ISBN 978 0 7206 1279 0
KEN RUSSELL PRESENTS!
Brahms Gets Laid
and his new exhibition of photographs - Lost London Rediscovered is showing at Proud Galleries
Ken Russell is one of the most original, vibrant and groundbreaking film and television directors of the recent era. His finest films such as Women in Love, The Music Lovers and The Devils are milestones in film history. A true visionary, Russell’s work – invariably involving a very liberal treatment of sexuality – has always struggled with censorship and controversy. Although he is remembered for the rock opera Tommy and recently directed an innovative production of ‘Madam Butterfly’, Russell started out making drama documentaries on the lives of the great composers for the BBC series Monitor in the late 1950s and early 60s. Classical music remains a passion and for the first time in these ‘novel-biographies’ he focuses a literary lens on the private lives of Beethoven, Brahms, Elgar and Delius – with no holds barred!
Hold on to your hats for the sex romp of the (nineteenth) century!
Beethoven Confidential started life as a play that was developed into a screenplay for a film starring Jodie Foster and Glenda Jackson, with Anthony Hopkins as the deaf musical genius Ludwig von Beethoven. It tells the story of the rivalry between two would-be biographers in the quest for theso-called 'Immortal Beloved' – Beethoven's secret love. Personal friends of Beethoven, the biographers become pitted against each other in a race to reveal the mysterious lover. The film was never made but the mystery is solved in this novel about the great composer. It is a story that Ken Russell considers to be one of the most bizarre and compelling detective yarns of all time.
Johannes Brahms was renowned for his 'three B's'- beer, beard and belly. Tradition has it that Brahms died a confirmed bachelor and a respected pillar of society who liked nothing better than a pint in the evening and a walk through the Black Forest at weekends. But what of his sex life? According to Ken Russell, 'Brahms probably knew more about sex than any composer before or since.' The evidence is in the music: for sheer sensuality try the inner movements of his Third Symphony, or the opening of his
First Symphony ('tell me if that doesn't have balls') or a section in the Fourth that can only be described as 'the sex act set to music'. But the composer’s early life tells us more. Born in the red-light district of Hamburg, Brahms spent his formative years playing piano in city brothels. Brahms Gets Laid investigates his close association with insane genius Robert Schumann and his even closer relationship with the psychologically disturbed Clara Schumann and her daughters. ‘
‘Russell’s investigative method is charmingly random and he prizes humorous controversy over verifiable truths. Were the opening chords of the Fifth Symphony prompted by a summons from fate? No, says Beethoven, it was the rent-collector at the door.
Russell grants himself the same poetic licence in his novella about Brahms’s affair with Clara Schumann. We first meet Brahms as an acolyte of Robert Schumann who hails the young prodigy in a news-paper review. ‘Hats off, gentlemen. A genius!’ Not that this deters Schumann from obliging Brahms to safeguard his litter of children while he and Clara go off to promote their musical careers. Then Robert abruptly goes mad and is bundled off to a clinic at Endenich where quack doctors try to cure his madness by rubbing his genitals in the guts of a freshly bisected lamb.
This scene is so bizarre and gruesomely hilarious that it seems pointless to question its validity. After Schumann’s death Brahms is free to consummate his love for Clara, but their affair is soon supplanted by Brahms’s desire for her young daughter, Elise.
The same pattern is followed by Elgar in The Erotic Variations. Having married a starchy minor aristocrat, he pursues a bevy of younger muses while propelling himself up the professional ladder and emerging as a pompous establishment grandee. At lunch with Frederick Delius, Elgar proposes a toast to English music. ‘What’s that?’ says Delius. ‘I’ve never heard any.’
Though blind and paralysed Delius is far more eccentric and likeable than Elgar. Living in exile in provincial France, the demanding composer keeps a gong at his side to summon footmen or dutiful womenfolk. Despite his immobility he even goes mountaineering, hoisted towards the summit by cursing admirers. Among these is Percy Grainger, who revives a rumour that Delius once seduced a 12-year-old girl who later died in childbirth. No evidence is given. ‘Maybe it’s true,’ shrugs Grainger, ‘maybe it’s just a vicious slur.’
Russell’s purpose in writing these saucy tales is not merely to assemble a slush pile of tittle-tattle but also to establish a genealogy of inspiration and to demonstrate that sex is one of the pre-eminent spurs to creativity. Yet one can’t entirely suppress the suspicion that Russell’s art is a substitute for action and that these sex-crammed fictions are a displacement activity for a director who in his 80th year bears a powerful resemblance to Old Father Saturn and who himself may be just as randy as his priapic batonistas.’ – Spectator