Amadeus, amadeus: a Mozart score. Photo: AFP.
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Going off script: on a new Radio 4 programme, even reading Mozart's scores proves entrancing

Tales from the Stave and The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4.

Tales from the Stave; The Film Programme
BBC Radio 4

A new series of the brilliant Tales from the Stave – “examining the process of creation through handwritten manuscripts of the world’s greatest pieces of music” – began by looking at Mozart’s Requiem (21 February, 3.30pm). The composer’s original score is dated 1792, which was the year after his death. So, how come? Because several other people subsequently had their pen on it. And yet enough of Mozart’s own pencil-strokes exist to see how he worked and what he wanted for the piece.

Much of the show sounded like some marvellous, loopy, impressionistic response to the markings by various commentators and musicians, each talking off the top of his or her head in front of the document – in effect translating. “Those rather serpentine basset horns weaving in and out of each other like fish down a stream . . .” muttered the music scholar Nigel Simeone, while the singer Jette Engelke hummed along over his shoulder. “Those markings there,” someone cried, “that say sotto voce! That’s a very romantic marking to put on a score . . .” The magical emergence of the shape of the Mass had everyone sort of drunk.

A similar buzz came a few days later on The Film Programme (26 February, 4pm) when the Brando biographer Susan L Mizruchi spoke about the actor’s work on scripts, having had access for the first time to his personal copies, which he had kept in an unlovely shed in his Mulholland Drive garden. Unique among his biographers, Mizruchi has charted Brando’s own painstaking markings and amendments.

It made me pick up her (wonderful) book again. What an ingenious reviser of dialogue Brando was! Here’s a good one: where in Mario Puzo’s script the Don says to the Undertaker at the start of The Godfather, “Why are you afraid to give your first allegiance to me?” Brando confidently amends his own script (and croons on screen): “Bonasera, bonasera [sic], what have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully?” Mozart and Brando, their pencils and manuscripts, their talent and brilliance. Their greatness: the one quality distinct from any other, that conceals, as they did, all the scribbles and amendments. Conceals everything, in fact – that’s what greatness does. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Russia vs the west

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How a dramatized account of Mark Duggan's death found a prime-time audience

I usually have an aversion to actors pretending to be police officers in this kind of scenario, but Lawful Killing: Mark Duggan was done with surprising care and nuance.

The BBC grows ever more lily-livered in the matter of current affairs. It would, you feel, rather devote an hour to yet another historian in a silly costume than to a piece of investigative journalism – the problem being that while the latter often has serious consequences, the wives of Henry VIII, being dead, cannot be libelled, and thus shows about them are consequence-free.

But what’s this? When I saw it, I had to rub my eyes. Lawful Killing: Mark Duggan, a 90-minute film at 8.30pm on BBC1 (5 December) about the shooting of the 29-year-old Londoner by the police in 2011? Who commissioned this extravaganza of inquiry, and by what strange magic did they secure for it such a whopping great slot in the pre-Christmas schedule? I would love to know. If you have the answers, do please drop me a postcard.

What made it even more amazing was that this documentary contained no hint of a scoop. It was revelatory, but its disclosures were achieved cumulatively, through the careful pulling together of every possible version of the events of that August day: wildly conflicting stories that its director, Jaimie D’Cruz, told through a combination of interviews and reconstructions.

I usually have an aversion to actors pretending to be police officers in this kind of scenario; they often come over like The Sweeney gone wrong. But the dramatisations in Lawful Killing had a terrible veracity, being based almost entirely on transcripts of the real thing (inquest accounts, witnesses’ interviews, and so on). Every voice seemed to reveal something, however unwittingly. In these accounts, the attentive viewer heard uncertainty and exaggeration, ambivalence and self-aggrandisement, misunderstanding and back-covering – all those human things that make the so-called truth so elusive and so damnably difficult to pin to the page.

A lot of the supposed intelligence that caused the police to follow Duggan that day remains secret, and I can’t see this changing any time soon. For this reason, I am not qualified, even after seeing the film, to say whether or not he was holding a gun as he emerged from a minicab on that warm afternoon. (The inquest jury decided that Duggan threw a weapon on to a nearby patch of grass before he was – lawfully – shot by an armed officer, while the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which had access to the secret intelligence, decided he was killed while holding one.) However, other things do seem to me to be crystal clear, and chief among them is the strange, cowardly and stupidly inept behaviour of the police immediately after his death.

In those hours, rumours swirled. At Duggan’s mother’s house, the family gathered, expecting a knock on the door at any time. How, they wondered, can a person be dead when the police have not yet informed their closest relatives? But no one came. The next day, the extended clan went to Tottenham Police Station where, again, they waited, for several hours. “Someone will be with you shortly,” they were told. Still, no one came. It was, incidentally, as they finally made their way back home that Duggan’s sister Kay Harrison saw a burning car. It was the first sign of the nationwide riots that – speaking of consequences – ultimately resulted in the deaths of five people.

Meanwhile on Channel 4 is a show for people for whom the Netflix Gilmore Girls reboot isn’t sugary enough (I can’t imagine who they are, these addicts with rotting black stumps for teeth). I was secretly hopeful that This Is Us (Tuesdays, 9pm), which is made by NBC, would be a bit like Thirtysomething, the touchy-feely series about a bunch of baby-boomer friends that I watched obsessively as a sixth former.

But, no. This is the kind of show in which a guy finds his long-lost parent, only to discover that the noble, adorable daddy is – boo hoo – dying of cancer. Its principal characters, three siblings, don’t talk to each other, or to anyone else. Rather, they make speeches, most of which come in two basic formats: mushy and super-mushy. This is schmaltz on toast with a mighty vat of syrup on the side.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump