NOTE: Some language in this post may be too explicit for some readers.
hide captionCan you make out to Mozart, or shack up to Chopin? Composers can turn on the sex appeal when necessary.
With Valentine's Day around the corner, my mind keeps coming back to two things. One of them is music.
The other? Well, I've often wondered why we find plenty of sex in almost all the fine arts — literature, movies, painting, sculpture, opera — but not in the classical concert hall.
Music can be impossibly erotic even if it's not ostensibly about sex — "classics fully clothed," you might say. Maria Joao Pires' performance of the first Nocturne by Chopin is something I find totally steamy. And Jessye Norman's luxurious rendition of Wagner's "Liebestod" is nothing short of a sensual head rush.
It's not easy to depict even a simple kiss in something as amorphous as music, but that doesn't mean composers throughout history haven't tried. Below are five examples of some really steamy classical music. Some of it is brazenly explicit, so read on if you're over 18.
Have some favorite "sensual classics" of your own? Tell us about them (with appropriate language, please) in our comments section.
Renaissance composers like Palestrina were hot on setting texts in Latin from the Song of Songs, a biblical collection of love poems attributed to King Solomon. Lyrics like "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth. For your breasts are better than wine ... ") were interpreted by folks like the Pope as an allegory of the relationship between God and his people.
Kissing the severed head of John the Baptist, which indeed occurs in Richard Strauss' Salome, is not sexy. No way. But other parts of the opera are, such as the "Dance of the Seven Veils," essentially a strip tease wherein the sensual and powerful Salome peels off clothing until finally she's left with none. The opera was banned briefly at the Met in New York after its 1907 debut, but it achieved wild success later. In 2004, the stunning soprano Karita Mattila made headlines by ending the scene completely au naturel. This tantalizing music undulates and slithers.
Just about the time Salome was titillating opera audiences in New York, Russian composer Alexander Scriabin was finishing off his symphonic Poem of Ecstasy. The 20-minute piece is filled with kaleidoscopic colors, deliciously languid episodes and lurching trumpet calls. It is based on one of Scriabin's own poems, which speaks of a "thirst for life" and surrendering to the "bliss of love." It's long been thought that the music represents the very act of lovemaking, cresting in a blazing climax of eight horns, pipe organ, bells, harp and trills high up in the winds. After all the excitement, the strings are left panting softly. Get it? I've telescoped this excerpt to include the stirring opening and whiz-bang finale.
Around 1920, Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff was deep into the Dada movement and the lewd pen and ink drawings of Georg Grosz. He decided to match Grosz in music with his Sonata Erotica, a short piece scored for a single female vocalist whose task is to fake an orgasm (think of the scene in When Harry Met Sally, except this goes on for more than three minutes). I've only included 30 seconds of this recording, because it simply gets too steamy.
Thomas Adés' chamber opera Powder Her Face loosely follows the real-life sexual exploits of the Duchess of Argyll who, in her famous 1963 divorce case, was labeled "a highly sexed woman." Although the opera will likely be remembered primarily as the first to incorporate a particular sexual act on stage (listen to this excerpt where the Duchess seduces a hotel waiter and you may catch on), it's Adés' terrific score that endlessly delights.