There’s been much grumbling in the shires about Radio 3’s 12-day Mozart marathon.
There’s been much grumbling in the shires about Radio 3’s 12-day Mozart marathon. Why burden us with so much baroque? Where do you go if you can’t abide all those notes? But actually there’s something wonderfully cleansing about knowing that what you’re going to hear at any time of day or night on the music station is bound to have a K number attached to it. It’s like going on a diet after too many mince pies and brandy butter.
Hearing nothing but Mozart is certainly a test of the composer’s mettle, but as the Bach and Beethoven seasons have already proved it’s truly astonishing how much can be gained from listening to just one musical voice, a single harmonic vision, for a few days. The mind stops racing ahead, or flitting constantly from one thing to another at random, perplexed by too much choice. A degree of calm becomes possible, of clear and coherent thought. Radio 3 has become an aural refreshment zone, perfect for the New Year, when we are all in need of a quick and easy cure for the palate jaded by too much variety, too many options, too little time for reflection.
Being Radio 3, of course, it’s not just been a question of the musical selection. Every programme, every presenter, has also given us insights into how Mozart developed and refined his genius, so that we haven’t just heard the music but have been given as well clues as to why it still has such power to move us. Sarah Walker’s guest performers on Classical Collection talked about what Mozart means to them. Roy Goodman, for instance, former director of the Hanover Band, one of the first orchestras to go back to period instruments, told us about the difficulty of recreating the tempi that Mozart envisioned for his compositions. Our tastes, and aural receptivity, have changed so much since the late 18th century that at first what the Hanover Band was doing was not at all popular.
But Goodman’s determination to give performances that are as close as possible to the original requirements of the music have led us to understand Mozart as a radical, an innovator who gave us a totally new sound world. Mozart’s love of the viola’s particular timbre led him to ask for the instrument to be tuned a semitone higher so that it could be heard above and through the rest of the orchestra. We should think of him as the Clapton or Hendrix of the 1770s, shockingly behaved but shockingly creative.
That scream was straight out of Hammer Horror. Nigel’s horrifying plunge from the roof of Lower Loxley on Sunday night was gruesome for all the wrong reasons. It was badly done, Vanessa. Badly done.
A double-length episode, instead of the usual 13 and a half minutes, upset the natural rhythm and balance of the soap. To go through two terrifying dramas in just half an hour was so over-the-top that it became annoying, rather than gripping. And to lose Nigel is a disaster. His quirky, off-the-wall character is simply irreplaceable. David and Tony could each take over the other’s role in the Ambridge community. Jazzer has become so irritatingly stereotyped as the rough diamond with no redeeming qualities he would not be much missed. Harry’s charms are a complete mystery. Only Joe Grundy would be an equal loss. Or perhaps Jim Lloyd (Alistair’s dad for the uninitiated), played with such brilliant verve by John Rowe.
Helen’s emergency rush to hospital was a bit alarming but her crisis was all over within 13 minutes so that as soon as we moved on to Lower Loxley I knew that Nigel was doomed and all tension was spent. (Although I have to confess I did have to keep running out of the room, not wanting to hear the worst.) Would Nigel, idiot that he always was, really have gone up on to the roof on a dark and windy and frosty night? Would David, whose dull, cautious character led Ruth to that awful dalliance a few years ago, have insisted that he do so?
What’s worse are the repercussions that Vanessa Whitburn, editor of the ‘contemporary drama in a rural setting’, threatens over the next few months. David will never be reconciled with his sister Elizabeth, also Nigel’s wife. Nor will he ever be able to forgive himself. How depressing to have ahead of us years of a family feud that will outdo even the Brothers Mitchell (or for that matter Ed and Will Grundy).
The most touching moment of all was on the Today programme a couple of mornings later when Graham Seed, the actor who was Nigel for more than 30 years, said with his inimitable bright and cheery but always empathetic voice, ‘Oh, Lizzie, I’ll miss you.’ Only then did I feel a tear trickling down my face.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated January 8, 2011Tags: Arts review, BBC, Mozart, Radio 3