Frances Fyfield

Tales from the Stave

Tales from the Stave

The extraordinary stories behind classical musical manuscripts


Frances Fyfield and Clemency Burton-Hill explore the tales and tribulations behind the scores of well-known pieces of music

'Endlessly fascinating' New Statesman

Crime writer Frances Fyfield and classical music broadcaster Clemency Burton-Hill pore over the hand-written scores of great composers to decipher the hidden tales of creativity locked within. Behind the hieroglyphics, scribbles and corrections on these priceless pages are clues that, when forensically examined by an expert eye, reveal the extraordinary craft, skill and inventiveness of geniuses such as Beethoven, Handel, Elgar, Stravinsky, Schubert, Puccini, Rachmaninov and Chopin.

Accompanied by a team of musical sleuths, including world-leading performers, conductors, writers and graphologists, Frances and Clemency travel the UK, Europe and America to track down these rare and treasured documents. Among their discoveries are the manuscripts for famous songs like 'On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring', and some of the best-loved operas, operettas and musicals of all time including Madame Butterfly, Porgy and Bess, and The Pirates of Penzance.

They scour the fragile pages of Bach's B-Minor Mass, so thick with music that the ink has burned through the paper; the ballet score for Aaron Copland's 'Appalachian Spring', revealing the changes made to please guest dancer Rudolf Nureyev; and a long-lost flute concerto by Vivaldi, rediscovered after being buried in an Edinburgh archive for 250 years. Through detailed study of these, and many other, manuscripts, they reveal the answers to questions such as, how did Debussy attempt to capture the sea? What famous lines were adapted for their first singers? Why was one of Mozart's boldest lines crossed out? And did the shooting of a German diplomat inspire Tippett's A Child of Our Time?

Inspired, insightful and often surprising, this is an unparalleled look at the astonishing secret history of musical invention - ink blots, doodles, coffee stains and all.

Copyright © 2021 BBC Studios Distribution Ltd. (P) 2021 BBC Studios Distribution Ltd
First broadcast on BBC Radio 4, May 2004 - August 2020

Presented by Frances Fyfield, Clemency Burton-Hill
Christine Andreas and Ted Sperling (Series 19, Episode 3)
Loras Schissel (Series 19, Episode 4)
Produced by Tom Alban, Simon Elmes, Mohini Patel

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