With the passing of Sir Harrison Birtwistle last month we are witness to a changing of the guard in new classical music. For 70-odd years contemporary music in the West was dominated by a highly exclusive atonal mode of thought that produced works that were hostile to the wider music-loving public and written for a small but highly subsidised cultural circle.
If it was spontaneous when it began, the atonal idiom – meaning a highly dissonant style – quickly ossified into a kind of luxury backwater of music, so obscure it couldn’t even be questioned, yet endlessly backed by public subsidy which the public could nevertheless never challenge.
The title of the Donmar’s new effort, Marys Seacole, appears to be a misprint and that makes the reader look twice. Good marketing. The show is a blend of Spike Milligan-esque sketches and indignant speeches about race but it starts as a straightforward historical narrative. Mary Seacole enters in Victorian garb and introduces herself as a woman of half-Scots and half-Caribbean heritage who believes that ethnic differences create hierarchies of competence.
In theory, it should be a perfect match. John Morton – the man behind the brilliantly assured sitcom W1A which so gleefully skewered the BBC – gets to give us the English version of Call My Agent!: the brilliantly assured French lockdown hit which so gleefully skewered the Parisian showbusiness world. In practice, at least judging from the first two episodes, Ten Percent feels surprisingly uncertain of what kind of programme it wants to be.
In The Spectator office’s toilets there are framed front covers of the events that didn’t happen: Corbyn beats Boris; ‘Here’s Hillary’; Jeremy Hunt wins the Tory leadership contest. The British Library has something similar at its Breaking the News exhibition. The difference is that these ones actually made it to the newsstand. It’s enough to make any passing journalist break into a sweat.
‘Titanic sinks, no lives lost’, reported the Westminster Gazette in April 1912; ‘King Louis XVI dodges the guillotine’, we are told in the 1793 issue of the London Packet.
In Rus, which we now call Ukraine, Amleth (Alexander Skarsgard) begins his pursuit of revenge. A sea captain who later aids him is called Volodymyr. But these incidentals have no relevance to the current war, except in one aspect that I want to come on to.
Though the film’s hero is called Amleth, the original of Shakespeare’s Prince Hamlet, you can forget Elsinore. The director Robert Eggers’s world in The Northman is that of the Norse sagas, of corpse-eating ravens, runes, mud, gore, human sacrifice and sudden violence.
Have you ever taken a piece of advice? I’m not asking a rhetorical question. Have you ever once in your life been given a piece of advice that you’ve then acted on? I ask this question a lot at parties, and generally find the answer is: ‘No, not that I can think of.’ It may be that when we take good advice, we begin to imagine we came up with the idea in the first place. It may be that we always just do whatever it is we were always going to do.
Dua Lipa’s second album, Future Nostalgia, was released at the least promising moment possible: 27 March 2020, the day after the first lockdown came into force in the UK. Just as a pandemic swept the world, she was releasing a maximalist pop album that, surely, was designed for the communal experiences no one was having. But something about it connected: Future Nostalgia was a worldwide hit, the first British album released in 2020 to go platinum, the tenth bestselling record in the world that year.