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Beloved Australian comedian John Clarke made an appearance as a guest presenter on ABC Classic FM’s Saturday Morning in October 2016. The satirist, well-known to audiences for his interview series Clarke and Dawe and the mockumentary TV series The Games, brought his understated wit to bear on a programme of orchestral classics.
Clarke’s sad and unexpected death in April this year meant there were to be no more guest appearances, but when the show was re-aired in tribute, the audience response was so overwhelming that ABC Classic FM and ABC Classics decided to release the programme as a three-disc set.
“As many of you will be aware, the ABC is practically obsessed with balance – whatever that is. And for quite some time it’s been extremely obvious that ABC Classic FM is an organisation in which people who know an awful lot about music are almost ostentatiously over-represented,” Clarke opens the programme. “In fact one of the things that shows up in surveys is that Classic FM is even listened to by people who know a great deal about music.”
“I’m here to provide that vital balance,” he says. “And what I’ll be doing this morning is playing music I don’t know a great deal about but which at some stage of my life I’ve listened to, and, for various reasons I’m going to attempt to explain, I’ve liked.”
Interweaving his trademark dry humour with stories of his own experiences of the works played, Clarke presents favourites by Bizet, Beethoven, Puccini, Dvořák and more across three hours of music and commentary.
Clarke’s introduction of the Habanera from Carmen is typical: “I remember hearing this as a kid and being aware that this was very slinky and sensuous, and a little bit more adult than Just a Song at Twilight,” he says. “You could understand this as a kid: the way the first few phrases slide down a staircase and deliver you into the hands of this mischievous and enormously playful woman. The music is sometimes very still and then quite quickly Carmen whips the crowd up and you wonder if perhaps Spain haven’t scored. Imagine the impact of this in the 1870s. Even in the 1950s people were still advised not to talk in public about sex, religion, or politics. I suppose it must be said in Carmen’s defence here, she does manage to completely stay away from religion or politics.”
Clarke shares music significant to his parents, anecdotes about friends and ruminations on music and Australian life in general, all the while keeping the tone light (The duet Au Fond du Temple Saint from The Pearlfishers is announced as “two blokes singing” by Bizet).
“My name’s John Clarke and I’d like to thank you for your hospitality this morning. This has been a great thrill for me,” he signs off at the end of the programme. “Thank you everybody, and fare thee well.”
Clarke’s Classics is out now on ABC Classics