These days our tabloid magazines are obsessed with the love lives of the rich and the famous; but have you ever wondered what these stories would look like if the subjects were famous composers from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries? ABC broadcaster Christopher Lawrence has the answer along with a dash of poetic licence in his latest book: Symphony Of Seduction.
This title is a follow-up to his previous volume Swooning, and promises the reader: “The great love stories of classical composers”, but this is a bit of a misnomer, because, whilst it describes various love stories, they’re hardly “great ones”. More often than not they’re about fleeting romances, trysts, love triangles, stories about adultery, etc. In fact, they’re more often the great lust stories of these famous composers.
In eleven chapters devoted to ten different artists Lawrence looks under the covers at various musical geniuses and their romantic partners. It is fascinating that in many cases the intelligence and forte for music and the arts did not translate to respect in matters of the heart. For example, Erik Satie, a reclusive French composer who wore identical suits every day. He found himself completely enamoured with a call girl named Suzanne Valadon after what was only a fleeting six-month affair during his twenties, virtually anyone else in this position would have found a way to move on.
A lack of experience was also a hallmark of part of Mozart’s story; a child prodigy chaperoned around by his parents, so he of course had little opportunity to become acquainted with the fairer sex. He was in love with his cousin, a girl who shared his wicked sense of humour. Now, some readers may be a little shocked and surprised by the toilet humour that Lawrence attributes to Mozart in this chapter, especially as it seems a tad at odds with the rest of the material found here. But back to Mozart’s story; what makes it so fascinating is that he was able to craft such tender and elegant symphonies at a time when he was naïve and not particularly cognisant about women.
This book isn’t without scandal. Take Puccini, a man who had concubines in every port. His wife, Elvira turned a blind eye to this until she believed he was having an affair with their maid, Doria. This gossip proved ruinous in their small town. Doria stayed schtum about things and eventually committed suicide. She was later revealed at autopsy to be a virgin. She, like many of Puccini’s other women/conquests, would inspire the maestro to create a future character in one of his great operas. His most famous and commercial successes were of course with Tosca and Madama Butterfly.
This book is not 100% historically accurate because that would be impossible. Instead, it is one potential view as to what may have happened. Lawrence has researched the places, people and the times and has constructed these short stories from the correspondence written by those individuals and various secondary sources like testimonials from other people who lived around this time. It makes for one colourful and rollicking read.
Symphony of Seduction is a book that will be enjoyed by classical music lovers and those who enjoy looking at romances from throughout history. It is proof that people have always been intrigued by other people’s matters of the heart and it is interesting to see the disparity between these composers’ personal and professional lives. Symphony Of Seduction is ultimately a passionate look at classical music’s lust for life and love through the ages.
Symphony of Seduction by Christopher Lawrence is available now through Nero Books.