Dominic Lawson, in a typically thoughtful Independent op-ed, took my Karajan column last week as a springboard for contemplating the connection between genius and virtue.
I am inclined to agree with his argument in respect of original creators. Aesthetically, and scientifically for that matter, lack of moral fibre is no impediment to genius. Byron was a rotter. So were Shelley and Dylan Thomas. Picasso was no paragon. Rodin was a bit of a shit, and as for Klimt, Schiele and the Viennese school… decadent, the lot of them.
Music, though, for some mysterious reason, is different. In music there are few instances of a great composer who was not, in some way, a good man. Misanthropes abound, but Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Britten were decent to the core. Bach was a friendly teddy-bear for the most part. Mozart was much misunderstood. Sibelius was a moral rock hiding behind a vodka bottle.
Mahler once said – and I think he meant composers: ‘there are no great men without some goodness’. Schoenberg said of Mahler: er war ein Heiliger – he was a saint.’
There is, of course, Wagner – but he’s an exception to all known rules.
So why do composers tend to the good? You tell me.