When Peter Cook admitted to Dudley Moore that he was “turned on by dead Popes,” it was a satire on those among us who’re so bored by their lives as to be infinitely suggestible. Thus a dead pope lying on a catafalque in white robes looks “at peace, at rest, and ****ing fanciable.”
The joke, of course, is that no one could imagine the Pope as a sexual object, whether alive or dead. The same might be thought to be true of classical musicians. While Shakira shakes her “fanciable” ass on every video, classical musicians are supposed to be much stuffier.
However, during the research for my new historical thriller MOZART’S LAST ARIA I discovered that the sexiest performers today are not the booty-shaking R’n’B divas, nor the pouting rockers (none of them has ever been able to compete with Joan Jett.) They’re the opera singers and clarinetists and pianists.
Followers of my blog The Man of Twists and Turns will have seen a couple of videos featuring the music from MOZART’S LAST ARIA performed by current musicians. I cite them here to prove my point. Check out Diana Damrau and tell me that when you hear this beautiful blonde Bavarian singing Mozart (as she does on her homepage), you don’t feel a stirring in areas you might have thought were as dormant as a dead Pope. She’s also evidence that the days of the fat lady singing are over. Opera divas are quite gorgeous these days.
Or there’s the Israeli clarinetist Sharon Kam who appears in a video on my blog playing another of the pieces from my novel. A prominent performer around Europe, she’s much more expressive on stage in her body movements than most soloists. I will stop here before I get into further Cook-and-Moore territory with comments about the shape of the clarinet and where the soloist places it… (And after all Spike Milligan’s orchestral penis substitute was a different woodwind which he dubbed “Pink Oboe.”)
This is all more than idle comment on a few good-looking women, of course. There’s an important artistic point to be made. And now that I’ve given you links to what Pete and Dud would’ve called “the crumpet,” I shall make that artistic point.
As I was writing MOZART’S LAST ARIA, my closest musical consultant was Orit Wolf, a wonderful Israeli concert pianist who’s married to a great friend of mine. We discussed at great length the techniques she uses to enter the spirit or mood of a piece of music before she plays it. But in talking to Orit it became clear to me that the sensuality of classical music is unrivalled by other musical genres. The stereotypical image of classical music is as stiff and elitist. While the places where the music is performed may often seem elitist, the performers themselves are deeply emotional and yet focused in their sentiment.
I tried to bring this sensibility to the writing of MOZART’S LAST ARIA. To make the book sensual, even if it takes place in a cold Vienna winter. To bring us so close to the emotions of the characters in the book that we feel as though they are beautiful music working on our own feelings.
I think I have it right, naturally. Whereas the dead Pope fixation leads Pete and Dud to attempt arson on the BBC (see their Ad Nauseam album of 1978), my sense of the sensuousness of classical music gave rise to a novel that I hope readers will find…. sexy.
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