Drama/Documentary

Requiem for Mozart – part 4

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The clue is in the title—”… and the candle went out!”—and this fourth and final episode of Requiem for Mozart, broadcast on 10 December 1991, is irrevocably drawn to Mozart’s impending end. It opens, however, in the spring of 1781, and an atmosphere of levity, the composer buoyed up on the success of, first, Le nozze di Figaro, and then Don Giovanni. Nonetheless, almost immediately these successes are militated against by the combination of an increasing sense of ‘difficulty’ in Mozart’s music (from the perspective of both performer and listener) in addition to his steadily worsening financial state. Of this, the episode recounts in detail Mozart’s well-known begging letters to friend and fellow freemason Michael Puchberg (although the drama almost implies Mozart’s reason for joining the Masonic lodge was that it might aid his financial situation), who replies with kind generosity. Read more

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Requiem for Mozart – part 3

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The third part of Requiem for Mozart, “I didn’t know I was a valet!”, was broadcast on 3 December 1991, just two days before the 200th anniversary of Mozart’s death. The episode’s title speaks of the indignation Mozart felt upon his return to Vienna, where his employer Archbishop Colloredo treated him with the typical disdain given to all his other servants: “The two valets sit at the top of the table, but at least I am placed above the cooks!”. Despite attempts at cooling the situation from father Leopold, it doesn’t take long for the two of them to come to verbal blows, resulting in Mozart attempting to terminate his employment. He ultimately gets his wish, but it’s the Archbishop who executes the coup de grâce, arranging for his steward to send Mozart packing “with a kick on the arse”. A far greater distraction soon presents itself, however; having moved in with the Weber family (who had relocated to Vienna from Mannheim), Mozart convinces himself marriage would be a good idea, and having moved on from Aloysia, decides on Constanze as a suitable wife. Read more

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Requiem for Mozart – part 2

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Part 2 of Requiem for Mozart, “I will no longer be a fiddler!”, was broadcast on 26 November 1991. It picks up the story in 1777, with Mozart’s decision to relinquish his post in Salzburg, his eye set on securing a more notable position in Paris. Thus begins a fairly tempestuous time in Mozart’s life, including the beginnings of his infatuation with singer Aloysia Weber (while in Mannheim, a visit en route that ultimately came to nothing) and the death of his mother. Leopold positively explodes with anger at his son’s over-blown assessment of Fräulein Weber, while in Paris Mozart suffers unhelpful, even obstructive treatment at the hands of a motley collection of establishment figures. We also hear Mozart’s oft-quoted account of the reaction to the last movement of his Symphony No. 31 (nicknamed “Paris”); opting for an atypically quiet opening for the finale, he recalls how “everybody said ‘hush’, and then, at the forte, everyone clapped their hands!” Read more

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Requiem for Mozart – part 1

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Anyone with an interest in Radio 3 can’t have failed to notice the BBC’s ongoing The Genius of Mozart season, devoting the first dozen days of 2011 to nothing but Mozart’s music, incorporating (they claim) “every note he wrote”. Not the most imaginative idea ever, but Mozart’s hardly a poor choice for a gimmick such as this, and so here’s a peripheral contribution of my own to the Beeb’s celebratory fortnight.

Broadcast over four weeks in late November/early December 1991, Requiem for Mozart was a four-part series commemorating and coinciding with the 200th anniversary of the composer’s death. Subtitled “A Life in Letters and Music”, and compiled by none other than the great Stanley Sadie, the series dramatises the Mozart family correspondence, with letters from Wolfgang (played superbly by Alex Jennings) not surprisingly being featured most prominently. Accompanied by works of Mozart (and, occasionally, others) that fit the ongoing chronology, it’s a surprisingly vivid and successful venture, which makes it all the more strange that, to my knowledge, it has never been broadcast since and doesn’t appear to be included in the Genius of Mozart season. Therefore, i’ll be featuring the broadcasts on 5:4 over the next four nights. Read more

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The Revelation

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Quite a few years ago, the BBC broadcast what i can only assume was one of the last productions to have involved the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. It was a one-off dramatisation of the book of Revelation, the final book of the Bible, starring Derek Jacobi in the rôle of John the evangelist, accompanied by music composed by Radiophonic Workshop veteran Peter Howell. Howell’s music (akin more to a film score than the bleeps and noises of conventional Radiophonic fare) is a mixture of synthesisers and voices (performed by the BBC Singers) and, along with the striking sound effects, helps to bring this most abstruse portion of scripture alive in a powerful, vivid way. The dramatisation uses about a third of the text of Revelation from the King James Version, and is grand in scope beyond its 30-minute brevity, particularly in the opening of the Seven Seals, and the encounter with the Whore of Babylon. It’s preceded by a specially-written introduction to Revelation, read by Judy Dench. As the season of Advent is now upon us, shifting attention forward, to the future, there’s no better time to delve deeply into the Bible’s most challenging book. Read more

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Interpretations on Record: Messiaen – Turangalîla-Symphonie

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Radio 3 now calls it simply “CD Review”, but a few years back it was known as “Interpretations on Record”. Each programme focuses on a particular composition, examining the available recordings with the intention of choosing one that is arguably better than the others. This is an edition of the programme dating back almost 12 years, when Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie was the work under the spotlight. Presented by Michael Oliver and lasting a little over 70 minutes, it includes fascinating information about the earliest performances of the piece, as well as a useful discussion on the difficulties it presents from a recording perspective. Read more

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Great Lives – Ian Curtis

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Today’s episode of Great Lives, on BBC Radio 4, was devoted to Joy Division’s lead singer, the late and much-lamented Ian Curtis. Many, many words have been spoken and written about this man, but the programme doesn’t stoop to probing his tortured remains or erecting pedestals to his memory.

Matthew Parris sensitively discusses Curtis’ life and legacy with poet Simon Armitage, and Joy Division/New Order bassist Peter Hook, and the result is touching and respectful, with some insights, but what comes across most—particularly from Hook—is a sad lack of understanding and palpable regret at Curtis’ suicide. The programme contains a fabulous highlight: an all too brief excerpt from an unreleased acoustic recording of Joy Division’s most well-known song, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”; Ian Curtis’ voice sounds mature, solid and entirely beautiful. Read more

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