DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Music in the Air (2012)

A well-done survey of the presentation of classical music on TV from its inception to the present, with a strong European slant.

Published on August 20, 2012

Music in the Air (2012)

Documentary on Classical Music on TV
Narrator: John Hurt
Director: Reiner E. Moritz
Featuring: Glenn Gould, Herbert von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein, Igor Stravinsky, Arturo Toscanini, Pierre Boulez & others
Studio: RM Creative/Arthaus Musik 101 640 [8/28/12] (Distr. by Naxos)
Video: 16:9 color
Audio: English PCM stereo
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian
All regions
Length: 85 minutes
Rating: *****

This excellent European documentary surveys how television has presented classical music over the years, beginning with the first BBC experimental telecast of Arturo Toscanini in 1936, and continuing to the present-day popularity of the Met and other opera productions being shown in hi-def and hi-res surround in movie theaters thruout the world.

The film doesn’t point it out, but it’s quite obvious that David Sarnoff is trying to sell the all-American “We’re first and best with everything” ploy when he is shown introducing Toscanini on NBC-TV in 1948 and touting that it is the first time ever. Several highlights in the presentation of classical music on TV are excerpted, but about the only American contributions are the Young People’s Concerts by Leonard Bernstein, and The Three Tenors. The film makes it clear that although at the start classical music was an important part of the programming mix both on TV and radio, that certainly isn’t true any longer—especially in the U.S. Important live concert programs such as New Year’s Eve in Vienna and the Bayreuth Festival are seen and heard all over Europe, but of course not in the U.S. We’re like a Third World country when it comes to cultural media offered us in broadcasts. (It’s similar to some SACDs being released thruout the world with the exception of the U.S.—because they don’t sell enough here.)

It’s clear from the short excerpts presented that the documentary has a European slant, but then American TV has given up presenting classical music, except for cable channels like Bravo. It’s only pop music that makes it to TV nowadays. The film does strangely show some quick excerpts from a Pink Floyd video and Thelonious Monk in Paris—not quite sure how that fits in. Director Moritz was the TV director when von Karajan first hired Henri-Georges Clouzot to direct creative films of performances by his Berlin Philharmonic. So there is footage of that, some of it stressing the massive and difficult AV equipment needed at that time and how lighter and more compact video cameras and micing alternatives have made capturing classical music events for video so much simpler and better today.

At least we have a huge repository of DVDs and Blu-rays available now which capture many of the most precious moments in music making visually and aurally. Even older B&W kinescopes of famous conductors such as Munch and Toscanini are now available on DVD. The sales of complete operas on DVDs/Blu-rays have been sufficient for labels to bring out an amazing variety of operas, which are now replacing the sales of complete operas on LPs and CDs.

In the concluding remarks of the film, it is pointed out that there are 550,000 advance sales of tickets to the HDTV presentations of the Met and other operas at movie theaters in Germany alone, where there are 180 theaters offering them, with 1500 more theaters doing it worldwide. No wonder—with the best visuals, including many closeups, excellent hi-res surround sound, interesting intermission features, and a much lower price than any live opera performance, the video opera presentations are fabulous for opera lovers. (Someone at the Met said they had hoped the theater showings would increase audiences everywhere for live opera. They haven’t.)

—John Sunier




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