What the press said about Episode 3 of 20th Century Greats

Sunday Times 5.12.04
Pick of the Week:

This superb look at 20th-century music has made a late entry for best factual series of the year. This week, Goodall examines the work of the great film composer Bernard Herrmann, the man who made a generation prefer baths to showers with his terrifying stabbing score for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. He also wrote unforgettable music for Vertigo, Citizen Kane and Taxi Driver, changing soundtracks forever. Goodall effortlessly communicates the techniques used by Herrmann, invoking Bartok and Schoenberg and explaining serialism and minimalism. He also combines a campaigning zeal with his erudition, attacking the classical music establishment for ignoring Herrmann’s work and pointing out that his early endeavours with electronic music in 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still predated the ‘official’ first experiments of Stockhausen and Varese.

The Observer 5.12.04
Mike Mackinnon; Pick of the Week:

Goodall’s exemplary series continues with a profile of Bernard Herrmann, the composer of the most famous film music of the 20th century. Best known for his scores for the director Alfred Hitchcock, in particular the masterpieces Vertigoand Psycho, Herrmann also wrote the music for Orson Welles’s controversial radio play The War of the Worlds, as well as Citizen Kane, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Fahrenheit 451 and Taxi Driver. In all, he composed some 50 original film scores over the course of his career, during which he became renowned as a master of psychological and emotional intensity, expressed in bold, dark compositions, often shot through with a palpable sense of foreboding. Thus he was the ideal choice when Hitchcock was seeking someone to communicate suspense. Goodall explains how Herrmann completely transformed film music by dragging it away from the sounds of 19th-centuryVienna and into the modern age. Recommended.

David Butcher, The Radio Times 11.12.04:

“There’s a lot of music on TV tonight, but if you don’t fancy the talent-show tussles of The X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing or indeed BBC1s Can’t Sing, Singers, try this wonderful film instead. It’s the third of Howard Goodall’s series on giants of 20th-century music and looks at film composer Bernard Herrmann, creator of memorable scores for Psycho, Vertigo, Citizen Kane and Taxi Driver. Many of us will have shivered along to Herrmann’s music, but Goodall believes he’s shamefully unrecognised, and makes a strong case that Herrmann not only reinvented film music, but changed the course of classical music as a whole. Some presenters would just tell us as much, or get interviewees to offer back-up, but not Goodall. Score by score, he explains Herrmann’s techniques: how he achieved a neurotic sound by making the strings play without vibrato, for instance, or how he toyed with little musical nuggets in the Psycho score to suggest madness (and lay the foundation of minimalism in the process.) The argument is easy to follow because Goodall explains things so elegantly, and illustrates his points with a keyboard and orchestra. Very few arts programmes this good are getting across why great works are great, but Goodall is a natural.”

Sunday Telegraph 5.12.04

“He wrote the scores to Psycho, Taxi Driver and Citizen Kane, but Bernard Herrmann’s ‘towering achievements’ have been ‘overlooked, sidelined and ignored’ according to Howard Goodall. This brilliant musical dissection of his work (withPsycho at its centrepiece) illuminates and convinces throughout. For a lecture conducted by one man and his keybiard, it’s a surprise treat.”

The Guardian, Monday 13.5.04
Now that’s what I call music
: Mark Lawson

Rowan Atkinson’s stage-show in the late 80s was not his most successful venture – suffering a notably vicious New York Times notice – but, paradoxically, it turns out to have been a formidable academy for talent. It’s like discovering that the Titanic disaster created three champion Olympic swimmers.

The co-writer, Richard Curtis, is now Britain’s most recognisable scriptwriter; the acting sidekick, Angus Deayton, graduated to become one of television’s highest-paid presenters; and now the composer for the show, Howard Goodall, has established himself as the David Attenborough of classical music.

Goodall claims two hours of television this weekend across two channels for his personable but rigorous notes on music: on Saturday, he concludes his Channel 4 series Howard Goodall’s Twentieth Century Greats with an essay on Leonard Bernstein and, the following night, hosts an authored documentary for The South Bank Show on music teaching in schools.

The SBS project is a response to a television film made six years ago in which Sir Simon Rattle lamented the silencing of music teaching in British schools. Beginning – inevitably but sweetly – with the Purcell School Orchestra playing Lloyd Webber’s Variations On a Theme of Paganini (also known as Herald to Melvyn), Goodall offers his own variations on Rattle’s 1998 conclusions.

The shift in tone is so great that it’s as if a piece by Schoenberg has been transposed into Puccini: where Rattle was rattled, Goodall can find only good. He stands in a hard hat on building sites where new musical schools are being built, while banners dash across the screen revealing that £60m a year of new government money has gone into music teaching or that six times as many teachers are in training. In classrooms across the nation, Goodall finds bright-eyed children tackling Shostakovich or knocking out their own string quartets.

After about half an hour of this, there were horns sounding loudly in my head. While it is hard to argue that music teaching in schools has improved, the political dissonance of Rattle’s film seemed to have been entirely replaced by New Labour harmony. This is worrying – especially as the editor of the South Bank Show is Lord Bragg, a Labour peer – but, after the overture of blowing trumpets for Blairism, the film gets much tougher.

Goodall raises the possibility that the new state cash for music teaching is more interested in brass-bands playing Hollywood theme tunes than teaching classical tradition. There are other, even harder points he could have explored – such as parents in some state schools being pressured to buy expensive instruments from the school’s commercial partner – but this is a typically passionate and informative film in which the presenter demonstrates his eye for a quirky statistic: such as the fact that there are 44 dedicated choir schools in Britain, 43 more than in Italy.

But the problem is that the South Bank Show documentary leaves you thinking that the solution to music education inBritainis a mass cloning programme so that every child can have Howard Goodall as a personal tutor.

His Channel 4 series Twentieth Century Greats is an even more impressive piece of intelligent storytelling than his previous four series for 4: Organ Works, Choir Works, Big Bangs and Great Dates.

The first strength of the series is the eclectic selection. No television executive listing a quartet of 20th-century musical figures for documentaries would have come up with Goodall’s odd squad of Cole Porter, Lennon & McCartney, Bernard Herrmann and Leonard Bernstein. The Herrmann film was a perfect example of Goodall’s ability to make a complicated argument both tightly and brightly. The best model for television arts programmes is sports coverage: what’s needed is an Alan Hansen or John McEnroe who can explain why the performer made the moves he did. Goodall is that person, always able to tell us the score.

Almost ignoring the life – there was just one reference to Herrmann being “sad, resentful, paranoid” – he brilliantly dismantles the work, explaining how the soundtracks for the Hitchcock movies were influenced by Bartok, a now little-known instrument played by Lenin and by the decision, on Psycho, to drop the brass and woodwind sections completely and make the strings use their mutes.

The difference between musical composition and television film-making is that there’s no tradition in the latter of standing up and applauding at the end. But, with Goodall, you feel that you want to.