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Big Bangs - Howard Goodall Musical (2 DVDs)
Composer: Howard Goodall
Lyricist: Howard Goodall

Price: $19.95



Product Description
2 DVDs. 5 works for voice and orchestra. From the writer of THE HIRED MAN and the recent musical version of LOVE STORY done in the West End.

Music history teachers, at least in my experience, tend to be dry, humorless folk. Howard Goodall, pretty esteemed in his own right (and write, as it were, with several musicals and themes for such popular UK television fare as Blackadder to his credit), takes a more bombastic and at times bordering on loony approach to these worthy matters, and thereby makes them deliciously entertaining just about every step of the way. Goodall is a lovable goofus, dancing via green screen past various scores while making strange neck motions one can only compare to a rabid goose's, whacking at various lengths of metal while joining in a deep discussion of the Pythagorean comma; or simply sleeping in a rowboat, all of which made me wish repeatedly that he had been my personal music history and theory teacher. Well, in Big Bangs, he is, and the good news is, he can be yours, too. This UK miniseries, which aired in the late 90s but is only now making it to DVD, deals with five epochal discoveries which transformed the canvas of music. The series includes the episodes:

Notation. It's hard to realize what a stunning invention writing down music actually was, but Goodall, as he is wont to do throughout this entire enterprise, comes up with the perfect, and in this case extremely humorous, example. After explaining that the bulk of music pre-notation was handed down from generation to generation via (literally) oral transmission--i.e., rote memorization--Goodall then enlists the aid of several young male choristers. He proposes a musical version of 'Telephone'; and goes on to sing a Gregorian chant-like trope to the lead chorister. That child then runs across the courtyard, and, though he transposes it up to his countertenor range, does an admirable job of repeating it to the next child. Things then go horribly awry. As the melody is transferred from ear to lip to ear to lip, it quickly devolves into something not even remotely similar to what Goodall opened the exercise with. Thus the difficulties of accurate reproduction of a score are admirably demonstrated. Goodall goes on to trace the evolution of written music from neumes (the little squiggles that started appearing above chant's liturgical texts, though their precise meaning is still a matter of some debate) until finally a genius by the name of Guido d'Arezzo worked out the foundation for what would ultimately become our modern staff and clef system. Goodall's nutty humor is on glorious display here, with little throwaway lines such as when he is explaining the do-re-mi system in a museum dedicated to Guido and asserts that pressing a button on a display (which actually activates a recording, not to state the obvious) will alert a cloistered group of monks who reside behind the wall to begin singing

Equal Temperament. This episode, which deals largely with the mathematics behind what has become our modern chromatic scale, could easily have been the driest of the bunch. And yet Goodall's unfailing good nature pulls the viewer through a fascinatingly presented visual version of how the Greek scale was derived by constantly dividing a given tone by 2/3 in order to arrive at the next scalar degree (Unfortunately, this insistence on a 2/3 ratio also resulted in what is known as the Pythagorean comma; a fancy term which means that by the time you go through 12 of these 2/3 permutations you should be back at your starting tone, and yet you aren't--you're off by a minute frequency which is this very comma. --DVD Talk

Review Part Two: The Greeks had a handy way of dealing with that--they said anything over seven notes was excessive. As Goodall humorously points out, it wasn't until church musicians started getting 'greedy' and wanted all 12 chromatic (i.e., half-step) notes available that things really got bad. Because scales were derived from a foundation note, and then parsed through the various 2/3 ratios from that fundamental, it meant that say a C fundamental would not be the same C as that derived from the first 2/3 transformation from a fundamental of F. Something needed to be done, and that something was equal temperament, where tiny amounts of each frequency are shaved off in order to make the distance between all notes (not just fifths) equal. Goodall again does a masterful job in not only making this all understandable, but delightfully enjoyable.

