Pieces of Me Actor Joanna Lumley

Joanna Lumley close up

Actor, writer and polymath Joanna Lumley - best known as Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous and Davina Jackson in Sensitive Skin - hit the headlines recently for spearheading the Gurkha Justice Campaign. A TV documentary about the search for the origins of the story of the Flood and Noah’s Ark will be broadcast later this year. She is married to the conductor Stephen Barlow.

JS Bach, Prelude No.1 in C

'This is simply the most calming and logical thing in the world. It’s like a map in the way that it quietly spells out how things are and how they can come to a peaceful end. If you’re ever in a fuss or a janglement, listen to this. My husband [conductor Stephen Barlow] has a harpsichord and I remember once when he was away trying to play it, picking out the notes very slowly, but I never got very far because our cat was intrigued by the sound and kept sitting on the keys and butting his head up against the music. It’s as familiar and deeply comforting as a book you return to time and time again, thinking you know every inch of it but always finding something you hadn’t quite noticed before.' Read JS Bach's biography.

Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor, Sextet

'The first time I heard this was on an extraordinary machine that I’ve still got – I’m not even sure what it’s called but you wind it up and it plays sort of paper records with holes in them. I heard this wonderful thing which I instantly adored but without having any idea where it came from or that it was actually supposed to be sung and came at a highly dramatic point in an opera. When I did eventually hear it in that context it was a complete revelation – a moment of despair and strangeness which had never been apparent from my funny recording without voices.' Read Donizetti's biography.

Chopin, Piano Concerto No.2, Second movement

'I was driving back home to London and I heard this music that so thrilled me I had to sit outside in the car until it finished. There’s a brilliance and an imagination there that seems to come straight from heaven without touching the sides. I’d only known Chopin as a composer of solo piano music, little things – nocturnes and études. When I was 11 or 12 I came home from school for the Christmas holidays with a terrible stomach ache. The school had said ‘Oh, you’ve just eaten too much cake’, but I ended up being carted off to hospital to have my appendix whipped out. When I came out it was Christmas eve and my parents gave me a recording of Dinu Lipatti playing Chopin nocturnes. He was my main man after that; the benchmark of how to play that music.'

Beethoven, Symphony No.3, ‘Eroica’

'Whenever I hear this I feel it so deep inside me it’s almost as if I’ve written it. It’s an extraordinary sensation of recognising every turn, every shape. The muscularity and force of Beethoven’s musical imagination, the effort and power, and then suddenly he lets all that go and something emerges that is as light and sweet and shining as a bird perching on your finger. Exquisite.'

Wagner, Overture to Tannhäuser

'Again, this is something I remember from childhood. I know that people can be quite dismissive of music conjuring up images but I always see pictures. In this case it might be because of the LP I had, which had a picture of a mountain on the front. I took it to boarding school with me and we loved it and used to play it just as often as Buddy Holly or the Everly Brothers. When I hear those opening bars I see the most majestic and colossal central European mountain landscape of utter vastness and splendour, and it makes my heart lift.' Read Wagner's biography.

 

Interview by Henrietta Bredin.

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