Sacred Music

Bach & The Lutheran Legacy                                                                                                 59min

In the fourth and final episode Simon’s travels bring him to Germany where Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation led to a musical revolution and ultimately to the glorious works of Johann Sebastian Bach.


Luther, a Catholic monk who was also a composer, had a profound effect on the development of sacred music. He re-defined the role of congregational singing and the use of the organ in services. Crucially he also developed the hugely important tradition of singing in the vernacular which would characterise protestant worship for the next 500 years.


Martin Luther’s reforms – and the century and a half of music that followed – shaped the world of JS Bach. Although today he is considered by many to be one of the greatest composers in history, in reality Bach spent most of his life working for the church and unknown to anyone outside of a small part of Germany.


Simon’s journey includes Eisenach, in Eastern Germany, where Bach was born and the extraordinary space of the Thomaskirke in Leipzig where the composer spent much of his career. Here he discovers how Johann Sebastian Bach was in many ways a one man music factory, who for many years produced for the church work of the very highest quality, week after week after week. Bach wrote over a thousand pieces of music, and nearly two thirds of them he produced for the Lutheran Church.


Throughout the programme, in the period setting of St George’s Lutheran Church in East London, conductor Harry Christophers leads singers from ‘The Sixteen’ and a small group of baroque instrumentalists through some of the key repertoire – including: ‘Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring’, one of Bach’s most celebrated religious works, which is based on a Lutheran hymn tune. Russell Beale travels to Germany to explore how Martin Luther, the monk who started the Protestant Reformation,  influenced Bach’s music.



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Sacred Music

Palestrina & The Popes                                                                                                          59min

In the second episode Simon travels to Rome to investigate how the music of the Vatican powered the Renaissance.

For the Catholic Church music was an important symbol of its power but at the start of the sixteenth century the sacred music available for its liturgy and worship was essentially that of the Middle Ages. In Rome Simon discovers the life and work of the man who transformed medieval polyphony into something that could match the expectations of his employers, the powerful Renaissance popes: Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.

Simon follows Palestrina’s journey from the sleepy market town where he was born to his introduction as a 12 year old to the choir of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. He discovers the personality behind the composer: how Palestrina lost his job with the Sistine Chapel choir when Pope Paul the Fourth declared that all its members should be celibate then went on to write a Latin mass for his wedding based on an erotic section of the Bible, the Song of Songs.

He investigates one of Palestrina’s key influences: the composer Josquin des Prez who developed his own interpretation of the polyphonic style by combining ideas from his Flemish background together with the new techniques he was hearing in Italy.

Visiting the key locations in Rome he reveals that Palestrina lived through the reign of thirteen popes, witnessing at first hand the dramatic impact of the counter-reformation which forced the Catholic Church to re-evaluate the role of sacred music. He concludes that Palestrina responded in the way of great composers - by writing some of the most beautiful music ever written, music that transcended the turbulence of his age.

In St Peter’s Italian Church in London, built in the style of the classic Italian basilica, Harry Christophers and members of ‘The Sixteen’ perform some of the key repertoire - including Palestrina’s “Missa Papae Marcelli” considered to be the purest and most beautiful example of Renaissance sacred music.



TX BBC4


Produced/Directed & Filmed