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Sex and Music: Letter to the Editor

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I could not possibly disagree more with A. Patrick Vaughan’s Letter to the Editor in the September 2007 issue. His statement that “Eroticism has no place in serious music” reveals a deep ignorance of the nature of art. While a significant number of artistic works do emphasize such spiritual ideals as purity, chastity, love of God, etc., the vast majority of great art is more concerned with the human condition, which (unfortunately for Mr. Vaughan) does include physical passion. Can Mr. Vaughan really be sure that Mozart wasn’t thinking of anything “profane” when he was composing? Bach and Mozart both had many children: does the fact that they engaged in sex make their religiously-themed work less relevant?

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This letter reminded me of a story I heard from my former harp teacher. One of her other students was preparing to play Debussy’s Danses sacrée et profane at her Christian high school. The piece is written as one connected work, with the first Danse going directly into the second. When this harpist’s school principal found out the name of the work, he demanded that she perform only the “Danse sacrée,” thus forcing her to choose between ending the piece on a non-cadential chord and manufacturing her own ending having nothing to do with what Debussy intended. If the man in question had ever actually listened to the piece (which he did not), he would have realized that Debussy’s choice of title was clearly meant to juxtapose two dances of radically different musical aesthetic.

I have to wonder: does Mr. Vaughan refrain from listening to the works of Rachmaninoff? His music is highly sexually charged. What about Liszt? Women used to swoon when he played because they found him so sexy. Does that mean that his music is not “serious”? Should Strauss not have put the erotic “Dance of the Seven Veils” in his rendering of Salomé? Where does Mr. Vaughan draw the line? A nude woman certainly qualifies as an erotic figure, so does that mean that women should not appear nude in paintings or sculpture? If Mr. Vaughan was so offended that The Juilliard Journal would print Jeannette Fang’s article, perhaps he also objects to the fact that Juilliard includes in its curriculum Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, a piece centered around pagan fertility rites.

The fact of the matter is that eroticism does have a place in serious music and in the arts in general, at least as significant a place as religious sensibilities. Furthermore, sexuality and religion need not be mutually exclusive. It saddens me to think that there are people out there like Mr. Vaughan who will eternally fail to appreciate the sensual, passionate beauty of some of the world’s greatest works of art.

 

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