Staying In: Inside the tube

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The Independent Culture
Christmas composers

If the family squabbles are getting too much this Christmas, you can always lose yourself in a spot of music. From the plethora of festive music programmes, two offerings from Channel 4 stand out. In Schumann's Lost Romance, the celebrated cellist Stephen Isserlis (above) attempts to find out what really happened in the years just before the composer's death in 1856. His quest is interspersed with dramatised scenes from the composer's life and rehearsals for a new recording of his Cello Concerto.

Before he took up a post as a music director in Dusseldorf in 1850, Schumann wished to know if the town had a lunatic asylum, because he feared the job might depress him. He was proved correct, as work went badly and his mental state began to decline. The Cello Concerto which he composed at the time was widely criticised as the creation of a deteriorating mind.

As his mental health worsened, his dominant wife, the concert pianist Clara, become anxious about the quality of his music. She went so far as to destroy his Five Romances for Cello and the original manuscript of his last major work, a violin concerto, written in 1853. Fortunately, a sketch of the piece was preserved.

When Schumann's precarious state finally gave way and he was institutionalised in 1854, the 20-year-old Johann Brahms moved in with Clara. She in turn was ordered by doctors not to visit her mentally fragile husband. He died alone, and the suggestion is that he may have starved himself to death. Here was a man who sadly lived up to the old cliche of suffering for one's art.

Bernstein is slightly more uplifting fare. This two-part profile looks back on the life and work of Leonard Bernstein, a conductor-composer so popular that his death in 1990 was marked by flags flying at half-mast at the New York Philharmonic and a moment of silent remembrance on Broadway. Collaborators such as Jerome Robbins, Stephen Sondheim and Isaac Stern recall working with the man responsible for such classics as West Side Story and On the Town.

Whatever Happened to...?

Bert Kwouk. The actor tickled millions as Inspector Clouseau's (Peter Sellers) houseboy Cato in the long-running series of Pink Panther films. To test his employer's reaction to surprise attacks, Cato was forever unexpectedly leaping on him from out of cupboards or through windows. When the films came to an end, Kwouk (left) cropped up from time to time in TV dramas, but now he has been miraculously reinvented as a cult comedy icon, crooning ridiculous songs about hens on Harry Hill's likeably daft C4 show. Even Clouseau would be impressed by this latest surprise appearance. JR

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