Music on TV
Friday 21 February 1997
Howard Goodall's Organ Works (Channel 4, Sunday evenings, 7.30pm) has been trying to put a bit of sex appeal into the organ, Goodall flitting all over the world in a frock coat with a velvet collar, cute blond curls and still cuter dimpled smiles - always sideways or over his shoulder. Goodall himself is a clever chap; he knows a lot but puts it over simply without making you feel silly; he drives a car and cracks jokes; and he actually plays the organ rather well, though you don't hear more than rather flashy snippets, including the inevitable Widor Toccata.
Perhaps the most interesting programme in the four-part series was the second, screened on 9 February, because we saw and heard an unspoilt early 18th-century gem in a tiny village near Leipzig, the fabulous Baroque organ in the church of St Baavo in Haarlem, and one of Cavaille-Coll's alluring romantic instruments, in the Paris church of St Sulpice.
Last Sunday's programme traced later organs and ventured beyond churches, to try out the Duke of Marlborough's "Father" Willis instrument at Blenheim Palace; then up to the model industrial village of Saltaire in Yorkshire to see a museum of harmoniums; westwards to Blackpool Tower Ballroom to sample the Wurlitzer as well as to give Goodall a spot of waltzing practice; and, most alarmingly, sending him climbing around the 20,000 pipes of the vast organ in the chapel of Westpoint Military Academy in the United States. The organ there is still growing as families donate pipes in memory of their dead. Apparently, the largest organ of all, with 29,000 pipes, keeps the shoppers happy in a Philadelphia department store.
This coming Sunday's programme will reflect on the future of the pipe organ in the light of the challenge from electronic organs and, needless to say, Goodall is optimistic. He's certainly entertaining, and the director Rupert Edwards seems to have a good eye for atmosphere in some beautiful, and if not beautiful, some intriguing locations. But the opportunistic jokes - not least the series title - and the focus of attention are all on the organ merely as a machine, a phenomenon that attracts, it seems, eccentric millionaires and elderly people. Only the most cursory and superficial mention is made of how the organ serves the music played on it.
How music serves political objectives was the subject of a German documentary, Songs of Seduction, shown as the first of a six-part series, Windows on the World, on BBC 2 on Saturday night. Karl-Heinz Kafer's film showed horrendous scenes of rabble-rousing by the right-wing rock group Skrewdriver, whose fans gyrated clumsily in a kind of brawl to neo-Nazi slogans set to primitive punk rock. Explicitly violent and racist, their songs made those of the Hitler Youth, photographed "artistically" in old propaganda films, seem elevated and even "sacred" by comparison. But the point was made that, whereas the latter were aimed at seducing the entire population, the New Right were aiming strategically at an avant-garde, or disaffected, minority. For the present. A psychoanalyst, originally from the GDR, said that there was little difference between the Nazis' songs and those of the Communists. More contentiously, perhaps, he boldly asserted that motoric music could easily lead to motoric action, including violence. But even more sinister were, on a purely musical level, the apparently harmless, tuneful guitar-accompanied songs of the right-wing cult figure Frank Rennicke, who regaled after-dinner gatherings of comfortable-looking middle-aged people with paeans to the German race. They got the message in no uncertain way, and outfaced the camera with grim and unregenerate expressions on their faces. You felt they could, in the long term, do far more effective evil than the tattooed hooligans in the cellars. At least, some day, one might manipulate the other. Although music, even stamping marches, may be morally neutral, the frightening truth is that, in conjunction with words, it can make us swallow ideas we would normally question and reject. How much nonsense have many of us sung in church or school assemblies? Hence today's edited versions of "All things bright and beautiful", leaving out the verse:
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them, high and lowly,
And order'd their estate.
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