Damian Thompson

Brahms’s benders

‘Brahms and Liszt’ is a lovely bit of rhyming slang, but it doesn’t have the ring of authenticity. Can you really imagine cockney barrow boys whistling tunes from the Tragic Overture and the Transcendental Études? Also, the Oxford English Dictionary reckons it only dates back to the 1930s. It always made me snigger, though, because

Arts feature

O come, let us adore him

On 27 July 1613 a man prostrated himself in the church of San Pedro Mártir in Toledo, having first made a solemn declaration: ‘I, Juan Bautista Maíno, make profession and promised obedience…’ Thus he became a Dominican friar. At the time, Maíno was halfway through painting ten canvases for the high altar of this very

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All about my father

My father had many faces. There was much that made up the man. If you think you ‘know’ John R. Cash, think again. There are many layers, so much beneath the surface. First, I knew him to be fun. Within the first six years of my life, if asked what Dad was to me I

The descent of man

Why do humans want to build robots? It seems, on the face of it, to be a suicidal endeavour, destroying jobs and, ultimately, rendering our species redundant as more intelligent and effective beings take over. Lacking, as we now do, an agreed metaphysical justification for human specialness — for example, the soul — it must

Making America crass again

Elsie de Wolfe was the pioneer interior designer whose motto was ‘plenty of optimism and white paint’. She banished brown Victoriana from America. And her work on Henry Clay Frick’s private apartments introduced new American money to old French furniture. If only she were with us today. For his first television interview as president-elect, Donald

Lessons from the front

Christmas, for many people, begins at exactly 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve. It’s the moment when everything stops, frantic present-wrapping, mince-pie making and tree-decorating ceases and calm briefly takes hold. The reason? A single boy treble whose voice, clear and fragile as glass, pierces through the chaos with those familiar words: ‘Once in Royal David’s


Angst and cant

What if? is the engine of every great story. What if the toys came to life when their owner left the room? What if the prince’s uncle killed the king, seduced the queen, and stole the crown? Lucy Kirkwood asks: what if an elderly atomic physicist volunteered to take charge of the team decommissioning a


Gardeners’ world

For the past few weeks I have been working my way through Decca’s gigantic set of every note Mozart wrote and quite a few that he probably didn’t — 220 CDs in a monumental hernia-inducing box. Chronological listening is not recommended. Mozart was technically a phenomenon, of course, but he didn’t reach maturity of expression,


Cosy catastrophe

When I was a child in the 1970s, the two big excitements of the run-up to Christmas were first the chocolate Advent calendar which, somehow, I managed to smuggle past the prison-guard inspection at my Colditz-like prep school; and second, browsing the Radio Times to see what televisual delights the Christmas hols had in store.


Question time | 8 December 2016

If you were to see one film about American whistle-blower Edward Snowden — there is no law saying you have to, but if you were — then the film you want is probably Laura Poitras’s 2014 documentary Citizenfour rather than this biopic from Oliver Stone. It’s being sold as a ‘pulse-pounding thriller’ but oh, if


Northern exposure | 8 December 2016

In this season of watching and waiting as we approach Christmas and year’s end, radio has a precious role. At the switch of a button you can be taken straightaway into another kind of life, a different world, where present realities are not relevant or can at least be made to feel less imperative. While