Grand music in ‘Fifty Shades’

Karl R. de Mesa
For the 50 Shades Trilogy’s erotica for moms, author E.L. James picks Bach, Chopin, et al.

CLASSICAL MUSIC TO SWEEP you off your feet. Image from EMI/Polyeast

MANILA, Philippines – Here’s my issue with this soundtrack: it’s not original, nor was it commissioned. 

Which means it’s really closer to a mix tape than an actual OST. The subhead that reads “The Classical Album” may also be a tad misleading, since you get to thinking: oh, maybe they commissioned an orchestra to do a new version? Not so.  

EL James, who authored the “50 Shades” series, has confessed that this book soundtrack was made in conjunction with EMI Music Classical’s bosses and their enthusiasm. 

“I am thrilled that the classical pieces that inspired me while I wrote the `Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy’ are being brought together in one collection for all lovers of the books to enjoy,” sayeth James on the back CD flap. 

It’d be interesting to see what she would have written if she’d been listening to Children of Bodom instead of Bach. 

Remember “Eyes Wide Open,” Stanley Kubrick’s last film where Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman discover a cult of the obnoxiously rich engaging in masked orgies? The tracks here are closer to creating the atmosphere for that than a book about mommy porn, done in shades of BDSM-lite. 

Hey, I did try (very hard, mind) to read the first book but couldn’t get past the first chapter. My brain couldn’t take all the awkward sentences and extensive use of MS Word’s Thesaurus function. What, you thought “Twilight” was bad? This is like “Twilight” fan fiction, without vampires. 

Never mind, that. This isn’t a book review anyway. 

What I can tell you is that this is a stunning, sensual collection of classical tracks that can stand on its own.

I have no idea if the album will actually enhance the reading of the Trilogy, or present another dimension to the debauched sexual games of Christian Grey and Anastasia, but I found it helpful to simply disassociate from the story and images of said books. And I did just fine. 

So am rating this album solely by its own merits. Which is to say: you can do the same, too! 

“The Flower Duet” by Delibes kicks off this 15-track album with an angelic excerpt from “Lakme.” It’s full of vocal richness like a time lapse in music of a garden in bloom, withering and then decayed.

Then, Bach’s “Keyboard Concerto in D Minor BWV 974: Adagio” brings us touches of miserabilism and yearning, the fruits of depression as dark as can be with piano lines that lead to lofty heights but then, blunted, fall quickly back down. 

Listen to the Tallis scholars perform Tallis’ “Spem in Alium” here:

Chopin’s “Nocturne No 1 in B flat Minor Op. 9” easily evokes an age of romantics all staring up and enraptured at the starry night, while Debussy fills us with an unnameable hunger in his whimsical “Preludes: La fille aux cheveux de lin.” 

Verdi’s “La Traviata: Prelude” is about as emo as it gets with its rollercoaster, staccato take on romance with gratuitous volume swells. One minute wallowing in despondency, then off into fanciful could-have-been thoughts, the next. All that’s lacking is a guy screaming, “I’m sorry! So sorry!” 

Still, for sheer epic grandeur, my money is on Tallis’ vocal harmonium “Spem in Alium” with its roguish take on Catholic hymns gone the way of pure cadenza with an intensity that just builds and builds and builds; and of course the opus that is Bach’s “Cantata BWV 147 — Jesu joy of man’s desiring.”  

Funny that James chose classical music to inspire her for a series of books that’s essentially the story of a multi-billionaire who’s an emotional wreck and a young student who gives up what little semblance of control she ever had in lieu of pleasure mixed with pain.

As Apollonian and cerebral as the music of Bach and Verdi gets, there’s no lack of emotionality there; but it just doesn’t seem to fit the theme no matter how hard I try. As opposed to the outré primalism of rock and roll and industrial music that is as Dionysian as it can get. Maybe I’m just too much of a 90s guy? 

Perhaps all the torturous sex between Grey and Anastasia, sandwiched in the master/servant interplay at the core of all BDSM, does gain greater breadth through the lens of this soundtrack?

I have no idea, but I did enjoy this CD immensely. 

I think the head honchos at EMI were very clever to hitch their classical music division to a bestseller like James’ books. Now their old — almost public domain — tracks will get polished off, sent to the ears of fresh listeners, and enjoyed by a new generation of erotic lit readers. 

I hope it does turn them on.

I hope it does lead them to explore the pleasures of more recent masters of musical classicism.  

You can always turn page after page of James’ book and hope it gets better. But you won’t need that with this soundtrack.

You can trust the rock stars of the 1600s and 1800s, those  feted for their vision and virtuosity, that the power of their suites, nocturnes and arias, will remain undiminished. 

As a collection of top rate classical music, this is a decently mixed, well-planned and niftily marketed mix tape worth your money. – 

“Fifty Shades of Grey, The Classical Album” (EMI/Polyeast) is available at all major record outlets and music stores. 

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