Episodes

EpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
RepeatedComments
01Beethoven: The Eroica Symphony2017010920170726
20200330 (BBC7)
20200331 (BBC7)
20170726 (R4)
"Ivan Hewett examines a chord from Beethoven's Eroica Symphony to test the idea that harmony is a reflection of history. He's joined by Beethoven expert John Suchet and writer and historian Professor Andrew Roberts who has special interest in Napoleon.

Beethoven's Eroica Chord of 1804 is the climax of the composer's attempt to capture the fervour of revolution. Strident trumpets scream out above the orchestra, forming a clash of harmony that no-one could mistake as anything but a great musical rallying cry for freedom.

Ivan Hewett examines a chord from Beethoven's Eroica Symphony.

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02Wagner: Tristan Und Isolde2017011020170816
20200331 (BBC7)
20200401 (BBC7)
20170816 (R4)
"Ivan Hewett examines Wagner's Tristan Chord to test the idea that harmony is a reflection of history. He's joined by Professor John Deathridge and Professor Tim Blanning.

Wagner's Tristan Chord is called the most significant chord in Western music as it is said to mark the beginning of the breakdown of tonality. Within itself, it contains not one but two dissonances, so creating a double desire, agonising in its intensity for resolution. The chord to which it then moves resolves one of these dissonances but not the other, so providing resolution - but not resolution. Written in 1859, the same year as Origin of the Species and around the same time as Madame Bovary, Wagner's Tristan Chord reflects a time when the anchor was being pulled up many old certainties.

Ivan Hewett examines Wagner's Tristan Chord.

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03Mahler: Symphony No. 102017011120170823
20200401 (BBC7)
20200402 (BBC7)
20170823 (R4)
"Ivan Hewett examines a chord from Mahler's 10th Symphony to test the idea that harmony is a reflection of history. He's joined by composer David Matthews and psychoanalyst Anthony Cantle.

In 1910, the first movement of Mahler's 10th Symphony finally lands on a chord of terrifying dissonance, as he surveyed the wreckage of his personal life. Mahler had discovered his wife was having an affair with the architect Walter Gropius - a discovery which left him distraught. He was in the middle of composing his 10th Symphony and suddenly this cry of anguish appears seemingly out of nowhere in the music. Mahler made a famous visit to see Freud which resulted in a 6 hour walk during which they discussed all of these matters in the context of the newly discovered unconscious.

The chord in question can't be found anywhere in else music. Perhaps it's just too much to bear. However, what follows this chord is music which suggests resolution, acceptance and great peace.

Ivan Hewett examines a chord from Mahler's 10th Symphony.

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04Stravinsky: The Rite Of Spring2017011220170830
20200402 (BBC7)
20200403 (BBC7)
20170830 (R4)
Ivan Hewett examines a chord from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring to test the idea that harmony is a reflection of history. He's joined by musicologist Gerard McBurney and Professor Valentine Cunningham.

Stravinsky wrote his ballet The Rite of Spring for the 1913 Paris season of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes company with choreography by Nijinsky. The ballet famously caused a riot at its premiere, largely because of the dance and the music - but partly also because the sense of clash that we hear in this famous chord was, in some senses, a reflection of tensions in the air.

Ivan Hewett examines a chord from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.

05 LASTTerry Riley: In C2017011320170906
20200403 (BBC7)
20200404 (BBC7)
20170906 (R4)
'Ivan Hewett examines the chord of C major as found in Terry Riley's In C.

Ivan Hewett examines the chord of C major as found in Terry Riley's In C to test the idea that harmony is a reflection of history. He's joined by musicologist Pwyll ap Sion and pianist Joanna MacGregor.

In 1964, the Californian composer Terry Riley wrote a piece which changed the face of classical music - and it was entirely based on the chord of C major. The piece is called In C and its composition is said to mark the beginning of the Minimalist movement in music. After the complexity of the other chords in this series, this final episode explores how In C reflects the era in which it was written and, in particular, how employing the seemingly simple chord of C major was so appropriate for its time.