Daily Bow: Fifty Shades Goes Classical, Part III

Daily Bow Logo

Fifty Shades of Gray: The Classical Albums Recieves Mixed Reviews

Recently on String Visions, we brought you a couple of stories about the connection between classical music and the popular erotic fantasy novel Fifty Shades of Gray. The book, which apparently makes numerous references to famous musical works, created a huge bump for the Tallis Scholar’s recording of Spem in alium, vaulting it to number seven on the UK’s hit charts. Following this peak in public curiosity about Renaissance motets, the author of the book, E.L. James, collaborated with EMI to produce a CD designed to accompany the Fifty Shades of Gray reading experience. Thus the Fifty Shades classical album was born, with contributions by noted composers such as Bach, Tallis, Rachmaninoff, and Vaughn Williams.

The album has received a variety of responses from critics. The majority of reviewers are quite pleased with quality of the performances on the album.  Sir Neville  Marriner and the Academy  of Saint-Martin-in-the-Fields, Ricardo  Muti,  Maria Tipo and Cecile  Ousset are all featured, giving the album a sense of credebility. Critics also enjoyed how the selections highlighted different periods of the repertoire and gave listeners a solid grounding in the some of the “classics” of classical music. What was more confusing, however, was how these pieces are supposed to fit into the reading experience. While I have not read the book and therfore cannot be completely sure, I do agree with the critics when they point out that there’s nothing particularly sexy about Bach’s “Jesu, joy of man’s desiring.” Perhaps they fit into the novel in a different context, but it seems slightly strange to pair Bach’s cantatas and keyboard works with an erotic novel; they have much more in common with the parlor than the bedroom.

One positive attribute critics have associated with the album is that the CD serves as a good introdcution to classical music for less seasoned listeners. The repertoire selected is easy on the ears are sure to be memorable. James, a classical enthusiast herself, did a fine job of presenting listeners with an interesting soundtrack that covers multiple periods of musical history. What is concerning, however, is that works are not presented in their complete form on the album, and sometimes not even whole movements. Not only are single movements presented outside of the context of the entire work, but there are some tracks the fade out in the middle of a movment. While the album might be a good introduction to classical music, it is not necessarily an accurate one. The track lengths cater to a short attention span, giving listeners a quick impression before moving on to something new. Thinking optimistically, this could peek people’s intrest and cause them to pick up the whole recording if they like it. More realistically though, listeners will not think to do so. The album is intended to accompany the reading of the book; it serves as a background for reading pleasure. The works presented on the Fifty Shades album might be a good soothing listen, but they are hardly background music that can stand being cut off mid-movement. It’s hard to imagine any of Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos accompanying anthying, but that’s in the album too.

Then again, maybe I’m wrong. As Donald Rosenberg of cleveland.com points out, the album does a service to the classical community: it presents a view of classical music far less narrow than a “slew of Beethoven Fifths.” Furthermore, it helps the listener to associate more abstract forms of music as an artistic turn on rather than a sleep-aid. Maybe the Fifty Shades classical album can boost classical recording sales. I mean, who would’ve thought an erotic novel about S&M would have attracted so much media attention and popularity in the first place? In the meantime, if you’re looking for a good sampling of some very good music, although in an abreviated form, check out the album. It might be surprising.

Tags: ,


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply