Rock me, Amadeus

Antonia Quirke wishes, guiltily, for a bit more gossip about Wolfgang.

Private Passions: Mozart Compilation
Radio 3

The 700th edition of Private Passions (2 January, 2.30pm) takes the form of a Mozart compilation chosen by, as the presenter Michael Berkeley puts it, "some of the many Mozart passionnés over the years" - although, a moment later, he admits: "It would be something of a task to find those who did not choose Mozart." Lenny Henry, Mario Vargas Llosa, the novelist Salley Vickers - all choose a stretch of music and speak about it very well, but your reviewer, listening to a preview tape, was dis­appointed to hear nada of the suspense-filled chapters of Mozart's life.

Michael Morpurgo, at least, mentioned that he had been drawn to Mozart primarily because of the "stories of him as an amazing child" but he didn't say anything about the maestro's behaviour in his mother's papoose, merely asking for the Piano Sonata in A (first movement, soft as a mink stole). Yeah, the programme was a bit down on biography in general. Simon Callow came on to say that when he played the role of Mozart in Peter Schaffer's Amadeus in 1979 at the National Theatre, he would come offstage every night feeling slightly depressed that the great man had been exposed as an "appalling little monster . . . the baby talk . . . the jokes about bums and poo", though I can't remember Callow mentioning this aversion in his memoir Being an Actor - in that stretch of the book, he seemed to have been having a riot.

Possibly, that's just my memory and because I am a revolting creature of my times, longing to know the details of X's conservatory and how long Y was on the board of the synagogue. Let the avalanche fall on my head! (Hands-down favourite radio trailer: "In next week's episode, we examine their doomed first marriage.")

“I know nothing Mozart wrote was simple," said Morpurgo, moments after Berkeley had praised the composer's "simplicity and economy of means". It was good that the producer hadn't thought for a moment that the two were contradicting one another. Likewise, it made wry sense that Salley Vickers chose the Piano Concerto No 24 (second movement), praising its "rejuvenation in the face of terrible adversity", when your reviewer has always thought of it as more of a jolly summer adventure in Europe. One person sees dark, operatic themes of human suffering; another (admittedly with an F in GCSE physics, in this case) pictures a bottle of Piz Buin.

The highlight of the programme was hearing the voice of the late writer Michael Dibdin, talking in a fantastically eccentric tumble about the finale of the String Quartet in G. One could almost hear the fire in his putz. "It moves, I think, in even slightly alarming areas to what is ultimately Mozartian; then, having done all that, basically, as it were, defeating the champions, he breaks it off to say, 'OK, like, you know, that's enough of that,' and swings into a tune, slips through it and just melts and gives up."

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4. She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 January 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The siege of Gaza