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Television: Music on a budget

24 March 2010

by Gillean Craig

UNTIL the dawn breaks, and, rather than programmes about religion, we are permitted proper religious TV programmes again (no one could seriously count that egregious ex­posi­tion of Christianity-lite, Songs of Praise), those of us able to receive BBC4 will have to make do with the second series of Sacred Music (Fridays).

Simon Russell Beale is a person­able guide, and knows his stuff. He was a cathedral chorister and choral scholar, and he can sing along with his house choir, Harry Chris­tophers’s The Sixteen, and play a Bach fugue on the organ of Saint-Sulpice, in Paris.

This series offers us compare-and-contrast pairings of composers: last week, it was Fauré and Poulenc. These are not edgy, critical analyses — Mr Russell Beale is too genial for that — but these biographical por­traits introduce us to a gallery of enthusiastic experts, and help us to place well-loved works in their cultural milieu. And the “religion” bit is not just tacked on to the end.

The personal faith of each of the composers is carefully considered, the evidence of the music measured against autograph statements, and the response of the conductor and singers treated with respect. But there is one significant difference from the first series: although great emphasis is placed on the exquisite foreign locations — our guide show­ing us the houses, and es­pecially churches, where this music was conceived — this time round the budget did not stretch to taking along the choir as well. We are denied that particularly significant experience of hearing the works performed, as it were, at home.

“Feminism is my religion” pro­nounced one of the founding mothers of the movement in the initial episode of Women, a new documentary series (BBC4, Mon­days). On this showing, it does not seem to be a particularly nourishing faith. Most contribu­tions had a dying fall about them, the move­ment having fallen off somewhat in the level of satisfaction provided since the adrenalin-filled glory days of the initial revolution (just like the Christian Church, then).

The second programme was equally low-key: a deliberate contrast to the masculine virtues of being punchy and hard-hitting, perhaps? It showed a series of portraits of contemporary British professional families, and explored how their patterns of home/work/childcare have changed since the ’50s and ’60s. In other words, has feminism really altered any­thing?

The subjects ranged from one woman who had given up work to bring up her children, and found it totally blissful and satisfying, to one who had gone back to work as soon as she possibly could. The narrator put each couple on the spot: all the men had an absurdly inflated con­cept of the amount of housework that they actually did (at this point, there was some audience response from my wife).

One woman thought that, al­though the division of respons­ibilities might not have changed for most people, there is a radically new sense that this is now a conscious choice: women can decide whether to work, to have children, to bring them up herself. Men might not share the housework much more than they used to — but at least they feel guilty about it.

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