I find plenty of eroticism in almost all the fine arts—literature, movie, painting, sculpture, opera—but I have been wondering lately if I could find it with the same ease in classical music too.
It’s not easy for the listener to see a depicted kiss—or something even hotter—in something as amorphous as music, but that doesn’t mean composers throughout history haven’t tried—and achieved—it.
Yet, music can be impossibly erotic even if it’s not ostensibly about sex—let’s call it fully-clothed classics.
Chopin’s 1st Nocturne performed by Maria João Pires is something I find totally steamy. And Jessye Norman’s luxurious rendition of Wagner’s Liebestod is nothing short of a sensual head rush. And how about Gionvanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s Osculetur me and Strauss’s Dance of the Seven Veils, from Salome?
But my all time faves are Ravel’s Bolero—a cliché, I know, but I have my reasons—and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.
Bolero has always sounded to me as an act of making love with its simple obsessive repetition which goes in a crescendo and reaches an abrupt climax. Well, some who have seen it performed could say it is—gasp!—an orgy. It was originally commissioned to Ravel by Russian actress and dancer Ida Rubinstein, but none dance it as the incomparable androgynous Jorge Donn. I had the unique opportunity to watch Donn—dancing all alone which was much more impacting, in my opinion—choreographed by none other than once-in-a-lifetime Maurice Béjart, here in Rio de janeiro, in the 1980s.
Carmina Burana is in fact a manuscript of 254 poems and dramatic texts mostly from the 11th or 12th century, although some are from the 13th century. As I have a curious nature, of course I read the lyrics. The pieces are mostly bawdy, irreverent, and satirical. Orff chose 24 poems which translate into the fickleness of fortune and wealth, the ephemeral nature of life, the joy of the return of spring, and the pleasures and perils of drinking, gluttony, gambling, and lust.
Have a favorite sensual classic of your own? Tell me about it!
Watch Donn here!
You can also see Donn dancing on the 1981 movie Les uns et les autres.
You can read Carmina Burana’s lyrics here, if you want to slake your curiosity.