The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
ENO's production of La Boheme is a triumph,
THE 27th of this month will mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, regarded by many as the greatest composer ever.
Others think of him as music's greatest natural genius.
Neither view is strictly accurate. Several other composers - including Beethoven and Bach - jostle with him for the first of those titles.
And although there were others almost as naturally talented as he, Mozart was a hard working craftsman.
He was often nervous about whether his music was good enough.
His self-critical aspect gives us the clue to one of the most important factors in his life.
Mozart, as more or less everybody knows, produced music to order for kings and queens, nobles and archbishops.
He was seldom or never in a position to compose as he pleased.
He was, however, far from being a contented confectioner to the quality.
He did not always keep a guard on his tongue and he resented having to dine with the lower servants.
So it is not surprising that, of his many operas, the two which have the widest popular appeal and show him at his best as a comic exposer of the crimes and follies of mankind are two in which aristocrats are shown behaving badly.
Both, too, exhibit a degree of sympathy for women which was relatively rare at the time.
In Don Giovanni, the arch-seducer in the title role is sent to hell â yet Mozart and his libertarian librettist Lorenzo da Ponte are careful to avoid any imputation of theological orthodoxy.
Once the Don is safely aflame, the surviving characters, including several of his victims, finish the opera with a tongue-in-cheek moralising finale.
But it is The Marriage of Figaro which shows Mozart and Da Ponte at their most stroppily anti-aristocractic in setting Beaumarchais's play â described by Simon Sharma as "assailing the pretentions of segneurial power ... with stinging hilarity" â in which a servant repeatedly outwits his aristocratic boss.
These points and many of the myths surrounding Mozart's life and work are examined intelligently by Phil Grabsky in a new documentary film In Search of Mozart, broadcast today on Channel Five at 7.15pm.