The pathos and misery of his death, passed down (for example in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus) through legends of poison and a spooky Requiem commission, colour our feelings about Mozart’s last months. His fatal illness at 36 was sudden, and came at a moment when his career was picking up after a rough spell.
Thomas Edward Brown’s oft-quoted line, “A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!”, makes horticulture sound quaintly old-fashioned; yet gardening is a hardy perennial in the art world. Paintings of gardens not only survived the advance of Modernism but, according to this ravishing exhibition (until 20 April), they provided much of its inspiration.
Two notorious areas of scarcity in English theatre – women playwrights and roles for older actresses – are simultaneously redressed in Caryl Churchill’s new drama, Escaped Alone, for which a writer whose recent scripts have featured dialogue with no identified characters, specifically requests four women of “at least 70”.
As modish a radio feature as you will encounter all this year, Herland (28 January) took its title from the century-old utopian novel by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Here three travellers crash-land on to a remote territory to find a population that is entirely female, concentrating on such elemental pursuits as child rearing and reproducing by way of parthenogenesis.
The bus drivers brought together in Bus Lines (14 January) turned out to have more in common than the matter of their employment. For a start there was the pleasure they took in their jobs, valued for the chance to meet people, and, in certain circumstances, become involved in their lives.
Since his diary was deciphered in the early nineteenth century, Samuel Pepys has never ceased to fascinate, instruct and amuse.
At the risk of introducing a Scrooge-like tone to New Year celebrations, advance cultural publicity is prone to humbug. Several of the most anticipated 2015 productions – including Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet and the National Theatre’s wonder.land – proved disappointing.
Theatre scheduled for Christmas divides between shows that directly feature the season (though, these days, usually its commercial rather than theological aspects) and those that aim more broadly for a party or family audience. Two prominent examples of each are currently on offer.
Films on DVD Free17 December 2015 | by Francine Stock
Of the many styles of animation, I am particularly charmed by the aesthetic of the Irish films made by Tomm Moore – first The Secret of Kells and now Song of the Sea. Once again, Moore imbues ancient patina and reference to hand-drawn forms (this time in shifting marine hues).
The seasonal airwaves are heavily reliant on classic literature. See, in particular, BBC Radio 4’s take on T.S. Eliot (Christmas Day), neatly recited by Jeremy Irons. Even better, the two half-hour parts are quickly followed by Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark”, more than capably voiced by Tony Robinson.
As if to get away from the commerciality of the modern Christmas, television at this time of year often plumps for nostalgia. Two good examples are the 20-part BBC series Dickensian (starting on 26 December), and Peter and Wendy (ITV, 26 December), both cleverly assembled from literary sources.
With the death aged 95 of Sir David Willcocks in September, carol singing is more than usually poignant. Many musicians came to their art as children through yearly carolling, singing from his 100 Carols for Choirs by street lamplight.
The super-selling Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø once told me how much he had learned from the plays of his nation’s greatest dramatist, Henrik Ibsen. Although never formally detective stories, Ibsen’s naturalistic plays have gripping narratives...
It was no surprise that Lucy Kellaway, who has spent the past few weeks itemising the things that “bother her” about office life, should finally turn her gaze on our reluctance to discuss what we earn (2 December). But if salary scales constituted what one expert called a “massive taboo”, then the problems that underlay them were by no means clear-cut.
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