Classical music as portrayed on film and TV

This is the third of Lady Eff’s Rants which are being broadcast as part of the Classics From Scratch programme on Secklow Sounds, an online radio station which  brings people and communities together. Classics From Scratch is presented by Catherine Rose and is broadcast at 2 pm on Thursdays. It is available to listen online a few days later.

I almost don’t know here to start with this. Perhaps a recent cop show where a top-flight piano teacher was shown wearing a pin-striped skirt-suit and carrying a clipboard. She was giving a piano lesson in the main hall of the Barbican Centre (this happens about once a decade) and did it by sitting in the middle of the auditorium while the pupils came on to the stage and launched into a piano concerto. No preamble, no discussion, and the teacher couldn’t even see the pupil’s fingers on the keyboard. Not good practice.

But this happens all the time. Remember Brassed Off? A wonderful film about a colliery brass band. They made sure all the actors could actually play their instruments and that even Tara Fitzgerald was using the right fingering, even if not quite at the right moment. But they made a huge mistake in showing the band members walking or even cycling through the streets with their naked instruments in their hands. No brass player – and I speak as one – would ever do that. We keep all that vulnerable and expensive metal in a nice safe hard case, thank you very much.

I cannot even begin to speak about Maryam d’Abo pretending to be a world-famous cellist in the Bond film ‘The Living Daylights’. Skiing downhill on a cello case holding a Stradivarius. I may have to have a lie-down for half an hour in a darkened room.

Anyway, I asked a dear friend this week about the new film A Late Quartet, in which Christopher Walken plays the cellist of a virtuoso string quartet. I had scanned the reviews, looking not whether the acting was any good or whether the story was gripping, but was the miming sufficiently convincing? It has to be good enough to be able to ignore it. It’s not just about pretending to play, either – it’s about holding the instrument and fiddling about with it in the way that all musicians do.

To my relief, the news is reasonably good – I can go and watch it without needing Valium afterwards. But it’s a problem that music shares with sports films – can an actor, however brilliant, really persuade you that she’s a world class footballer, a famous artist or even, in the case of the four horses who played Seabiscuit, the greatest ever racehorse?

For many musicians, the best portrayal of classical music on TV has to be the Morecambe and Wise sketch with André Previn – a completely accurate rendition of the relationship between a soloist and a conductor, if not of the Grieg Piano Concerto.

Let’s have a spot of Grieg, shall we? To soothe the savage breast? I think so. Click here to listen to Leif-Ove Andsnes at the Proms, on YouTube.

Or, if you prefer, click here to hear it played by Eric Morecambe – the best version.

The episode of ‘Classics from Scratch’ in which this rant appears can now be heard on Spreaker by clicking here.

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Published in: on May 9, 2013 at 15:10  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi Lady Eff – this is a view from a muso on A Late Quartet: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2013/apr/16/violinist-view-late-quartet?INTCMP=SRCH

    There’s a Gerard Depardieu film where he’s supposed to be a famous viol player. AVOID. And Jeremy Irons in The Mission “playing” the oboe is just pitiful – mind you, so are the scenes of young Mayans “singing” multi-part European motets (“Just flap yer mouths open and shut, loves!”).

    I share your pain.

  2. “All the right notes. But not necessarily in the right order.” Does that just about sum it up?

  3. Thanks so much for the link to Eric playing Grieg’s Piano Concerto by Grieg. I was astounded to read from the Youtube comments that AP had only read the script on the flight over and they hardly had any rehearsal time – AP must be a natural comedian.

    “For another £4 we could have got Edward Heath”


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