Skip to content

OU on the BBC: Symphony

Updated Thursday 26th February 2015

Explore the secrets of the symphony, the highest form of expression of Western classical music

Simon Russell Beale presenting Symphony Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC Simon Russell Beale, presenter of Symphony

Symphony is a four-part series which explores the most exalted and influential idea in Western Classical music and, for the first time, demonstrated the surprising way in which it has shaped us and our modern world. 

Go deeper into the music with OpenLearn

Take it further with The Open University

Episode Guide

1. Genesis and genuis

The first episode begins amidst the turmoil of the French Revolution with the arrival in England of Joseph Haydn, dubbed the 'Father of the Symphony'. It continues with Mozart, the genius who wrote his first symphony at the age of eight, and Beethoven, the revolutionary who created the idea of the artist as hero and whose Eroica Symphony changed music for ever.

2. Beethoven and beyond

Simon Russell Beale continues his journey into the world of the symphony with the story of the revolutionary later symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven and their phenomenal impact. We also meet Franz Schubert, whose two greatest symphonies were only discovered after his tragic early death, the obsessive French Romantic Hector Berlioz and the flamboyant pianist-turned-composer Franz Liszt.

3. New nations and new worlds

Simon Russell Beale continues his history of the symphony by taking a musical journey through the rise of nationalism in Europe into the New World. He discovers how nationalist voices such as Tchaikovsky, Dvorak and Sibelius brought the symphony to wider audiences and visits Dvorak's summer house as he left it at his death in 1904, a remarkable insight into the personal life of the great composer.

Simon follows the development of the symphony outside Europe and explores how growing urbanisation led to the construction and growing popularity of some of the world's greatest concert halls, visiting the Musikverein in Vienna, the Philharmonic Hall in St Petersburg and Carnegie Hall in New York.

4. Revolution and rebirth

Simon Russell Beale's journey takes him into the 20th century, a time when the certainties of empire were falling away, war was looming and the world was changing faster than ever before.

Simon investigates the extraordinary symphonic world of Shostakovich, the star composer of the new Soviet Union, as well as the work of Ives and Copland who were both, in their different ways, creating a new American sound. He discovers how the development of the gramophone and broadcasting meant that more people could hear their music than ever before and how it became possible to immortalise the symphony in sound.

To find out more about the series, and to watch online where available, please visit bbc.co.uk.

Take it further

Got a passion for music? Find out about studying at The Open University.

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

Cultures Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission free course icon Level 2 icon

Languages 

Cultures

In this free course, Cultures, you will address the question of traditional music and music from the francophone world, and you will examine the place they occupy in the world of artistic creation. The course is divided into three sections: 'Is traditional music, current music?', 'The musical heritage of Normandy' and 'Music of the francophone world'.

Free course
5 hrs
Beethoven: The Expert View Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: Public domain article icon

History & The Arts 

Beethoven: The Expert View

Which passions drove one of the truly great composers, Ludwig van Beethoven?

Article
The Great Fall: Berlin’s ‘Freedom’ concert Creative commons image Icon Allan Warren under CC BY-SA 3.0) license under Creative-Commons license article icon

History & The Arts 

The Great Fall: Berlin’s ‘Freedom’ concert

How did the Berlin 'Freedom' concert come about after the Fall of the Berlin Wall, and what significance has music played in Germany's past?

Article
The Rest is Noise: Post-War World Creative commons image Icon under Creative-Commons license article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

The Rest is Noise: Post-War World

5/6 October: A new generation. Innovation. Electronics. The Rest Is Noise looks at radical new music in the aftermath of war.

Article
The Rest Is Noise: America Creative commons image Icon Work found at http://en.wikipedia.org / CC BY-SA 3.0 under Creative-Commons license article icon

History & The Arts 

The Rest Is Noise: America

23/24 Mar: A new world discovers its voice. The Rest Is Noise looks at the emergence of America.

Article
The Sound and the Fury: Wrecking Ball Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

The Sound and the Fury: Wrecking Ball

The first in a new music series: How the early 20th century saw a fragmented, abstract, discordant sound come to the fore.

Article
OU on the BBC: Sacred Music - About the series Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

OU on the BBC: Sacred Music - About the series

Simon Russell Beale takes a tour of globe tracing the origins of music designed to praise glory.

Article
Yesterday’s genre, or the music of the future? Creative commons image Icon Work found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Philip_Glass_018.jpg / CC BY-SA 3.0 under Creative-Commons license article icon

History & The Arts 

Yesterday’s genre, or the music of the future?

Ben Winters ponders the state of the Symphony since the Second World War.

Article
What is a symphony, anyway? Creative commons image Icon Madera de músico / Jorge Franganillo / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ under Creative-Commons license article icon

History & The Arts 

What is a symphony, anyway?

Robert Samuels wonders what it is that makes 200-year-old symphonies worth listening to today

Article