When Peter Cook admitted to Dudley Moore that he was “turned on by dead
Popes,” it was of course 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
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
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.