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article imageReview: ‘Howard Goodall’s Story of Music’ Special

By Alexander Baron     Jan 28, 2013 in Entertainment
Telling the story of music in six one hour programmes is an ambitious task, but if episode one is anything to go by, the other five will be worth watching.
The name Howard Goodall may not mean much to the non-theatre going public, but he is a fairly distinguished classically trained alumnus of Christ Church, Oxford. Over the past decade and a half he has also done a fair amount of TV work. The big question is, can even someone with his impressive CV pull off the monumental task of documenting music from year dot to
Well, the first episode - The Age Of Discovery - is a full bodied attempt to cover the period from caveman to the beginnings of opera and European folk music. This was shown on BBC Two on Saturday night, and contains some interesting revelations. How many people outside of its native Denmark realise that Lurpak butter takes its name from an ancient musical instrument?
Goodall's musical odyssey begins in 32,000BC with evidence that our cave dwelling ancestors were aware of acoustics and resonance.
We have though, he says, no idea what ancient music sounded like. One wonders if this is entirely true; how about Hurrian Hymn No. 6 which appears to contain elements of both Like A Hurricane and London Bridge Is Falling Down?
The first professional singers appeared in Ancient Greece; from here Goodall takes us to Christian plainchant via Rome. Plainchant became less plain with the addition of higher voices - an octave higher to be precise - and even less so with the addition of harmony.
After harmony, the next big development in music was notation; although attempts had been made to do this before, it was the monk Guido of Arezzo (992/3-circa 1035) who was responsible for the first attempt at what we would today recognise as a proper musical score. Pérotin the Great who lived circa 1200 added the notation of rhythm, and experimented with chords.
Goodall takes us through the improbable origins of folk music - from then Moslem Spain - to the development of new instruments, the song collecting of Martin Luther, the development of rhythm, the English composer John Dunstaple, and lutenist John Dowland, some of whose works - including Come Again - have been recorded by modern artists.
He ends this episode with opera and Monteverdi. Although he has covered the bulk of human history in the first hour, he has of course only scratched the surface of music, especially when one considers that in the second half of the Twentieth Century the humble town of Pinner has produced Charlie Dore, Tony Hatch and Elton John.
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