Magazine article The Spectator

Television Schoenberg in Shorts

Magazine article The Spectator

Television Schoenberg in Shorts

Article excerpt

For anyone who missed The Sound and the Fury (Tuesday, BBC4) here is a reason - one of many - to catch it on your iPlayer: footage of a fierce, frowning and elderly Stravinsky, sitting in the empty stalls of the Theatre des Champs Elysees and recalling the 'near-riot' which greeted the first performance of The Rite of Spring in 1913. 'It was full - ' (he gestured crossly around him) ' - of very noisy public. Very 'ostile public. I went up - when I heard all this noise - and I said, "Go to hell!

Excuse me, Messieurs et Dames, and goodbye!" ' The Sound and the Fury: A Century of Modern Music is a three-part series which began this week with Wrecking Ball and led us - urged us - from Paris in 1894 (where Debussy's Prelude a l'Apres-Midi d'un Faune 'brought new breath to the art of music') to New York in 1924 (and the premiere of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue) .

Those 30 years - only 30 years! - contain a dense and forceful chapter in the history of music and this film pressed through it with vigour and purpose.

Almost as exciting as a walking, talking Stravinsky was to hear composers such as Steve Reich, Pierre Boulez and John Adams describe, explain and comment on the music of their predecessors; almost as thrilling was to see footage of Schoenberg and Gershwin playing tennis together in Los Angeles in the 1930s. Yes, that's right: the 'father of atonality' up at the net and the 'great Broadway tunesmith' at the baseline; both of them wearing shorts, gym shoes and friendly smiles. Momentous.

Hugh's Fish Fight (Thursday, Channel 4) was the first episode of a three-part series in which Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall puts up a fight on behalf of all fish. It is not related to Jamie and Jimmy's Food Fight Club, which was a regrettable series on Channel 4 last year, and it did not announce any kind of fantastical or nonsensical contest involving celebrity chefs fighting each other with fish, fish-related utensils or fish recipes. No: this is a serious endeavour and it is part of Hugh's campaign to educate us about what goes on under the ocean wave - strictly speaking, it is a 'Fish, Shellfish, Marine Mammal and Ocean Floor Fight' - and to remind us that the expression 'plenty more fish in the sea' is now as meaningless as it is annoying.

Footage of scallop-dredging along the seabed made my mouth drop open like a sick guppy's. It was shocking enough to see an entire habitat (and all its inhabitants) destroyed in a matter of seconds but to know that this is an ordinary, everyday, usual and legal method of harvesting food is shaming and awful: we are dropping napalm to crack a nut. …

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