That Johannes Brahms’s beard was a psychological disguise has always been admitted, masking Johannes’s inveterate shyness, self-pitying morbidity, and perennial sexual frustrations. But it’s not until now, and findings released in a new collection of essays (The Beard in Crisis: Masculinity, Subjectivity, and the Hirsute Performativity of Gender in 19th Century Central Europe – A Critical Reader (University of Bart College, Indiana), that the astonishing truth has come to light. Under one of the floorboards in Brahms’s bachelor pad in Vienna, a stash of fake beards in various stages of greyness has been discovered. This - at last! - explains why there are no photos or images of Brahms in between clean-shaven late-pubescence and full-on beardy-weirdy fulsomeness. What was he hiding? Something even more remarkable: a collection of hosiery, corsetry, and undergarmentry that correspond roughly to Brahms’s rotundity suggest that his performance of gender went beyond merely hiding behind a beard. Those otherwise inexplicable comments from Brahms’s favourite courtesans in Vienna’s cafés - “Johannes was one of us!”, Elisabeth Schwanenberg said after his death - now begin to make sense… [x]
OH MY GOD
This is one of those posts that has me wondering if everyone realizes it’s complete satire, here courtesy of Tom Service (in this case, chiefly at the expense of Russian authorities who recently declared that Tchaikovsky was not in fact gay). Check the original article — it’s hilarious.
Weill - Die sieben Todsünden (The Seven Deadly Sins)
Lotte Lenya, Anna I / Anna II
Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg, cond. (1957)
Die sieben Todsünden (1933), billed as a “sung ballet,” was the first collaboration between Weill and Bertolt Brecht after a period of estrangement. It is a delicious satire on bourgeois family values: Anna, the protagonist, seeks gainful employment in various American cities to finance the building of a home for her family in Louisiana, a family which continually judges her behavior while remaining dependent on her handouts and completely unhelpful in the task at hand. They admonish her to avoid each of the “seven deadly sins,” but always for selfish, earthly reasons. In the “Gluttony” movement, for example, Anna is warned (in the style of a Lutheran chorale) not to overeat lest she lose her job as a dancer.
In the prologue, we learn that Anna has a kind of split personality, with her more adventurous half represented by a dancer with occasional spoken lines and her practical self by a singer. In this classic recording from the 1950s Lenya presents the music in a significantly lower key for a more sultry effect, a move seen as controversial by some as it was apparently never discussed with her late husband, the composer—but her delivery has been universally hailed as superlative. The family, sung by a male quartet, does not appear in this movement.
(You may also enjoy this video production conducted by Nagano.)
Mozart - Divertimento in F for two horns and strings, “Ein musikalischer Spaß” (“A Musical Prank”), K. 522
III. Adagio cantabile
Shortly after Leopold Mozart’s death in late May 1787, Wolfgang began work on the cathartic, very loosely autobiographical Don Giovanni; but also that summer he entered into his catalog two interesting chamber works: the timeless Serenade in G, “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” K. 525, and its wicked stepsister, the Divertimento in F for horns and strings, “Ein musikalischer Spaß.”
For all his purity and nobility of musical expression, Mozart was no stranger to caustic humor at the expense of others—a fact which comes across to an embarrassing degree in his personal correspondence and in a few of his compositions. But nowhere is that weed in such full bloom as in this “Musical Prank,” which the composer appears to have been sketching as early as 1785 and finished in the weeks just after his father’s death.
Mozart’s letters make it abundantly clear that he considered himself surrounded by pampered and pompous musical inferiors in Vienna, and K. 522 is for the most part a fully deliberate, deliciously detailed parody of their work, a humorous revenge against their limited taste and integrity and their disproportionate success.
Over the course of the work’s four movements, Mozart retains enough style and composure to trick us into believing we are listening to an actual piece of Viennese music. But into the mix are thrown a smorgasbord of disgracefully awkward themes, nonsensical modulations, gratuitously repetitive figuration, atrocious orchestration, a positively wretched violin cadenza in a place where, clearly, no such thing belongs, unplayable horn writing, and much more. There are plenty of “wrong notes” meant to imitate the poor reading skills of the city’s orchestras: the finale, which features a couple of totally asinine fugal episodes based on exercises by Mozart’s student Thomas Atwood, actually ends in a polytonal meltdown.
To the casual listener, the Spaß might sound like a tolerable piece of dinner music peppered with a copyist’s mistakes. But to those reasonably familiar with the Viennese style of the late 18th Century, the work is hard to endure without spaßmic giggling fits.