At the end of the eighteenth century, an Italian rake by the name of Giacomo Casanova wrote his book Histoire de ma Vie. I have no idea why he wrote it in French if he was Italian, but apparently this is so.
Incarcerated for five years in a Venetian gaol on a charge of “foul atheism” and fornication, Casanova spends his time either dwelling upon his memories of past seductions or reminiscing about the same with a cell-mate. Eventually he escapes.
The English playwright Dennis Potter wrote a television drama series based on this story. Entitled Casanova, the BBC ran it in the November and December of 1971 with Frank Finlay in the title role.
I was fourteen years old at the time and my mother was forty-four. We are talking about the days when there were three channels on the telly, if you turned it on during the day you got the test card, and the night’s viewing ended by midnight with the National Anthem and then the moving pictures closed down into a white dot vanishing into blackness. The End.
My father was almost never there, but I remember he did come home for a brief interval from his global ramblings during the broadcasting of Dennis Potter’s Casanova series. I found this intensely frustrating. I was not close to my father in any respect. He was a nervous man, full of tics and twitches, and more likely than my mother to judge what was basically a well-written bodice-ripper unsuitable. Even if he had not, I’d have found it profoundly embarrassing to watch it with him in the room. Back in those days I was very close to my mother, and we had been enjoying watching the series together. The subject matter was not our usual choice of viewing, but Dennis Potter’s work is of the highest quality – ground-breaking, and unmissable given the lack of alternatives at the time.
Each episode opened with the chosen musical theme, played by a chamber orchestra in the appropriate eighteenth century costume.
The music in question was not widely played. Though we'd had a conscientious introduction to classical music at my junior school, I had never heard it before and my mother hadn’t either. Indeed until this point I think it would be fair to say it had escaped the attention of the (modern) general public. But it was captivating, haunting, lyrical, beautiful. Even though an LP (Long Play vinyl disc) cost ten shillings back then, we just had to have it. So it came about that my mother and I went 50-5o on the purchase from the music shop in Bishops Stortford of a recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The movement called Autumn was the theme for Dennis Potter’s Casanova.
I think the BBC’s airing of that theme tune was like the casual and naïve act of a man who plants one small Japanese knotweed in his garden because it is so beautiful. Little does he know what it will lead to.
Now, I am fifty-eight and my mother is eighty-eight. I have just come off the phone having made a call to the Department of Work and Pensions, whom I had to inform of her recent hospital stay. As is the case with many large organisations, it took the most interminable time for anybody to answer the call. As I waited, piped through to my patient ear, in between the robotic voice announcements about call volumes etc etc, came the by now all too familiar strains of Autumn from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. It’s the music of choice for almost every answering service in the UK. And I think Dennis Potter’s responsible for that.