“I’ve got Wagner-itis,” said His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales. “I’m not sure it’s a communicable disease, but it’s something like that.”
That was, thankfully, one of few mentions of diseases of any sort during the two hours that Prince Charles spent in conversation with Alan Titchmarsh for A Royal Appointment (Classic FM), the first of two programmes this week in which the Prince shares some of his favourite pieces of music, all recorded by the orchestras, choirs and organisations of which he is a patron.
I wasn’t sure how much there would be to learn from the Prince talking once more about his love of classical music, famously one of his favourite subjects, but this two-hour escape from all things coronavirus turned out to be a real treat, and was comforting and inspiring in equal measure.
His choices of music included Nicola Benedetti and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra playing Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in D; Jacqueline du Pré performing Haydn’s Cello Concerto No 1 with the English Chamber Orchestra; some Bach, Parry and Strauss, and naturally a generous helping of the Prince's beloved Wagner, in particular the romantic Siegfried Idyll, performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra, with whom Prince Charles once conducted a special performance for the Duchess of Cornwall’s 60th birthday.
The Prince chose music that was personal not just because of his patronages, but because the pieces reminded him of particular special memories, such as being taken to the Royal Opera House as a child, with his grandmother.
The Royal Family are always at their most effective when they champion causes for which they have a genuine passion. Of classical music, Prince Charles said, “I’m one of those people who can’t live without it… I love working with classical music in the background, I always have done, and it somehow calms the mind and the soul… I find it deeply moving.”
He spoke of how delighted he had been that Prince William had taken on board his eagerly offered suggestions for music to be played at the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding.
The Prince seemed totally at ease on the radio. He was warm, clear, generous and relaxed. Titchmarsh's interviewing style, meanwhile, was gentle. This was no newsy interrogation; the focus was entirely on music and performance, and how valuable they are to a life well lived.
Titchmarsh invited Prince Charles to speculate on whether the country’s arts organisations will survive once the pandemic has passed and we are able to go and see performances en masse once more. “I hope so,” said the Prince, firmly, “because otherwise we’ve all had it. Life becomes insupportable.”
He’s not wrong. And the musical organisations that the Prince mentioned and played performances from will be glad to have received an endorsement of their work and their worth in such stormy times. He crammed lots in, including the Royal Opera House, the Bach Choir, the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra, and the Welsh National Orchestra, giving the impression that pretty much every musician in Britain is probably working under his royal patronage somehow. He was keen to mention as many as possible.
It’s hard to see how the business of musical performance, so inherently unsuited to social distancing, will recover from the lockdown’s blow to its finances - "a desperate thing", in the Prince's words - but a bit of royal glamour can surely only help.
If there was ever a time to make a case for music and arts as a central pillar of life in the UK, this is it, and Prince Charles has risen to the moment in style. “We have to find a way to make sure these marvellous people and organisations can survive through it all,” he said, with real fervour.
Much of the actual sentiment here was not new; the Prince talked almost as candidly about his love of music when he was a guest on Radio 3's Private Passions in 2018. But the context is now very different, and the Prince's role in supporting the arts feels more vital than before. For two hours, the programme was an escape from the coronavirus news cycle, an invitation to remember and fight for the cultural expressions and achievements that make Britain respected around the world, and a taste of what we can look forward to enjoying again when all of this is over.
He ended the programme on a solemn and beautiful note, with Bach's "Be near me, Lord, when dying" from the St Matthew Passion, sung in English by the Bach Choir. It felt like a movement towards consolation in an ongoing time of international grief.