Breaking Free: Martin Luther’s Revolution
30 April-7 May 2017 on BBC Radio 3

  • Echoing Martin Luther’s famous ’95 Theses’, musical works spanning 500 years will be broadcast to mark the Reformation’s 500th anniversary, as part of a week-long season on BBC Radio 3
  • The season, ‘Martin Luther’s Revolution’, is the latest of Radio 3’s ‘Breaking Free’ moments for 2017, charting times of great cultural, religious and social turbulence
  • A five-part Essay series will explore Luther’s life and contemporaries, with subjects such as Luther’s ex-nun wife Katharina von Bora
  • The Reverend Lucy Winkett investigates the seismic musical changes brought about by Luther in a Radio 3 Sunday Feature
  • Specially commissioned short ‘Reformation bytes’ with contributors including Stephen Hough and A. N. Wilson, and subjects ranging from the Reformation as a ‘Brexit moment’, to the parallels between the printing press and Twitter

500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenburg Castle Church in Germany, sparking the Protestant Reformation: a dramatic religious, social and cultural revolution with debates about the relationship between ordinary people and the church at its centre. The consequences of this huge upheaval still resonate today.

As part of Radio 3’s aim to connect audiences with remarkable music and culture, the station is broadcasting a week-long mini season, ‘Martin Luther’s Revolution’, delving into the historical, social and cultural impact of the Reformation on our lives today, from the advent of propaganda and mass media, to the beginnings of ‘people power’ and the cult of the individual.

Throughout the week, Radio 3 will broadcast 95 pieces of music from the last 500 years which might never have been written were it not for the Reformation. The list spans Protestantism, Catholicism and secularism, and features music ranging from works by Martin Luther himself, Hubert Parry’s choral anthem ‘I was Glad’ and African American composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s ‘24 Negro Melodies’, to the overture from Wagner’s opera Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige, Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s modern-day setting of the Nunc Dimitis, and James MacMillan’s BBC Television commission ‘Seven Last Words from the Cross’.

Also in the season, the five-part Essay series ‘Luther and the Reformation Gang’ explores Luther and his revolutionary contemporaries, featuring his formidable wife Katharina von Bora, a one-time nun who managed to escape her convent and join Luther’s rebels.

The Reverend Lucy Winkett, a trained singer and Bach enthusiast, travels around Germany to uncover Luther’s musical background and trace the origins of congregational singing, for ‘A Square Dance in Heaven’, a Sunday Feature programme examining the Reformation from a musical perspective.

A series of five short, specially commissioned Reformation Bytes embedded in regular Radio 3 programmes will offer personal reflections from a variety of contributors on the contemporary resonances of the Reformation. Pianist, composer and Roman Catholic convert Stephen Hough muses on Protestant individualism’s impact on the personal voice of a musician or composer. Writer A. N. Wilson compares the English Reformation to an unforeseen ‘Brexit moment’. Other contributions include an examination of the parallels between Martin Luther’s use of the printing press and today’s Twitter frenzies, and a look at the appeal of Lutheranism in modern-day America.

Elsewhere in the schedule, many regular Radio 3 programmes will be broadcasting special Reformation-themed editions. Cambridge Professor of the History of Christianity Eamon Duffy joins Michael Berkeley on Private Passions, and Medieval historian Ian Mortimer is a guest on Essential Classics for the week. Composer of the Week is Michael Praetorius, a key figure in Reformation music. Radio 3 In Concert will be broadcast from St John’s Smith Square, with a special concert by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, and Clare Baroque ensemble.

This Reformation focus is the second part of Radio 3’s year of ‘Breaking Free’ moments, examining periods of radical, revolutionary upheaval throughout history from a cultural perspective. The overarching theme for 2017 began in January with a look at the Second Viennese School, and will culminate in Autumn with the Russian Revolution.

The 2017 BBC Proms (14 July - 9 September) also marks the anniversary of the Reformation this year with a series of concerts throughout the season dedicated to the music that stemmed from this period of radical religious and political transformation. A ‘Reformation Day’ on Sunday 20 August features performances curated by John Butt, including a complete performance of J.S. Bach’s St John Passion which will offer the audience the opportunity to join in selected chorales. Elsewhere, Sir John Eliot Gardiner leads the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists in a Late Night concert of Lutheran Cantatas by J.S. Bach (2 August) and conductor John Storgårds and the BBC Philharmonic perform Hindemith’s symphony Mathis der Maler, stemming from his opera of the same name, which takes place against the backdrop of the Protestant Reformation (10 August).


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