Why is there a free willy on my record cover?

I was so keen to wrap my ears around the harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani’s debut disc – a set of C P E Bach Württemberg Sonatas – that I paid no attention to the wrapping until I’d had a full run-through of the stunningly advanced pieces on the album, brilliantly played. Then I looked at the cover.

It shows a young chap with no clothes on, airing his gentleman’s relish to the light of day.

cpe bach willy



Now, I’m no prude and the sketch is undoubtedly a work of art, but classical recording has generally drawn the line at exposing boys’ and girls’ bits anywhere below the pubic bone. Above the line there has been plenty of exposure – all in the name of art, of course – but this Hyperion release seems to me to cross the genital line, and for no good reason.

The picture (I looked closely) is not a likeness of either CPE Bach or Mahan Esfahani. Contradict me if you know better.

It is titled Reclining male nude supported by left arm, looking upwards by Anton Rafael Mengs (1728-1779) and it is reproduced courtesy of the Martin von Wagner Museum at the University of Würzburg.

Würzburg, in case you’re wondering, is in Bavaria. It has nothing to do with Württemberg, or the Duke of Württemberg, a former pupil for whom CPE Bach wrote his extraordinary sonatas.

So what’s the boy and his tackle doing on the cover? There has to be a reason, right?


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  • “Gentleman’s relish” and “tackle”…two new descriptors for my own future music criticism. Thank you Mr. Lebrecht!

  • He’s an artist who was a contemporary of CPE Bach and represents a step away from Baroque art, much as CPE Bach was a step away from Baroque music.

    He did some work in Saxony, which was alternately part of or neighbor to Prussia, where CPE Bach worked.

    There, that’s good enough for me!

  • Female nudity is everywhere in art and commerce; this makes a change. (Guy would look pretty grotesque with his genitals missing, like a Ken doll.)

    • And about time, as well, Ms. Miller. I’ve been sick of seeing pictures of naked women in museums, advertising, book covers, record covers, etc. etc. for my entire life. Unless the story or music is about, for example, Eve & Adam, or Salome, or choose-your-poison, what is the bloody reason?

  • The guy is holding a torch? Maybe that’s the allegory intended? An artist stripping naked – giving it all – holding a torch to some masterpieces?

  • I have no problem with a Baroque painting of a male nude complete with exposed scrotum and penis. The problem this country has is that it sees nudes always as titilating and not as a human body.

    I have two teenage sons, and as a woman have had to address the matter of their genetalia as part of their bodies. If something went wrong pathologically and the needed to see a doctor, I did not want them to feel embarrassed or ashamed to approach their mother and ask for a doctors appointment.

    There are still boys who need to have medical circumcisions, may have concerns about a lump or bump on the testes, or have problems with a retained testicle or torsion of a testicle. Women have got on and dealt with problems to do with our sexual organs. So men, deal with it.

    Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” is art, and is a full frontal female nude. So what is wrong with this image?

  • I find that painting aesthetically pleasing and not in the least embarrassing. I’m sure that Hyperion have used it as it complements the period in which the music was written and they won’t be pleased to know that some people will be rushing out to buy the CD for the cover and never mind the music.

    Still, if the picture sells more CDs, wey hey!

  • Norman, having interviewed him you know Esfahani and how to contact him. And it’s traditional that artists either select and/or approve their album covers. So what does he have to say?

  • The drawing in question [cover for CPE Bach music] is the SECOND shown in the wikipedia entry for Mr. Mengs (the artist)…

  • If acceptable on a record cover, why not parading down the street? There used to be a concept of social propriety and I think the Birth of Venus would not be in the best taste either. It’s fine to visit such paintings in art museums. The problem is especially now when the bar of what can be said or shown is being constantly lowered to almost zero.

  • The real problem is the nonsensical point of view that works of art created several centuries ago are indecent and unfit for public viewing yet are somehow ok to be displayed in museums.

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