahler himself was diagnosed with a terminal heart condition.

  • When he died in 1911 he was laid to rest in her grave.

  • But despite the understandable sadness and alienation we hear in his music

  • there is, incredibly, hope of something better,

  • usually associated with childhood and youth,

  • as in his Song Of The Earth.

  • The final chord of The Song Of The Earth was described

  • by the mid-20th century English composer Benjamin Britten

  • as being "imprinted on the atmosphere."

  • STRINGS, HARP AND OBOE CREATE A WASH OF SOUND

  • MEZZO: # Ewig... #

  • MUSIC FADES

  • But there's something else going on in Mahler's music

  • that wasn't perhaps obvious at the time.

  • It's deceptive.

  • Because of its all-inclusive style

  • with its borrowings from ethnic folk music

  • and because of the intensity of feeling he wanted to convey,

  • Mahler's music began to destabilise

  • the centuries-old Western musical system he'd inherited.

  • His pupils in Vienna, led by Arnold Schoenberg,

  • actively wanted to dismantle completely

  • the familiar systems that had underpinned all music

  • for hundreds of years

  • and replace them with a brand new system.

  • This academic rebellion was later labelled serialism, or atonality,

  • and it produced decades of scholarly hot air, books, debates and seminars.

  • And, in its purest, strictest form, not one piece of music

  • that a normal person could understand or enjoy in 100 years.

  • That's not to say that serialism hasn't always had a cultish following

  • but for sure these composers weren't courting a mainstream audience.

  • Had serialism had any chance of appealing to a paying public,

  • one composer who would surely have opted into it

  • was the musical magpie Richard Strauss,

  • Germany's leading composer after Mahler's death.

  • But he had other, far more mischievous plans up his sleeve.

  • He began his career conventionally enough

  • in a musical style that owed much to Liszt

  • and a little to Wagner.

  • Thus Spake Zarathustra is pretty typical,

  • with its now legendary opening, Sunrise, made even more famous

  • by Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

  • Kubrick uses the power of the piece

  • to underscore a momentous leap forward in the evolution of Man.

  • The power of the idea the film wants to convey,

  • man's discovery of weapons, needs equally portentous music.

  • No one did it better than Strauss.

  • And yet, the ever-versatile Strauss

  • could also write songs of heart-breaking, Mahlerish delicacy,

  • like the song Tomorrow, composed as a wedding present for his wife.

  • On the surface of it the words of Morgen! seem

  • to be optimistic about the future.

  • "And tomorrow the sun will shine again."

  • But it's also strangely melancholy.

  • It seems to suggest, in fact, that there will be no tomorrow.

  • It seemed at this point as if Strauss would continue to compose

  • in this wistful but fairly traditional manner.

  • But then he suddenly catapulted himself into musical notoriety

  • with an opera of savage, erotic power

  • that shocked bourgeois society and created a sensation.

  • In one fell swoop,

  • from being the genteel Kapellmeister of the Austrian Belle Epoch,

  • Strauss had transformed himself into the Che Guevara

  • of the musical rebels.

  • The opera in question was Salome, staged in 1905.

  • It was immediately banned in several countries

  • and it gave new meaning to the term discord...

  • ..even before Salome herself had stripped off

  • for the Dance Of The Seven Veils

  • and scandalised the first night audience.

  • Salome's final, passionate solo,

  • addressed to the severed head of John the Baptist,

  • which she then kisses, was the Quentin Tarantino moment.

  • You can either read Salome as a strong, independent young woman

  • who gets what she wants by exploiting her sexuality,

  • cleverly outwitting her stepfather the king in the process,

  • or as a kind of demented junkie

  • who lowers humanity's moral standards to rock bottom.

  • Take your pick.

  • Strauss apparently hedges his bets,

  • giving the first mention of the necrophiliac kiss

  • possibly the most dissonant chord ever used in music at that point.

  • It's like the final howl of a busted civilisation.

  • HIGH DISCORD

  • CLUSTER OF NOTES

  • But we're not finished with her yet.

  • After asking whether the taste of blood on his lips is

  • actually the taste of love,

  • Salome revisits the kiss in supreme triumph.

  • "I have now kissed your mouth, Jochanaan," she screams