Why is there a free willy on my record cover?

Why is there a free willy on my record cover?


norman lebrecht

December 22, 2013

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?



  • Steve says:

    this seemingly marks a first in the history of classical recording.

  • Gus says:

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

  • robcat2075 says:

    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!

  • Gary Carpenter says:

    Who’d have thought that men had penises? Reportage at its most trenchant!

  • Clyde McConnell says:

    It also has to be said that Mengs is a somewhat “underexposed” artist, up until now.

  • Larry Katz says:

    Who knew they had pole dancers back then?

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Can’t understand why this new barrier had to be broken with CPE Bach harpsichord works and with Salome.

  • Ladies, how do you feel?

  • Doug says:

    What does Bill Clinton have to do with this anyway?

  • It’s just there to prick the public’s curiosity.

  • Mara Miller says:

    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.)

    • Alison Ames says:

      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 sneakiest peep show in art history may be the painting by Piero della Francesca, Burial of the Sacred Wood.

  • Oh My God! Is this report not a variation of the theme ‘No sex please, we are British’? Pfff….

  • legin buddha says:

    By golly, there is such a thing as an intellectual fundamentalist.

  • David H. says:

    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?

  • That statement is unproven and almost certainly untrue in every aspect. It appears here unredacted because it reflects a widespread prejudice.

  • Steve says:

    I’d certainly quibble over the word ‘most’

  • 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?

  • Siva Oke says:

    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!

  • sixtus says:

    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?

  • David Boxwell says:

    C. PP. E Bach.

  • Slide says:

    Württemberg Sonatas and Other Delights

  • bararona says:

    Why do you have a problem with this? That is what is odd.

  • Jeep Gerhard says:

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

  • cabbagejuice says:

    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.

  • m2n2k says:

    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.