Christopher resumes his duties as Gresham Professor of Music with the start of a new series of lectures entitled 'The Making of a Masterpiece', in which he examines a number of acknowledged masterpieces, but each from a select angle only - their scoring, compactness, virtuosity, accessibility, memorability or other flavour. After each lecture, Gresham College is making available videos and podcasts of its Professors' offerings. Click on the links below to be taken to Gresham College's media downloads for each lecture.
1) Keep it short
The art of being succinct is not one always associated with the works of Bach; in his compact setting of the Magnificat he employs economy and symbolism to illuminate each verse in a few minutes of music which challenges the listener to “de-code” the full message.
2) The Joy of Six
The choice of instrumental grouping can make or break a composition; the string sextet, a notoriously difficult combination, takes on a forward-looking guise with Strauss in probably the most exquisite of all music designed to be played off-stage, while Brahms looks back to the baroque with his solutions: sonority is the key.
3) Remember Me
Memorability is sometimes achieved by the simple technique of repetition, in addition to more high-flown inspiration. Some of the simplest sustaining devices of great music are ground bass, ostinato or chaconne; this lecture shows that a canon can be more than simply "Three Blind Mice".
4) Is it possible?
Mozart's Oboe Quartet in F major K.370
With Mea Wade and players from the Royal Academy of Music
Harnessing virtuosity to good taste and fireworks to fine craftsmanship is a permanent challenge for the composer. Purely technical show will have little lasting effect, and Mozart was especially scrupulous at linking what sounded effective with what was musically needed. We examine with Mea Wade the requirements of good oboe playing and some of that instrument's special qualities, and hear a performance of the quartet with players from the Royal Academy of Music. The quartet comprises Eleanor Corr (violin), Richard Waters (viola) and Antonio Novais (cello).
5) The Opening Salvo
Beethoven's String Quartet in F major Op.18 No.1
With the Wilhelm Quartet
How to be revolutionary without scaring away your public? How to announce yourself as a new broom without alienating the more stalwart connoisseurs? Beethoven faced these problems when presenting his first six string quartets for publication as opus 18; did he win his public and allay their fears with his choice of opening? The Wilhelm Quartet comprises Marciana Buta (violin), Charlotte Skinner (violin), Daisy Spiers (viola) and Hetty Snell (cello).
5) The Challenge of the Solo
Pavlo Beznosiuk, one of the world's leading baroque violinists, explains and demonstrates the challenge of music for solo violin; works by Nicola Matteis and Heinrich Biber lead to a discussion and performance of the famous Chaconne from Bach's Solo Partita in D minor. Can such a work be satisfactorily analysed or does "music begin where words leave off"?