TV This Week Including Cave Paintings, Ceramics and Music

David Starkey’s Music and Monarchy

We watched episodes two and three of David Starkey’s series about music and the English/British monarchy this week. In the second episode he covered the 17th Century and an important theme of this era was the battles between the Puritans and the Royalists – in this context a major one was over the place of music in the church. Church organs, for instance, were a great source of discord between the two camps – with the Puritans firmly on the side of keeping them out of worship. The third episode was mostly about Handel (and I was surprised how much of the music in that one I instantly recognised) – he came to England to write operas, originally, and stayed after the Hanoverians took the throne to write a lot of the ceremonial and public music of the period. Georges I, II and III were fans and he got commissions like the writing of the coronation anthems for George II for this reason. As the role of the monarchy shifted to be more ceremonial & less powerful the music they commissioned stopped being just religious or ceremonial in nature and became entertainment. This episode also covered the development of the national anthem – apparently Britain has the oldest national anthem of any country. Interestingly not imposed from outside, but instead it started as a gesture of support for the monarchy during a troubled time and grew in popularity.

Ceramics: How it Works

The third episode of Mark Miodownik’s materials science series was all about ceramics, how they’re made, what their properties are and how they’re used. I hadn’t realised before watching the programme that glass can be grouped in with pottery. One juxtaposition between this programme and the one about plastics is that ceramics is all “old tech” that we may’ve refined but have known about for millennia. The Romans had enough command of glass making technology to make windows (not just bottles and drinking glasses) – but we’ve developed ways of producing purer and more consistent glass (making things like cheap pint glasses a possibility). And we’ve made closer to perfect glass sheets, which are much stronger than glass made using older technology. For pottery it’s porcelain that’s the developed form – the Chinese got there first, but in the West it took centuries after porcelain was known of to figure out how to make it. And the third material Miodownik discussed was concrete – again the Romans used it extensively, our modern wrinkle was to figure out how to reinforce it to let it carry heavier loads.

This series was really good – Miodownik’s enthusiasm for his subject was infectious, and there was plenty of stuff both historical & modern that I didn’t know in advance 🙂

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

We recorded this film about the Chauvet cave paintings off Film 4, and weren’t quite sure what to expect. It was made by Werner Herzog, and was partly showing us the cave paintings and partly about the cave paintings and the study of them. You could tell it wasn’t a British made programme – not just the accents of all the participants, but also it had a different sensibility to it. I don’t think I could articulate what was different, just that it was. And it had quite an odd epilogue about albino crocodiles which was trying to make some point about how one sees the world, I don’t think I followed what Herzog was doing with that at all. The best bits of the film were the bits where it just showed us the paintings (with suitably atmospheric music), because it’s not somewhere we’ll ever get to go & see – access is controlled and even the people studying it aren’t allowed to stay in the cave for long. The science etc was also interesting, but it’s also an exercise in displaying how little we’ll ever know – we can date them and so on, but we can only speculate about what they meant or why they were made.