We may nurse romantic images of a tragic Beethoven hammering his piano to pieces as deafness immures him, but what is it really like for a composer to find himself losing his hearing?
Michael Berkeley, known to aficionados of Radio 3’s Private Passions as an articulate, empathetic interviewer, is a composer in his own right, as well as being the son of another, Lennox Berkeley, and the godson of Benjamin Britten. Music is his very lifeblood, but two years ago a mundane cold virus triggered what seemed a disastrous loss of hearing.
In the latest IT’S MY STORY: MUSIC AND SILENCE, Berkeley recounts how he has come to terms with his partial deafness and talks to two other, similarly afflicted musicians, opera singer Janine Roebuck and rock critic Nick Coleman. He also describes what he hears in his head and how he has started to enjoy listening to music once again as his brain seems to “fill in the gaps”, while a medical expert offers some optimism by describing the extraordinary links between ears and brain.
Music as universal balm perhaps takes no more fundamental form than the lullabies sung to children the world over, from Rock-a-by Baby to the melismatic croonings of the Far East. The World Service takes a look at this global music form in YOUR WORLD: THE LANGUAGE OF LULLABIES, revealing how lullabies often carry the signature inflections of their mother tongue. These songs are thought to play a vital part in a child’s development, as Colwyn Trevarthen, Emeritus Professor of child psychology and psychobiology at Edinburgh University, and neuropsychologist Sally Blythe explain.
Napoleon, they say, was a napper, and able to sleep like a baby even as battle loomed. When fate finally caught up with him, he was shipped unceremoniously off to St Helena, and in THE ESSAY on Monday, Julia Blackburn, author of The Emperor’s Last Island, recounts how she visited the south Atlantic fastness, overcoming much unhelpful bureaucracy and befriending a lonely giant tortoise in the process.
It’s My Story: Music and Silence - Tuesday, Radio 4, 4pm
Your World: The Language of Lullabies - Tomorrow, BBC World Service, 8:06pm
The Essay: Napoleon and Me - Monday, Radio 3, 10:45pm