August 26th, 2010

never there

The Normans; The Birth of British Music: Haydn

The third (and last) episode of The Normans focused on their conquests in Italy - something I knew nothing about in advance (tho I had some vague idea that the King of Sicily had an English type name during the crusades). The time period covered was in parallel to the Norman Conquest of England, and took us from the early 11th Century past the time of the First Crusade. Initially some Norman Knights were invited into Southern Italy to act as mercenaries on behalf of the Byzantine Empire (which controlled Southern Italy - Northern Italy was part of the Pope's lands, Sicily part of the Turkish Empire). But they liked what they saw of this fertile land and stayed to act more like bandits - even fighting the Pope's troops at one point when the Byzantines called them in (in very Norman style they roundly beat the Pope's troops, begged the Pope for forgiveness then abducted him & held him captive till he agreed that they could rule Southern Italy, ta very much. I bet they built some abbeys afterwards ;) ). Having gained control of that part of Italy they were then encouraged by the (next) Pope into attacking Sicily as a Holy War - the Pope promised that they could rule Sicily as Kings afterwards. Which was incentive enough for them. Other members of the new King of Sicily's family joined the First Crusade when it started - and in fact it was a Norman knight that ruled in Antioch (breaking the contract with the Byzantine Empire, but he regarded that as incidental) and another was Prince of Galilee once Jerusalem had fallen. The programme didn't side-step or sugar coat the fact that there were atrocities committed under these men's commands (and that the justifiable damage the Crusades did to the relationship between Islam & Christianity is still a factor in modern politics) but Bartlett did point out that in Sicily (as in England & Normandy before) the Norman rulers intermarried with their new subjects and there was a fair degree of tolerance.

The next programme we watched was about Haydn & his influence on British music - third in a four part series called The Birth of British Music, but we'd only recorded this one (not quite sure why). The presenter was Charles Hazlewood, who is a conductor - he was vaguely reminiscent of John Simm (the actor) which was a bit disconcerting. Haydn visited London (and other parts of England) in the 1790s, so the programme covered a bit about what he would've seen & done - like he met William Herschel, who was not just another composer but also an astronomer (who discovered Uranus). There was also a lot of Haydn's music played on period instruments in venues that it would've been performed in during Haydn's life, and demonstration of the cutting edge pianoforte technology of the day (England was ahead of the continent on such things). And interviews with various experts on Haydn. The experts were pretty much all nuts, as was the presenter. It made for a fairly hyperactive & over-excited programme (but in a good way!) ;)