19th Century music season to air on the BBC

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The BBC will explore the music of the 19th Century this spring with a series of programming across TV and radio, as part of a special season.

“BBC Music television always looks to rediscover familiar topics in new ways with the expertise of our presenters. This season, viewers will learn how changes in the political and social landscape of the time allowed composers to innovate in music in a way that hadn’t been seen before. Their ground-breaking methods and the brilliant works they produced set the music world ablaze and left a powerful legacy that lives on to this day.” – Jan Younghusband, Head of Commissioning, Music

The season, Revolution & Romance – Soundtrack To The 19th Century, will feature a three-part BBC Four documentary series exploring the surge of musical creativity and the key players to emerge during this seminal era of music, a BBC Two documentary revealing the real inspiration behind Beethoven’s most famous work, his Fifth Symphony, and a concert broadcast of the work on BBC Four. All programmes will broadcast in May and June.

The centrepiece of the season is a special three-part BBC Four series, Revolution And Romance: Musical Masters Of The 19th Century, presented by Suzy Klein. The hour-long programmes will explore the transformation of music during this period – an age of political and industrial change – where music cemented its reputation as a leading art form and an integral part of people’s lives.

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Also airing as part of the season, BBC Two will broadcast The Secrets Of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, presented by Ian Hislop and conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner. The 90-minute programme will explore the story behind the German composer’s most famous symphonic work. Often cited as one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, the opening notes of the fifth symphony are amongst the most recognisable in the history of music, but the inspiration behind it is less clear. Many believe that Beethoven is railing against fate and his deafness in this piece – which was composed in Vienna between 1804 and 1808 – but in this documentary Gardiner argues that the music features a little-known, radical message expressing Beethoven’s belief in the ideals of the French Revolution, and shows how his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique convey that message in their performance of the Fifth Symphony.

The final programme to be featured in the season is Playing Beethoven’s Fifth – a TV concert which airs on BBC Four. The Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner perform Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony at London’s St John’s Smith Square. Playing period instruments, the performance presents an authentic re-imagination of the sounds the German’s original audiences would have heard. Ahead of the performance, Gardiner and the orchestra principals discuss the issues around trying to reinvigorate such an iconic piece of music and explain how the period instruments transform the symphony’s sound.

“I’m tremendously excited that we are showing this season, reinforcing BBC Four’s reputation for unparalleled programming around classical music and BBC Two’s ability to approach big cultural stories in a fresh and original way. These programmes bring the great pieces of 19th Century music alive, reminding us that they are not just part of a dusty canon, but are also the living soundtrack to an era of Continent-wide revolution.” – Cassian Harrison, Editor of BBC Four

BBC Radio 3 will also celebrate the music of the 19th Century. Through June, Essential Classics will play music from the series every day at 10.30am as part of the daily feature, Music In Time. The pieces will be put in an historical context in recommended recordings chosen by presenters Sarah Walker and Rob Cowan.

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