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Howard Goodall’s Story of Music

Sat Jan 26, 9.30-10.30pm, BBC2

Series one, episode one
Most of the music created by human beings will forever elude us. Before the advent of notation and eventually, recording, music travelled orally or not at all. Nevertheless, as Goodall explains at the start of this ambitious six-part essay, it’s always been with us. The Chauvet cave paintings – reckoned to date from around 32,000 BC – appear at the points of greatest resonance within the cave structure. Music as satnav? It seems likely. This is Goodall’s approximate starting point, but others were possible – it’s that sort of sprawling, unruly subject. Goodall’s strong on the technical aspects of musicology – he explains the development and significance of harmonies, chords and triads and puts them engagingly in context. However, given the breadth and depth of his aims, one wonders if this series might have benefited from a touch more subjectivity. When Goodall applies ancient notation techniques to a Bruno Mars song, he aims for inclusivity but only manages bathos. Mark Cousins’s ‘The Story of Film’ is a recent example of a series whose resonance partly stemmed from the very personal expression of its author’s tastes. Still, minor quibble aside, this is shaping up to be a noble attempt at a very big job.