*** DEBUG END ***

TV review: Being Beethoven, and The Hidden Wilds of the Motorway

17 July 2020


In The Hidden Wilds of the Mo­­torway (BBC4, Sunday of last week), Helen Macdonald discovered that the verges around junctions are far more species-rich than the idyllic farmland that they cut through

In The Hidden Wilds of the Mo­­torway (BBC4, Sunday of last week), Helen Macdonald discovered that the verges around junctio...

STILL the most important single art­ist in our cultural heritage, the one who most closely defines and in­­spires our modern sense of indi­vid­ual personality, the primacy of emotion, the acknowledgement of suffer­ing and struggle, and the long­ing for glorious, joyful resolution — the convictions about the subject of Being Beethoven (BBC4, Monday of last week) which I have long held were wonderfully reinforced by this pro­gramme.

This was the first of three, cele­brating the 250th anniversary of his birth. As befits its subject, this is a serious endeavour, setting the artist in his social, political, and cultural con­text. Musicologists, psycholo­gists, and performers analyse the roots of Beethoven’s genius, and are happy to present contrasting, even strongly opposed, interpretations.

It is a strongly psychological ac­­count, giving full weight to his unhappy childhood: beloved mother, dying young; prodigal musical skills apparent in early childhood and forced into development by alco­holic father; his subsequent am­­bival­ence towards all authority fig­­­ures. He eagerly embraced the revolution­ary fervour of the age, his music stretching, more than any others, the boundaries of sensation, excitement, and dissonance — and yet he revered the counterpoint of Bach.

He longed for a redemptive hero who would achieve a new world of equality and justice; but every can­did­ate was a bitter disappoint­ment. He longed for affection and love, and yet fixed his attentions on unat­tain­able and un­­­suitable women.

Fortunately for us, all these ambi­val­ences and reverses were worked through in the most won­derful mu­sic: music of struggle and be­­coming, its joy and glory reached through a hard journey. In Beethoven, as in the best religion, we lose ourselves so that we may truly find and know ourselves.

Where, by contrast, might you hope to find a place that in­­­spires silent contemplation, with monu­­mental architecture rippled with reflections of sunlight on still waters? Not, I suspect, at the point where the Wey Navigation canal and the main western railway lines are traversed by the M25 thundering overhead. Yet the naturalist Helen Macdonald persuaded us that it was so.

The Hidden Wilds of the Mo­­torway (BBC4, Sunday of last week) contained many such paradoxes. Surely, the M25 is the greatest single destruction of wildlife? Not so: per­haps the contrary is true. The verges around junctions are, thanks to policies of planting and let-alone, far more species-rich than the idyllic farmland that they cut through.

The supposedly ancient beauties of the English countryside are them­selves a human creation through mil­­lennia of destruction, manage­ment, and control. Already, the lim­inal spaces of this latest, colossal in­­ter­vention are encouraging new nat­ural variations and colonisations.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available


Inspiration: The Influences That Have Shaped My Life

September - November 2024

St Martin in the Fields Autumn Lecture Series 2024

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


Visit our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)