Soul Music Radio 4

Soul Music is the quintessential example of what commissioners often refer to as a “recurring strand.” Focusing on one song or piece and exploring its impact, its carefully constructed sequence of stories (often including those outside Great Britain) underscore how classical music evokes feelings in all of us that resonate deeply.

Procol Harum

Procol Harum was one of the most influential accidental bands that emerged during the late 60s, emerging on the scene with their debut single, A Whiter Shade of Pale in spring 1967 – it quickly became an international smash hit and set the standard for progressive rock as well as forging links between progressive rock, heavy metal and glam music genres.

The song was co-written by vocalist Gary Brooker and lyricist Keith Reid for their band, with distinctive music featuring Hammond organ, piano and blues guitar. Led by Matthew Fisher on Hammond M-102 organ and Ray Royer on guitar with bassist David Knights and session drummer Bill Eyden supporting them, recording was done in two takes without overdubbing.

Procol Harum quickly rose to fame following the release of A Whiter Shade of Pale; however, they never reached their former status; their songs often contained unnecessary pomp that failed to engage their listeners.

In 1995, Rick Wakeman and the band performed as guests of Fairport Convention at Cropredy music festival in Derbyshire. Three years later they played an open air concert with New London Sinfonia in Guildford. Touring and recording live albums followed, culminating with recording live album at Teatro di San Carlo in Naples with BBC Concert Orchestra and Crouch End Festival Chorus; that year also seeing concerts played across Germany, Norway and Finland while Rick Wakeman’s guitarist Dave Colquhoun filled in for Geoff Dunn (whom Rick Wakeman himself was sick).

The following year, they embarked on an orchestra tour and then played several concerts in Italy. On 17 July Brooker fell off a pile of road-side logs in Finland and broke his ribs. Although many songs remained performed as instrumentals or were sung by other band members during his absence. He passed away shortly thereafter, leading the band to disband shortly afterwards with hits such as Blink of an Eye and A Hole in the Socks being one of their major successes.

Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell’s vast oeuvre of songs about love, loss, disillusionment and spiritual renewal remains an indelible legacy in contemporary music. Her style draws upon folk, pop, rock, classical and jazz traditions in creating her uniquely poetic form of songwriting which transcends gender and genre boundaries. Numerous musicians from Bob Dylan to Brandi Carlile cite Joni Mitchell as an influence; according to David Crosby she may even be “arguably the greatest singer-songwriter of our time”.

Mitchell burst onto the US music scene in 1967 with her simple part down the middle of her long blonde hair and loose, unfitted dresses that epitomized folk’s anti-bourgeois aesthetics. Her birdlike soprano voice, along with guitar, dulcimer, piano instruments created an atmosphere of unbridled simplicity; while her ballads of kings and queens, pirates, castles, magic conjured imaginary times and places where heroic individuals could rise above commercial society’s trappings.

Blue was Mitchell’s attempt at transcending traditional folk music boundaries and crafting an album that could both sound modern and timeless. By adopting jazz’s open-ended melodic forms and long harmonic structures into her composition process, her approach changed completely: she would rely on inspiration rather than trying to compose, working tirelessly until each detail of her recording sessions was perfected.

On her subsequent albums Hejira and Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, Mitchell continued her unconventional musical approach by defying genre conventions. On Mingus–her collaboration with jazz bassist Charles Mingus–she ventured even deeper into jazz territory and Black history – an album widely criticized at its time but now widely recognized as one of Mitchell’s finest artistic achievements.

Mitchell is committed to honesty as the foundation of her work, which allows her to transcend traditional definitions of rock and folk (naive, traditional and unscrupulous panderer) into an arena in which socially conscious artists are acknowledged as authorities in their own rights – making Mitchell’s music both relevant and inspiring for today.

Fairytale of New York

Fairytale of New York, one of Britain’s most beloved Christmas songs, is beloved by many – yet not everyone understands its backstory or where its inspiration came from.

Origins of “This Christmas Song” remain unclear. Shane MacGowan has claimed that its composition resulted from a bet with producer Elvis Costello who predicted that they could not come up with an original holiday tune.

Jem Finer, another band member and banjo player, provided the melody while MacGowan wrote lyrics for a Christmas tale featuring an intoxicated gambler and an under-privileged barmaid. The final version of this song blended old Irish folk punk with orchestrations consisting of flutes, accordions and tin whistles – truly creating something unforgettable!

Kirsty MacColl delivered a stunning vocal performance, making this Christmas single an instant classic. However, its lyrics have caused controversy due to its use of language – including when Kirsty refers to women as f***** in certain scenes – though MacGowan defends this choice of language as simply part of her character’s dialogue.

Soul music became immensely influential on other styles of music. Funk, popularized in the 1970s by bands such as James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone and Curtis Mayfield evolved out of soul music while rock musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Pink Floyd all included elements of soul into their songs. Furthermore, soul music spread internationally to Africa and Europe, becoming famous through artists like Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin becoming globally acclaimed performers.

Due to its profound impact, “soul” music has come to define an overall sound and feel of music. Listeners know it from its signature groove, rhythm and blues melodies and deep voiced singing. Soul music experienced a resurgence during the mid to late 1990s with the creation of subgenre “neo-soul”, which integrated modern production elements while taking cues from hip hop music as well as other contemporary genres.

The Four Last Songs

Richard Strauss composed the Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs), also known as Vier letzte Lieder in his eighties as he came to terms with mortality. Though they address mortality head on, these songs do not express a sense of grief but instead show acceptance and completion in life’s final act. These pieces, set to poems written by Joseph Eichendorff and Hermann Hesse respectively, serve as reflections on life from youth through adulthood to old age and death.

These compositions by Strauss are both bewitchingly sensuous and heartrendingly nostalgic – an effect only possible with musical alchemy! Their sophisticated orchestration and subtle harmonies, combined with soprano voices that reach heavenward, create powerful emotional experiences for listeners. Their full sound complements those from horns and oboes, clarinets and bass clarinets, bassoons and tuba to produce an expansive sense of space.

Kirsten Flagstad and the Philharmonia Orchestra under Wilhelm Furtwangler gave the premiere performance of Strauss’ Four Last Songs in May 1950. On his deathbed note, Strauss mentioned Flagstad as his ideal singer; many sopranos since have given performances, yet none can match her lush voice and exquisite diction. One outstanding recording is Jesye Norman’s 1982 recording.

Many choreographers have set dance to Strauss’ music. Most renowned is Maurice Bejart’s 1970 production, now considered an artistic classic. Most recently, English National Ballet’s David Dawson has revised Bejart’s original production into Four Last Songs which will premiere at Sadler’s Wells from 21-30 September 2023.

Soul music’s history is fascinating, from its beginnings in African-American spiritual music through to commercialization of gospel and Motown and beyond. This program will feature many influential artists from within this genre while discussing their impact on secular styles of music.