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‘There are a million ways of telling the story of music: this is mine,’ says ‘Blackadder’ composer Goodall, before going off on what feels like 100 different tangents relating to the sounds of 1750-1850. Still, 100 is less than a million, and Goodall should be applauded for making as much sense as he does of the era of classical giants including Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. He does so partly through a huge amount of simplification, obvious from his comically sweeping statements about those composers: Mozart and portraitists of the time ‘wanted to ennoble humanity – and they succeeded.’ Simple as that, eh?
His commitment to speaking in colloquial terms and conscientious illustration of his points with snippets of performance sometimes prove genuinely illuminating – the comparison he draws between Schubert and Adele, for example. But often those same digressions break up an already confusing train of thought: one in which Goodall dwells laboriously on the obvious, and then skips straight past things that, one suspects, are too arduous to explain.