Classical music: Ever a Dahl moment

From Little Red Riding Hood: The Video to Fantastic Mr Fox: The Opera, the late Roald Dahl is set to take over the musical world.

Angry shouts of "Doodlewangs!" or even "Hippogriffs!" may well have rent the air the day Roald Dahl returned home from narrating some of his Revolting Rhymes for a recording incorporating a musical score. "He stamped down the garden path waving his stick," recalls his widow, Felicity. "He was yelling, 'They don't understand - it was like plainchant! It's no fun... no spontaneity... no tunes!!' "

Tunes, says Felicity Dahl, he knew something about, "although we never went to concerts - he was too tall for the seats. But at home, in an armchair, he adored listening to Mozart, to Brahms and especially to Beethoven - his great passion."

Dahl would surely have endorsed his wife's decision after his death five years ago to make music a major focus of the Roald Dahl Foundation, created to raise money for providing grants in the areas of literacy, haematology and neurology. Tunes stand a better chance with her in charge.

The Christmas period brings the best opportunity yet to assess the Foundation's progress so far. Its aim is the development of a corpus of staged or semi- staged musical works based on Dahl's incomparably incorrigible stories and rhymes.

If, as a parent, you can't cope with the odd fart or the sight of frilly knickers in the new video of Paul Patterson's Little Red Riding Hood... then kindly leave the room. Julie Walters stars both as the street-wise, gun-toting Miss Hood and as her bottle-swigging Grandma in this rhapsody on one of the Revolting Rhymes. Danny DeVito lends his voice to the doomed Wolfie.

The video, already attracting substantial orders abroad, receives a BBC2 screening on New Year's Day. The shorter original (the film has been lengthened for the hour-block-conscious US market) is newly available on CD from EMI. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra have both staged live performances of the piece this month, while the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra presents the latest performance of a second Dahl commission, Eleanor Alberga's Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs, at London's Barbican Hall tonight. Both works feature narrator and actor parts interwoven with an orchestral score.

Paul Patterson, composer of Little Red Riding Hood, came to his commission with a diploma in Dahl based on bedtime story-telling at home. "As Dahl knew so well, a young child's attention-span is usually short. So I continually re-assessed the effect my music was likely to have at every given moment. Rhythm and vitality are so important. Then I wanted to provide kids with lots to look at in terms of the orchestration. But I was also keen to keep adults on their toes, so there are quotations from, for example, Wagner and Beethoven - like the Fifth Symphony's fate motif when Miss Hood knocks on Grandma's door."

Both Patterson and Alberga have slipped doses of sterner stuff into their scores. In Patterson's case, there's an occasional flavour of Lutoslawski. Alberga's tunes for Snow-White may be appropriately romantic, "but the music for the wicked stepmother is rather atonal - it suits her evil and complex nature. The jockey - who represents the dwarfs - is given a 12- tone fugue, intertwined with the title-music for the show-jumping on television!"

When it comes to performing the Patterson and Alberga pieces, the Dahl Foundation offers promoters the use of costumes, plus advice on staging and lighting. But the organisation's music guru, Donald Sturrock (a freelance TV director who scripted both Red Riding Hood and Snow-White), is anxious that the works are regularly thought out afresh.

"I say to people, for heaven's sake do something different! Orchestras tend to think, 'Oh, yes, this is how we do this sort of thing,' without using any imagination. But I went to a Red Riding Hood in Freiburg which was absolutely zany, with an incredibly fat old grandmother dressed in a bathrobe, riding a motorbike - apparently very adult, but the kids adored it, because they just love anarchy and subversion. Dahl understood that. It's fascinating to see the pieces translated into different cultures." And, so far, Little Red Riding Hood has charmed her way through Scandinavia, Germany, Holland and Australia.

Felicity Dahl bewails the fact that so often adults demonstrate less spark than children. She was forced to be at her persuasive best, she recalls, to ensure the right atmosphere at Red Riding Hood's London premiere, back in 1992.

"It was a struggle getting the orchestra players to wear green waistcoats to look part of the woodland scene. Then there was a reluctance to put the house-lights down - but, immediately you do that, a child's mind is captured. A teacher said to me that she was worried the kids wouldn't be able to find their way to the loo in the dark - I said they wouldn't want to go to the loo if the lights were down."

The Dahl commissions provide a natural focus for education projects. The Bournemouth Sinfonietta presented Red Riding Hood in Aylesbury earlier this year, the players working in local schools beforehand.

"The children set their own 'revolting rhymes' to music and sang them during the actual performance," explains Martyn Kitson, headteacher of Brill village school. "Our version of Jack and the Beanstalk had the giant marrying Jack's mother and a lottery ticket in place of a goose!"

Liz Leckey, music teacher at Bierton School, says the whole exercise "released imagination in children you'd never have thought of as particularly creative. Our Red Riding Hood came out as Two Deaths and a Suicide!"

The Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra knows all about Dahl's magnetism: 14 Red Riding Hood performances scheduled for next February and March in a 1,400-seater hall were "all sold out long ago", says director Jorgen Lindvall. "The hall will become one huge mysterious forest through which the actors move - an unsafe environment, because, after all, the world can be frightening and unpredictable. Maybe there's a touch of Nordic melancholy!"

A Snozzwanger to a Doodlesniff that we're at the tip of a new Dahl iceberg. Three other commissions - all based on Dahl texts - are so far lined up, masterminded by Donald Sturrock. In prospect are a Goldilocks from Austrian composer Kurt Schwertsik (already creator of the children's opera The Wondrous Tale of Fanferlizzy Sunnyfeet), a Cinderella from the Russian Vladimir Tarnapolsky and, most ambitious of all, an opera on Fantastic Mr Fox in which the farmyard thief is subversively cast as hero. American composer Michael Torke's score is set for a Los Angeles Opera premiere in 1997. "I've gone for composers I feel can match the Dahl quirkiness," Sturrock explains. "These must be life-enhancing works, full of wit and humour. The message to each composer is simple - at all costs, don't be boring!"

Prepare not to be bored for years to come. Michael Torke's Fantastic Mr Fox promises performing styles from Gwyneth Jones and Eartha Kitt to the dulcet tones of singing tractors and diggers. Some way down the line there will be a ballet score and goodness knows what else. Forthcoming Hollywood feature films of James and the Giant Peach and Matilda will help jolly things along.

The original stories are a currency worldwide, in dozens of translations from Afrikaans to Russian. Felicity Dahl hopes the future for the music will be just as bright.

"Roald used to say that he could knock on the door of any house in the world and, as long as a child answered the door, he'd be given a cup of tea. My dream is that eventually I can knock on the same doors and discover that somewhere in the house is a recording of Dahl music."

n 'Little Red Riding Hood' will be shown on New Year's Day on BBC2 and is available on video, CD and cassette from EMI

nThe RPO plays 'Snow-White', 7.30pm tonight in the Barbican, London EC2 (0171-638 8891)

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own