The actor discusses the power of Mozart, duetting with his wife and taking up the clarinet late in life.
Music has touched me in so many areas of my life, going right the way back to being a teenager. My brother formed a jazz band at school and in the holidays he and his mates used to come to our house and play trad jazz. He was a great musician, my brother John. He played the clarinet, trombone, violin, the piano – everything. He was a natural musician. I was not. Anyway, I learned to play the drums. So my introduction to music, to use the classical term, would be as a percussionist.
It was only later on in my life, about the time of my 40th birthday, that I actually took up an instrument. I decided that I loved the sound of the clarinet. I was deeply moved one day on hearing Mozart’s clarinet concerto while I was on my way to the theatre – I think I was playing Iago in Othello for the Royal Shakespeare Company. I remember hearing the slow movement and having to stop the car because my emotions overtook me. When I was able to start driving again I said, “I have to learn to play the clarinet”.
One of my greatest joys now is picking up my clarinet to play duets with my wife”
I was living near Ealing in London and I looked in my local paper. I rang up a teacher and I said that I wanted to learn. “You want to learn the clarinet?” he said “You are David Suchet?” I said: “Yes.” He said: “You’re not David Suchet’s son, you’re David Suchet who is now middle-aged and wanting to learn the clarinet?” I said: “Yes.” He said: “There is no way you can be taught the clarinet now. At your age, you won’t have the muscle in your lips and you won’t have the breath capacity.” I said: “Hang on a minute please. I am an actor. I have great muscular control of my lips because I’m in the classical theatre, and I have breath control because that’s what I need to do in order to perform Shakespeare. So would you please come and audition me.” He was a dear man and he came to my house where I had one of my brother’s clarinets from years ago. “Why do you want to learn to play this?” he said. I said: “Because I heard this fantastic piece of music and it’s the most wonderful sound, the clarinet.” And he gave me an audition and he said: “Well, I’m here to eat my words. I can teach you and you will learn to play.” And I had the most extraordinary experience. Music actually changed my life.
I don’t play as much as I’d like, but one of my greatest joys now is picking up my clarinet while my wife sits down at the piano and we play duets. The fact that we can make music together is really exciting.
One of the roles I’ve most enjoyed was playing Salieri in Amadeus. Peter Shaffer introduced me to some wonderful things. At home I’ve got most of Salieri’s music. I even went to Vienna, to his grave, and paid tribute. When I went to look for Salieri’s tomb I found him not in the section with the great composers at all. His was up against a wall, quite ignominiously. But someone had placed a rose on his grave. I got my wife to photograph me standing by this neglected grave in this huge graveyard. Salieri was very good, you know. He wouldn’t have been the Court Kapellmeister if he were bad. But of course Peter Shaffer writes this extraordinary play and we all think of Salieri as a totally different character.
The Last Confession starring David Suchet is touring Australia until October 5