Composers and the Demon Drink

Theirs was not an auspicious first meeting. The young Johannes Brahms was on a walking holiday en route to visiting Robert and Clara Schumann, when he stopped at  Weimar in June 1853 to hear Franz Liszt give a private performance of his magisterial Piano Sonata in B minor, a work now regarded as one of…

The Astonishing Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes

When in 1917 Sergei Diaghilev was stranded in Spain with his itinerant company the Ballet Russes and in dire financial straits, he fired off a telegram to the wealthy patron of the arts Misia Sert (and friend of Coco Chanel) in Paris for assistance. The reply was curt: “GIVE IT UP SERGE”. This was just…

The Wit and Wisdom of Sir Thomas Beecham

It was the sort of gaffe that only Sir Thomas Beecham could get away with. As part of a tour of Germany in 1936 with his newly-formed London Philharmonic Orchestra, he gave a live broadcast concert in Berlin. Noticing Adolf Hitler in the audience applauding after the first piece, he turned to the orchestra and,…

Lisztomania – a film review

This year sees the fortieth anniversary of the film Lisztomania, an outrageous fantasy biopic on the life of Franz Liszt, written and directed by the unashamed bad boy of British cinema, Ken Russell (1927-2011).