André Léon Marie Nicolas Rieu is a Dutch violinist, conductor and composer best known for creating the Johann Strauss Orchestra. So says Wikipedia. But I know better. André Rieu is a cunning hypnotist who has lulled my mother into a zombified trance from which I cannot waken her. His televised open-air concerts, which now take up an entire Sky channel, play constantly in her home. The rapt hysteria of the assembled thousands is reflected in my dear mother’s visage and I fear for her, I really do.
The dangers of the genre known as ‘popular classical’ are already well documented. Richard Clayderman, Vanessa-Mae, Lang Lang, the Classic FM chart with its endless Air on a G String…I used to think, ‘If it gives people pleasure, why not?’ But now I’m not so sure.
As well as Strauss waltzes, Rieu plays music from the movies. By this, he means works by Beethoven or Mozart which apparently only came to prominence when used in an averagely good film starring Colin Firth. On the back of Rieu’s CD Magic of the Movies, the concerto you and I thought was called The Emperor is revealed to be a piece called The King’s Speech. At this rate, GCSE music papers will soon ask: ‘Which British actor is best known for his beautiful piano music conducted by a Dutchman? Is it a) Colin Firth, b) Hugh Grant or c) Daniel Craig?’ (Next question: Which airline composed the Flower Duet? Is it a) Qantas, b) British Airways or c) Virgin Atlantic?)
Rieu has friends in high places, including, of course, Hollywood. His audiences, or should I say followers, include such luminaries as Sir Anthony Hopkins. There is no telling what he could achieve with such powerful backing.
Rieu, for his part, complains that his critics are members of a stuffy musical élite. I disagree. I just want my mother back. I long for the days when she didn’t sit in front of the television with a weirdly ecstatic look on her face, swaying to the ‘Blue Danube’ and murmuring ‘Isn’t he wonderful? He lives in a castle, you know.’
What have you done to her, Rieu? For the love of god, tell me! Is there an antidote? She wants to go to one of his concerts. And if it were just a matter of making her happy I would take her. But what happens if we get to Maastricht (it can surely be no coincidence that many of his concerts take place in the birthplace of the EU) and there really is some kind of mass hypnosis going on?
I’ve tried to put my mother off by making up various outrageous lies about Rieu. First of all, I told her I had asked around my contacts in the music industry and discovered that he was actually a pipe-fitter from Teddington (real name Andrew Riley) who had discovered a way to make millions by putting on a long, wavy wig, piping recorded music into stadiums and pretending he was playing the violin.
Then I tried telling her that he was the debauched leader of a dangerous cult. I claimed that after his concerts, he conducts satanic rituals during which violinists in hooded capes play ‘The Laughing Song’ from Die Fledermaus as lambs are sacrificed.
But she wouldn’t have it. I was faced with a choice: either I would never sit on my sofa while my mother was visiting or I would have to sit on my sofa and watch André Rieu on a constant loop on Sky Arts 2.
So I sat down next to her as Rieu waved his arms at his joyously laughing orchestra in front of tens of thousands of adoring fans. For some reason, 100 horses began trotting around the stadium as Rieu conducted a selection of ‘tunes’ including ‘The Triumphal March’ from Aida (finally, Verdi makes it big). I found myself slumping into the sofa. Soon, I felt drowsy and contented. It was not unlike the sensation I get when I’ve taken a good dose of super-strong antihistamine for my eczema. I can still feel the irritation, but I don’t care.
After all, he did have a lovely smile. And the audience did look so very happy. And the ballgowns of the ladies in the orchestra were all the colours of the rainbow. Wasn’t this a nicer world? Before I knew what had happened, my mother and I had been sitting in front of the television swaying from side to side for an entire day.
In the end, the television turned itself off. Whether in disgust or not I cannot tell. The TV has a function whereby if you don’t press a button for a number of hours it assumes there is no one there. In a way, it was right.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 19 January 2013