Prima le parole

‘I consider that music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all,’ wrote Stravinsky in one of his more honest moments, and when it comes to humour the old fox had a point. Strip away words, visuals, parody and extra-musical associations (the flatulent bassoon; the raspberry-blowing trumpet) and Orpheus, unaided, doesn’t

Arts feature

What you see is what you get | 25 April 2019

There’s no avoiding the Britishness of British art. It hits me every time I walk outside and see dappled trees against a silver-grey cloud that looks like it was painted by Thomas Gainsborough, or look in the mirror and feel the same gooseflesh anxiety as I do when I see a portrait by Lucian Freud.

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What next for Notre Dame?

Notre Dame is only important from a Shakespeare’s-birthplace point of view. Architecturally it is a nullity beside the cathedrals of Beauvais and Laon, Albi and Marseille, Rouen and Clermont-Ferrand (a sinister marvel of black tufa). The ashes of the cathedral are now the site of a proxy struggle between some of the greatest fortunes on


Keeping it real | 25 April 2019

It starts at a secretarial college. The stage is occupied by a dignified elderly lady who recalls her pleasure at learning shorthand in the 1920s. She lived in Germany and she took a job at a firm headed by a man named Goldberg. He was Jewish. These unremarkable disclosures are spoken by Brunhilde Pomsel, a


Off the Boyle

‘I spend a lot of time helping teenagers who’ve been sexually abused…’ — beat — ‘…find their way out of my house.’ You’d scarcely imagine, listening to Frankie Boyle now, that this was the kind of joke he was telling on TV as recently as this decade. I wouldn’t believe it myself if I didn’t


Guns, Puccini and sex in the china cupboard

Bel Canto is an adaptation of the Ann Patchett novel first published in 2001, which I remembered as being brilliant and unputdownable, even if I recalled only a few of the details — hostages, an opera singer; that was about it. So I found it on the bookshelf and read it again, which was daft.


The sense of an ending | 25 April 2019

It was never given the choicest slot in the schedule, airing first thing on Sunday morning with a repeat at the end of the day. But in its 24 years Something Understood, guided and often presented by the esteemed foreign correspondent Mark Tully, has gathered an impressive audience. Its blend of poetry, prose and music