Opera is up next and it is testament to Goodall's hosting charms that this genre, which is generally not my cup of tea, was made as interesting and funny as the other four outings. Opera had a fairly unsuccessful start, with two failed attempts to merge drama with song, before some enterprising gentlemen thought that the concept could be rescued. One of them, Duke Gonzaga, happened to have a court musician by the name of Monteverdi on his staff (in one of the more delectable jokes of this episode, Goodall pauses in front of a mammoth mural of Gonzaga and family and states that it was the basis of their Christmas card that year). Monteverdi of course went on to basically invent modern opera as we know it with his first take on the genre, L'Orfeo; which literally personified music in the character of the hapless, yet musically inspired, man who attempts to rescue his bride from the underworld through the charms of his talent. Goodall does an admirable job tying Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro; to the nascent revolutionary fervor that was beginning to percolate throughout Europe

Goodall goes on to explain the four basic types of ancient instruments (plucked, hit, blown, bowed) and then goes on to a brief overview of how both the plucked and struck instruments merged ultimately to become the pianoforte (soft-loud in Italian, for its unique dynamic capabilities which its precursors the clavichord and harpsichord didn't share). Goodall shows the genius behind Bartolomeo Cristofori's vision in not only the idea of the instrument, but the engineering ingenuity that was necessary to bring it into being. Goodall then takes a quick historical stroll through various champions of the piano.

The final episode Recorded Sound may have the most pertinent information for today's technology obsessed youth. Goodall of course starts with Edison's phonograph, and gives a charming demonstration of how its tin-foil recording surface did not exactly result in digital clarity. There is then a nice, and again subtly humorous, display of recording techniques in the early decades of the 20th century, showing how singers had to shout into a reverse megaphone which focused their vocal sound waves to the recording device. Goodall navigates the improving technology, highlighted by the appearance of the electric microphone in 1925, leading to a slew of recording advances which has led us to today's digital age.

Goodall's charm and humor carry this series extremely well and make these five big bangs; of musical invention top-notch entertainment aside from their informative value.

Final Thoughts:
Big Bangs is a must-see and must-listen for all music fans, no matter what your particular stripe might be. So much wonderful information is presented in such a wonderfully imaginative way that I guarantee you'll be entranced. Highly recommended. --Jeffrey Kaufman DVD Talk

Product Description

'In this series I'm going to look at five of the great breakthroughs that European music has experienced in its extraordinary history; five momentous discoveries. I also want to show what they mean to us today, at a time when so-called classical music is being absorbed into a much bigger mainstream and when its 1,000-year reign seems to be coming to a close.' HOWARD GOODALL
With intriguing anecdotes and witty humour, composer Howard Goodall presents five innovations in European musical history, which have overwhelmingly changed its course:

NOTATION: the journey from plain chant in medieval times to symphonic works and improvisation

EQUAL TEMPERAMENT (a universal tuning, scale and key system): from the discoveries of Pythagoras to J.S. Bach

OPERA: where music interfaces with real life with love, death and politics

THE PIANO: this versatile instrument is unique to European culture.

RECORDED SOUND: from Caruso to world music and sampling

'It's fascinating stuff, brilliantly presented.' THE AUSTRALIAN
'This is the very best thing on television. It is utterly brilliant.' THE SUNDAY TIMES

Written and Presented by Howard Goodall

Courtney Pine
John Mark Ainsley
Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Oxford
Salisbury Cathedral Choir
Students Of London College Of Music
Pupils Of Marlborough College
Julian Light Operatic Society
Bournemouth Symphony Chorus


Chapter 1: Plain chant
Chapter 2: Numes
Chapter 3: Guido Monaco
Chapter 4: Composers
Chapter 5: Improvisation
Chapter 6: Sibelius


Chapter 1: Pythagoras, mathematician
Chapter 2: Pythagoras, mystic
Chapter 3: John Dunstable
Chapter 4: Renaissance
Chapter 5: J. S. Bach
Chapter 6: Accordion
Chapter 7: Chinese music


Chapter 1: Camerata
Chapter 2: Orfeo ed Euridice
Chapter 3: The Marriage of Figaro
Chapter 4: Liberation
Chapter 5: Nationalistic pride
Chapter 6: Modern opera
Chapter 7: China


Chapter 1: Early keyboards
Chapter 2: Bartolomeo Cristofori
Chapter 3: Johann Andreas Stein
Chapter 4: Franz Schubert
Chapter 5: Development
Chapter 6: Claude Debussy
Chapter 7: 20th century


Chapter 1: Early technology
Chapter 2: Enrico Caruso
Chapter 3: Recording techniques
Chapter 4: Live and recorded music
Chapter 5: World music
Chapter 6: Sampling

Browse style(s): Video/DVD / Theater Related

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