The Times Saturday Review 2/3/13

Howard Goodall’s Story of Music

It’s a bit like putting Beatles songs on Who Do You Think You Are?.  As Howard Goodall completes his Story of Music, he’s at the keyboard singing Fab Four hits and tracing their heritage.  There’s the Anglo-Celtic folk modes of Eleanor Rigby, the 18th-century piccolo trumpet in Penny Lane, the novelty music all of When I’m Sixty Four….. He’s not being sniffy – in fact, Goodall praises them as ‘unlikely saviours of the old-fashioned’, as he explores the 21st-century interplay between classical and popular music.  It’s a richly textured final episode, packed with recognisable music and recognisable history.  Alongside the more obvious developments in both – the rise of recording technology  the rise of Hitler – the hour contains many curve balls.  Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera was ‘Trainspotting for the late 20s’, says Goodall.  As music became the voice of conscience he shares devastating songs such as Strange Fruit: ‘Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze/Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.’  A pentecostal priest becomes the first person to be sampled.  And Kim Basinger does the rounds in Michael Keaton’s Batmobile, to prove one of Goodall’s key messages ‘If anyone tells you that classical music is dead in the 21st century, all it means is that they don’t go to the cinema’.