February 29, 2012

Three cheers for the brave new world...

When pianist Paul Jacobs died of AIDS in 1983, his New York Times obituary, penned by the then ubiquitous piano authority Harold C. Schonberg, mentioned only that Jacobs "died after a long illness".  In the context of an obituary for one of the outstanding American pianists of the post-war generation -- and in light of the fact that other obituaries from the same year dutifully reported heart attacks, cancers, suicides, and other specific causes of death -- Schonberg's wording sounds as vacuous and evasive as a report saying that J.F. Kennedy "died after a brief limousine ride".

Things have improved considerably since then, and not only at the New York Times (which now has openly gay chief music critic).  Some may even think that the pursuit of sexual glasnost in the classical music world has gone too far by pushing musicians toward pointless exhibitionism and general bad taste -- from Vanessa-Mae's soft-porn posters, to Yuja Wang's skimpy concert dress (with its clearly implied promise of a beaver shot for those lucky to sit in the front row), to Jeremy Denk's interview whose topics included "cute gay twinky boy composers" and "watching someone masturbate on the couch".

I, however, do not see such examples as in any way detracting from the dignity and nobility of classical music, if only because there has never been anything particularly dignified and noble about those in the business of creating and performing serious music.  After all, the list of important composers includes fellows who frequented whorehouses (Brahms), molested children (Saint-Saens), authored virulently antisemitic pamphlets (Wagner), and glorified murderous political regimes (Shostakovich).   As for performers, only Norman Lebrecht seems to have the requisite stamina for listing all those sadistic sociopaths, greedy opportunists, shameless liars, arrogant charlatans, and philandering husbands among masters of the podium, poets of the keyboard, wizards of the bow, and conquerors of the high C.  And let us not forget about opera, which offers some of the most imaginative music ever written to accompany tales of murder, adultery, incest, deceit, betrayal, promiscuity, and other similarly ignoble yet irresistibly entertaining manifestations of human nature.

In the end, this brave new sexualized classical music world of ours is really not all that brave.  The day is yet to come when Steinway & Co. will be marketing Ben Wa Balls for pianists eager to inject that extra ounce of ecstasy into their Chopin mazurka; or when beefy men in drag and high heels will be conducting scorching performances of Beethoven's Eroica and Mahler's 9th.  If this is the future, I face it with the serenity of a Buddhist monk.  Because when people make music, the only thing that matters to me is the actual music they make.  And music is one thing I've always enjoyed best with my eyes closed.


laybl said...

As a dedicated, if not skilled heterosexual, I continue to find it difficult to find a correlation between sexual preference(s) and musical genius...or, for that matter, between such genius and morality.Our prodigies cover the spectrum of choices, inclinations, anomalies, etc., with no visible effect on their output.

I have a tremendous antipathy toward "Amadeus" because of its " how can a clown write such great music?" approach. He may have chortled, excessively, but there was no lack of philosophy or insight in Mozart's music...I think of Shaw's comment about the Commendatore's statue singing a melody that could be performed by God without embarrassment.

As for waxed pussy, I didn't see it on the menu.

David said...

Do you know, one of the best music videos I saw recently was an old 78 set of Beethoven, on YouTube, which simply consisted of a film of the records going round on the turntable for the 5mins or so of each side, then a brief cut to the next hypnotic journey of the needle... Eyes shut, that's the way to hear music; I've no time for elaborate performances on the podium or stage.

However those who are very restrained in their performance style seem to be generally considered less 'good' than those who 'perform'. Odd, since kids spend the first years of music lessons being told to stand still & stop jigging around; then have to re-learn how to do it if they want a career in performing...

RonanM said...

Not to mention the drunken debaucher Clemens non Papa and the sodomites Rosenmuller and Gombert. I tend to think that if any of them had anything to say, it would be the Buddhist joke of "I'm pointing at the moon and you're staring at my finger." I don't want my musical heroes to be perfect people, I want them to be good musicians. Something that's rarer.

At least the thought of waxed pussy is better than my tendency to call her huger wang.