Hear Me Out collects columns Iannucci has written for Gramophone, alongside a handful of other publications, with speeches and transcripts of radio programmes.
As the readers of Gramophone magazine have long known, he has an extensive knowledge of classical music and he writes about it in a most entertaining style.
His down-to-earth humour shines throughout.
Cutting through the pretentiousness that so often surrounds writing about any art form, he explains the pure joy that classical music can bring, “when goosebumps appear on the skin and the pulse suddenly quickens”.
He explores, for example, the question of how best to enjoy listening to classical music.
“Do you sit in absolute silence?” he asks in an essay called Use Your Ears.
“Are you bothered by the clock ticking? The dog barking to be let back in the house? Your neighbours, out in the street, talking about switching broadband?”
I particularly enjoyed his comments about opera which is simultaneously the most all-consuming of all art forms and the one most difficult to comprehend.
The typical opera conductor, he says, “was knighted five years ago for making terrifying demands on his horn section.
“Is a single man, dedicated to music and bitterness, secretly nurturing a reputation for shambolic jacket/trouser co-ordination so it may procure for him that title of ‘genius’ which the newspapers have so far forgotten to award.”
He beautifully evokes the way one’s mind is liable to wander during a long opera, poking gentle fun at audiences: “A few are celebrating their birthday, many are romantically involved with others in the audience, some are dying, several are currently being burgled, one or two are planning to run away tomorrow, five have grit in their eye, one lost her dog to a temporarily out-of-control recovery vehicle that morning,” and so on.
Iannucci even keeps us in touch with the burglars’ progress as the opera continues.
This is all great but his love of Mahler, flirtation with Bruckner, respect for Benjamin Britten and dalliances with obscure composers make the prose veer towards the pretentiousness he exposes so well.
“Another Ligeti piece, Lontano, when heard this way [with partially closed ears], seems not a million miles away from Sibelius’s Tapiola.”
And the fact that the book is a collection of essays makes it repetitive in theme and lacking in overall structure.
It starts well but then stagnates. It is also not at all clear to me why the last 100 pages are devoted entirely to the libretto Iannucci wrote for a comic opera about cosmetic surgery called Skin Deep.
It’s funny enough but operas without music never work.
Hear Me Out: All My Music – Armando Iannucci, Little, Brown, £14.99