The Arty Semite

Roald Dahl's 'Dirty Beasts' Set To Music

By Reuters

  • Print
  • Share Share

Roald Dahl’s “Dirty Beasts” poems have a musical cadence which may explain why, after the success of stage versions of “Matilda” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, three of them are being set to music to introduce young people to the orchestra.

The anteater which gobbles a spoiled rich boy’s aunt, the flying toad which can turn itself into a roly-poly bird to escape frog-loving French gourmands, and the girl with a bag of sweets who sits on a porcupine and has to have quills removed by a dentist have been orchestrated by composer Benjamin Wallfisch for a February premiere atLondon’s Southbank Centre.

“In these times when kids have so many options, I was hoping with this piece aimed at people under the age of 10 to inspire them to explore the orchestra,” Wallfisch, 33, who comes from a distinguished British musical family, told Reuters in a telephone interview from his home in Los Angeles.

The premiere will take place during Southbank’s “Imagine” children’s festival, which this year features a major strand of Dahl tributes to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the publication of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”.

Luke Kelly, Dahl’s grandson who helps direct his estate and who was in London on Friday for the festival launch, said the late Welsh-born author and onetime fighter pilot had a knack for writing works that lend themselves to adaptations.

“The characters are so boiled down and the humour is so present I think it does translate to many mediums, whether it’s musical, films or operas,” Kelly, 27, told Reuters.

Wallfisch, whose enthusiasm for the Dahl project bubbles down the telephone line, would seem to be an ideal choice for setting his off-beat, dark-hued poems to music.

He has scored movies ranging from the Norse action film “Hammer of the Gods”, with an all-electronic music track, to a lush, Vaughan Williams-esque score for “Summer in February”, set in an artists’ colony in the English county of Cornwall.

Wallfisch, whose father is the renowned cellist Raphael Wallfisch and whose cello-playing grandmother survived the Auschwitz extermination camp, has been a huge enthusiast of improvising on the piano since childhood, and also was strongly influenced by family trips to the local movie theatre.

“In the 1980s there were all these amazingly great pieces of music being written for film and I tried to understand and get my head around them. After we would come back from ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Indiana Jones’ I would go to the piano and try to figure out what was going on there” in the film soundtrack.

“It does for me what music does best - it hits you hard emotionally,” Wallfisch said.

For “Dirty Beasts” he has composed what he describes as “a sort of trilogy which lasts about 20 minutes” to be performed over three concerts by the London Philharmonic starting on Feb. 16 with “The Porcupine”, followed by “The Anteater” on May 11 and “The Toad and the Snail” on Oct. 26. British television presenter Chris Jarvis will narrate the poems.

“It was an incredible chance to find a really colourful musical illustration for storytelling based on these poems that kids love and that are so outlandish,” Wallfisch said.

The trickiest of the three, he said, was the poem about the anteater, in which Dahl is having fun with the different pronunciations in America and Britain of the word “aunt”.

In America “aunt” sounds like “ant” and this prompts the starving anteater, whose spoiled owner lives in San Francisco, to gobble down the old woman - and then say to Roy: “You little squirt, I think I’ll have you for dessert.”

“There aren’t so many ways to illustrate misunderstandings so I made it a jazzy piece, I wanted to introduce these kids to the idea of America being the birthplace of jazz,” Wallfisch said.

His fondest hope is that his “Dirty Beasts” trilogy might have some of the impact on a new generation of one of his all-time favourites from childhood - Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf”, in which each character is portrayed by an instrument.

“When I was four or five I remember hearing ‘Peter and the Wolf’ and for a while I refused to answer to Benjamin, I had to be called Peter,” Wallfisch said.

“It definitely had an impact on me and it showed me that you can tell a story in music which is vivid and exciting for children…So hopefully positive things will come out of this and I hope it will have a life and inspire young kids to get involved in the orchestra by playing or going to concerts.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: benjamin wallfisch, raoul dahl

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.