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Friday, July 6, 2012

Classical Music Unleashed

EMI releases 50 Shades of Classical Music.
by Paul Pelkonen
“Why is anyone the way they are? That’s kind of hard to answer. Why do some people like cheese and other people hate it? Do you like cheese?”
--Christian Grey, from Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James.

Record companies and, more recently, download merchants are continually trying to find new ways to market the vast catalogue of classical music and opera that was created in the boom years of the music industry. One of the more frequently used ideas is to make a compilation or playlist tied to a particular book or movie, and sell the whole thing as a bundle of files for a low price.

Which brings us to Angel Records' June 25 release: 50 Shades of Classical, the playlist currently being marketed (on iTunes and as a tie in to E.L. James' best-selling soft-core S & M-themed Fifty Shades trilogy. For those of you who haven't heard of these books, Fifty Shades chronicles the kinky love affair between billionaire, control freak and would-be master of the universe Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, the English major who becomes the...object of his affections.
Ms. James' (real name Erika Mitchell) books have their roots as fan-fiction. The trilogy was originally a massive novel called Master of the Universe. It originally featured Edward and Bella from Stephanie Meyer's equally popular Twilight saga, but the names were changed and new characters created upon author's revision.

The books have sold over 20 million copies in the past year, and have been published in 37 countries.
In other words, it's the best-selling example of its kind since Anne Rice wrote the Sleeping Beauty Trilogy under the pseudonym "A.N. Roquelaure."And according to an article in the Daily Mail, the books have sold more paperbacks than J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter cycle.

Their popularity may be attributed to a purple prose style, active sexual imaginations, and the need (according to Ms. James) for housewives to "take a holiday from their husbands." The sensational sales might also be a side-effect of the rise in popularity of e-readers, which make it impossible for people to tell if you're reading sexy smut or Superconductor.

"I had no idea giving pleasure could be such a turn-on, watching him writhe subtly with carnal longing. My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves."
--Anastasia Steele, from Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James.

The 50 Shades of Classical Music playlist is a series of excerpts from great (and pretty decent) recordings in the EMI catalogue. It includes nuggets like the Flower Duet from Delibes' Lakmé, a bit of the Overture to Verdi's La Forza del Destino (to include the whole thing would have been too sadistic?) and a bleeding chunk of Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. Opera singers are represented too, including Maria Callas, Angela Gheorghiu, and...Maria Callas, singing bits of Bizet, Puccini and Verdi.

Thankfully, the list does not include O Fortuna.

"My insides practically contort with potent, needy, liquid desire. Desire — acute, liquid and smoldering, combusts deep in my belly."
--Anastasia Steele, from Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James.

These excerpts are presumably designed to accompany acts of bondage, paddling, long speeches about eating cheese and other acts of sexual deviance. However, what's odd about the track list is that it includes music that is not especially vigorous. Keyboard treats like Chopin's Minute Waltz, Satie's Gymnopedies No. 1 and Debussy's Dr. Gradus ad Parnassum from Children's Corner are not usually associated with cuffs, chains and rope. The same might be said for the religious selections on the setlist, cribbed from the Fauré Requiem, a Bach cantata, and the Lacrimosa from Mozart's Requiem.

Of course, if aficionadoes of these books (there are three: Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed) really want to engage in sadomasochistic activities, they might consider using these gobbets of musical goodness to accompany readings of Ms. James' prose:

"I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. Damn my hair—it just won’t behave, and damn Katherine Kavanagh for being ill and subjecting me to this ordeal. I should be studying for my final exams, which are next week, yet here I am trying to brush my hair into submission. I must not sleep with it wet. I must not sleep with it wet. Reciting this mantra several times, I attempt, once more, to bring it under control with the brush. I roll my eyes in exasperation and gaze at the pale, brown-haired girl with blue eyes too big for her face staring back at me, and give up. My only option is to restrain my wayward hair in a ponytail and hope that I look semi-presentable.

Kate is my roommate, and she has chosen today of all days to succumb to the flu. Therefore, she cannot attend the interview she’d arranged to do, with some mega-industrialist tycoon I’ve never heard of, for the student newspaper. So I have been volunteered. I have final exams to cram for and one essay to finish, and I’m supposed to be working this afternoon, but no—today I have to drive 165 miles to downtown Seattle in order to meet the enigmatic CEO of Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc. As an exceptional entrepreneur and major benefactor of our university, his time is extraordinarily precious—much more precious than mine—but he has granted Kate an interview. A real coup, she tells me. Damn her extracurricular activities."
--Anastasia Steele, from Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

They might want to tie their partners down first.

(Copyright notice: All excerpts from Fifty Shades of Grey are by E.L. James and are © 2010, 2011, and 2012 by Knopf and Vintage Books. Excerpts are used for promotional use only.)

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