Classical Music: Sex, Chopin and subterfuge

Jilly Cooper's latest book is a romp through the classical music world. Malcolm Hayes was in on her research

Appassionata is Jilly Cooper's latest bonkbuster and therefore, by definition, a continuation of all her previous bonkbusters. That's what the hype makes out anyway. But it would, wouldn't it? Having just completed a mad gallop through the 623 pages of the latest magnum opus of the Chronicler of Rutshire, I've caught myself coming to something strangely like a different conclusion.

This unexpected exercise in literary criticism is prompted partly by the irresistible verve of the writing in Appassionata (whose bonking quotient is, in any case, fairly sparse - I said fairly). The dogged raunchiness of Polo has given way to a rediscovery of the roguish humour of Riders: the best of Appassionata is marvellously funny. Also, I can truthfully say that I witnessed some of its happenings in the making.

One of the book's highlights is a riotous description of a concert tour of Spain by the Rutminster Symphony Orchestra, whose fictional members are by some considerable distance Appassionata's true heroes and heroines. The model for this non-stop bacchanalia across the peninsula was a tour of the same country by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in 1993: four concerts in four days in four different cities. Jilly Cooper had been invited along. So had I, to observe the orchestra at work and, er, play - and to observe Jilly observing them.

I promise you that the pace of the RSNO's touring schedule of performing, travelling and partying was every bit as near murderous as the book implies. When I got home, I took to my bed for a day and a half - and I hadn't even been playing in the concerts. But, far from affecting the orchestra's form, this punishing agenda if anything seemed to improve it. Four impressive concerts were the result, superbly conducted by Walter Weller, and including as fine a performance of Beethoven's Choral Symphony as I've heard anywhere.

Several hours after one of these adrenalin-fuelled occasions, I found myself in Jilly Cooper's company in a bar in Seville, along with a substantial section of the orchestra's Moulin Rouge contingent (as distinct from Pond Life, who were no doubt already tucked up in bed). She and I got to talking about her impressions of orchestral players compared to the casts of characters in her other books so far.

"They're very different," she told me. "I don't think they're obsessed with jumping on each other just because they're on tour. What they're really into is subterfuge. I love the story of the meal that some of them had in a really expensive restaurant, so that they could make off with all the waiters' evening coats and wear them in the concert that evening. Or the trick of how to avoid bringing more than one pair of shoes with you. During the concert you wear black socks over them."

Throughout the tour she filled up one notepad after another as she talked to virtually every member of the orchestra. ("I think they noticed me a bit to begin with, and then they went on with what they were doing anyway. It's a bit like being David Attenborough in a colony of pandas.") Her unerring ability to remember everyone's name was just one symptom of a real interest in other people - a quality that must be even rarer among the rich and famous than the rest of us (let alone among most conductors). The book's affectionate dedication "to the Royal Scottish National Orchestra because they make great music and I love them all" rings endearingly true.

What about the contents? Well, the Rutminster SO's antics may be gorgeously over the top, but as Jilly Cooper reminds us in her introduction, she writes fiction, not documentary. And she neatly captures the sense that the anarchy of an orchestra's Moulin Rouge element, while dedicated, is essentially benign. There's little if any of the ingrained yobbishness that (say) travelling rugby teams can be known to pride themselves on getting up to.

She has been careful, too, to conceal any clues to the characters' real- life counterparts, Yes, I do know who was observed, in the small hours of that legendary party in Barcelona, drinking Famous Grouse whisky out of an ashtray, and he/ she doesn't remotely resemble Dmitri, the Rutminster SO's "lyrical and lachrymose" principal cellist. The author has also used her journalistic skills to assemble a quite exceptional collection of viola jokes, including one featuring Princess Diana and a frog which is almost worth the price of the book on its own. And she says her next one is to be about opera. Hold tight.

n `Appassionata' is published by Bantam Press, pounds 16.99; an accompanying CD and tape is available on Warner Classics, pounds 9.99 and pounds 5.99

Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?