Peter Phillips

Loitering with Mozart

Loitering with Mozart

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Evidence that we live in clichéd times is everywhere about us, but I didn’t think it would extend to The Magic Roundabout. The new film, for which several of my colleagues have recently been recording the title music, is being trailed as follows: ‘The Magic Roundabout lies in ruins: the evil ice sorcerer ZeBadDee is on the loose and the fate of the Enchanted Land hangs in the balance. As a frosty mist sweeps across the earth, four unlikely heroes, Brian, Ermintrude, Dylan and Dougal, step forward to challenge the chill...The destiny of the world rests on their shoulders. Only through teamwork, friendship and exceptional bravery will they deliver the Enchanted Land from a frozen fate.’

The Magic Roundabout in ruins? Is everything to be turned into a grotesquely obvious struggle between good and evil, which will always be won by teams of ‘lovable characters’ living out the homey values of the re-elected US President? Soon we shall be told that Brian has ‘gone that extra mile’ to save his companions (or is it the whole world?); and Ermintrude was ‘there for’ Dougal when in extremis. Looking back on The Magic Roundabout as it used to be, with its gentle hippiness and psychedelic colours, I begin to understand just how desperate the makers of these films must have become in recent years, to find established scenarios from the past in which to anchor their nonsense. They daren’t quite make it all up from scratch. Mind you, to be fair, I have no idea what the British did to the French original back in the Sixties.

Tangled in my mind with this is the news, reported in a recent edition of the Economist, that classical music is being used to disperse vagrants from public places. On the face of it, this is very funny. We are told that classical music is so ‘painful to teenage ears’ that it can clear intimidating, beer-swilling crowds of youths in an instant. Staff at Co-op stores, for example, have a remote control that ‘can turn the music on if there’s a situation developing and they need to disperse people’. Tyneside Metro reports similar success, especially if the music is either ‘sung by Pavarotti or written by Mozart’. For your better-educated vandal, atonal music has been found to do the trick: the union bar at Leicester University was emptied in an instant by some computer-generated sounds. And apparently we can expect to hear more of this kind of deterrent on the London Underground, which has taken up the scheme. If you want more Mozart in your life, start loitering.

The irony inherent in this story is breathtaking. I take my hat off to the person who had the power of thought lateral enough to put something which not long ago was held to be as valuable and fragile as a Greek vase to such a use as this. To associate lasting beauty with modern violence, as with The Magic Roundabout, takes a special cast of mind, and clearly these people are in demand. There must be endless scope for them if really nothing is sacred, and in some ways I, too, find their warpedness empowering. I have always thought a certain kind of opera singing produces the ugliest sounds that polite society has ever told itself are admirable, so that I avoid them like the plague when they are presented in an official way. Why not put them to some useful social purpose? Why should one be surprised if the youth of today find the aristocratic world which Mozart’s tunes conjure up repellent?

However, I suspect that the brain behind all this was not an American one. Plundering other nations’ nursery stories for name-recognition characters, like The Magic Roundabout, Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, Little Red Riding Hood and so on, for modernising is one thing; dragging international icons through the mud is another. To do this requires at least a sense of humour, a sense of irony, a willingness to be cynical, something other than obedient worship as decreed by the local guardians of culture. And maybe in the end Mozart and co. are not well served by that worship. His work doesn’t need to be put on a pedestal and belong only to well-educated people. Those youths may yet come to like him.