Katharina Wolpe

I’m no expert but I’d imagine that not many festivals have been based on a single book – about music. The Rest is Noise, running all this year at London’s South Bank Centre, was inspired by music critic Alex Ross’ book of the same name

The book spans the 20th century as does the festival. It was fitting that the interval of a concert broadcast live from the festival featured an interview with a musician whose life was dramatically affected by the century’s turbulent events – beginning with the arrival of German troops in Vienna.

Martin Handley interviews pianist Katharina Wolpe. Her story is remarkable and she tells of the many cultural figures she met along the way. For example, Humphrey Bogart put up the money for her to secure a gig at London’s Wigmore Hall.

Scroll to 14:18 of this link to listen.


40,000-year history of music

I’ve always admired Howard Goodall as a great communicator and evangelist for music. However, he comes across as slightly reactionary in this Start the Week discussion. He is discussing his new book/TV series Story of Music.

John Adams, in my humble opinion, gives a better account of himself and has some interesting opinions on mp3s and the problem of distractions when listening to music on computer.

The excellent dramatist, Stephen Poliakoff discusses his forthcoming Dancing on the Edge.

Singer Barb Jungr keeps it real from the point of view of making a living as a performer.

Howard Goodall’s series begins on BBC2 on Sat 26 Jan.

Scoring Father Brown

If you’re interested in the process of writing music for television or film then this programme might be for you. Composer Debbie Wiseman details the various steps in writing, conducting and recording the music for the television drama Father Brown. There are contributions from Professor Eric Clarke of Oxford University.

I don’t know the series, and don’t much like the sound of it, nor even some of the music ‘required’ for it, but explanation of what goes on is very clear. I was particularly taken with Debbie Wiseman’s caution to the orchestra that things were going to move quite quickly – implying, I imagine, that even although they might not consider themselves involved in any given ‘musical cue’ their moment would come along soon enough and would not be helped by people moving around.

The Examined Life

I can only imagine that this title comes from Socrates assertion that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” In the case of the psychoanalytic sessions described in Stephen Grosz’s The Examined Life it’s the examination which might return the fractured life to something worth living.

Excellently read by Peter Marinker these tales of change and loss are by turns fascinating, moving, inspiring and shocking.

Episode 1 of 5 is here from where you’ll be able to navigate to the others.

Riot at the Rite

One cultural and historical event I’d love to have witnessed is the riot which took place at the première of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” in 1913. That’s why I was very interested to hear Richard Witts present an alternative take on the motivations of some in the audience.

Present that evening, though possibly not throwing many punches, was Marcel Proust.

Another edition of Radio 3’s “The Essay” deals with the insertion of a musical character at the proof-reading stage of Swann’s Way.

Raymond Tallis

It’s interesting to hear a scientist caution against ‘scientism’ but Raymond Tallis puts the case well during this chat on Belief with Joan Bakewell. Of course, he’s much more than a scientist: philosopher, novelist, poet, playwright….

You’ll have to be quick, though. According to the BBC it’ll only be available for 85 years.

Prison Visitor

I’d long known of Johnny Cash’s performances in Folsom And San Quentin Prisons. But I was surprised to learn in this programme of the extent of his prison reform endeavours.

Comfort and Joy

Do you ever get the feeling that one area of your life eclipses all others? Spare a thought for Alex Comfort.

In this edition of The Sunday Feature writer Matthew Sweet explores his life as pacifist, anarchist, anti-nuclear campaigner, novelist, gerontologist, doctor and writer of the book on 12 million British bookshelves. His son, Nicholas Comfort features.

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Every time I come across Stuart Maconie I’m impressed by his enthusiastic and honest-sounding take on life.

Here he is on Radio 4’s Great Lives discussing that most English of composers, Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The Human Voice

The possibly intertwined origin of music and language is just one of the ideas touched upon in this Start the Week special.

Professor Michael Trimble, author of Why Humans Like to Cry: Tragedy Evolution and the Brain contributes from the scientific side of life while Mary King, Rolando Villazon and composer Mark-Anthony Turnage describe the interaction of emotion and performance.