Howard's Great Dates

Another Channel 4 Howard Goodall series, another piece of titular wordplay.

20 September, 2002

Howard Goodall - composer of TV themes ranging from Mr Bean and Blackadder to Two Point Four Children and, of course, Red Dwarf - returned to Channel 4 last week with a new four-part series, Howard Goodall's Great Dates. (Sundays, 8pm.)

Howard and the Flibbmeister

Howard recently explained to the concept behind the show. "[The idea is] that great musical works are the product of their time and place as much as they are some creative genius feeling 'in the mood'; that extraordinary moments in history are reflected in powerfully relevant pieces of music. The series is a sort of 'Rock & Roll Years' for classical music, where all the other things that are going on around a particular composer are shown to have a direct effect on his/her work."

"It may seem obvious, but on the whole music has not been taught or understood in this way before. If Mozart had lived in Fiji, for example, with goldfish shoals nibbling at his toes, he'd still have been a great composer but he wouldn't have written 'The Magic Flute' or his Requiem (the subject of our third programme)." Interesting stuff - and we very much appreciate the Dwarf reference!

The four shows are titled 1874, 1564, 1791 and 1937. "I wanted to space them out so that along the way I could do my usual thing of explaining different periods and styles of music, so there's one each in the 16th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Once I had chosen the composers, it was then a case of finding a pivotal moments in their lives when they came out with a big piece in a big year."

But are there any years Howard was unable to fit in? "Yes, I would have done one in the early 18th century - Baroque period; Vivaldi probably - to add to the others but I didn't have enough time to make five programmes what with all my composing as well. I wanted to do Sergeant Pepper (1968), and West Side Story (1957) but it was too costly to get worldwide clearances on the material."

And does he still get nervous when presenting brings him out from behind his instruments? "I still loathe doing live presenting and frankly can't really do it without being paralysed with nerves. The Channel 4 series are a little easier because it's all on tape and I can mess it up as often as I like... within reason! In fact, though, the thing I've always found hardest is memorising the script - I never use autocue - and with practice I have become a bit better at that over the years."

But don't think all this talking to camera stuff means the end of Howard the composer. He's currently half way through scoring "the 52 Mr Bean animated shorts, a four-part series for ITV about the history of English, written and presented by Melvyn Bragg, a new musical, a commission for the Royal Albert Hall and a work for an American choral society in response to September 11th. I was there, in New York, and saw the whole thing with my own eyes from the street below."

You can link to Howard's website from our Links section.

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