Gucci’s corruption of Mahler’s Adagietto

Gucci’s corruption of Mahler’s Adagietto


norman lebrecht

September 21, 2016

An Italian, Luchino Visconti, brought Gustav Mahler to media attention by using the Adagietto from his fifth symphony as the theme music for his film Death in Venice, in 1971.

It was perfectly suited to the film’s themes of love and death and it reflected the fact that Thomas Mann had modelled its central character, physically and temperamentally, on Gustav Mahler, whom he knew and revered. Mann and Viconti respected the man and the music.

Gucci have now used the same theme, non-contextually, for naked commercial gain.


Does anyone known which orchestra is playing on this corruption?



UPDATE: Apparently, it’s Alain Lombard with the Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine. An old recording, and not one I had heard before.


  • Max Grimm says:

    Duly noted, Norman. But let us draw a number for Mahler and have him take a seat, as there are several other composers where the enduring and egregiously non-contextual use of their works for commercial gain by the marketing and advertising industries is far more deserving of your protests.

  • Bruce says:

    Two thoughts came to mind simultaneously:

    (a) I don’t think the piece can be cheapened or diminished simply by someone’s using it this way, any more than a national flag can be diminished by someone using it as underpants. Is Michelangelo’s David a lesser work of art because of all the ways it’s been used?

    (b) I think Mahler (or almost any composer) would have been just fine with naked commercial gain — as long as he got a healthy cut of the profits.

  • Douglas Quigg says:

    Well I’m an an Adman and I can honestly say the commercial is dreadful! Love Mahler though – best was 7th in Castrol many years ago.

  • Ann Nomynous says:

    I see nothing corrupt in this ad, with Mahler it’s thousand times less irritating than with some pop thumping. Although the models are way too skinny.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Maybe you should have a closer look: this young man is obviously visiting an expensive brothel with luxury music, and luxury perfume called ‘Guilty’, so something immoral is used as an encouragement. The combination with the music is disgusting, suggesting that prostitution is something really beautiful, with ‘guilt’ thrown-in as an extra stimulant. This is what ‘decadence’ means.

    • Sheila Kautman says:

      I fell in love with the back ground music in this Gucci Guilty commercial. I researched so I could obtain this beautiful music. The ad only makes the music more meaningful. It did for me.
      Now does anyone know a CD with this music? Thank you!!!!

  • M2N2K says:

    Very well played actually. Cutting it off in the middle of a phrase is what offended me most.

  • BillG says:

    If you know your Mahler, the Adagietto is just a quiet piece to allow the Principal Horn a moment to reflect on the work he has accomplished in the Scherzo.

  • David Osborne says:

    Pretty crap ad… but struggling here to be offended. If this is the only way that lots of people get to hear Mahler for the first time, I’ll live with it. And just on a slightly different though now familiar subject, having heard this again- Mahler=bridge to atonality…Really?

    • M2N2K says:

      Certainly not in the Fifth yet, but in Adagio of the Tenth much more evident. It is not a completed transition of course, but only a “bridge to” and an unfinished one at that.

      • David Osborne says:

        Or perhaps an announcement of the still unexplored possibilities of tonal music. To me, the bridge to atonality idea is a rather too convenient after the event analysis for a prevailing view that just wanted it to be that way. Mahler added to his palette by stretching tonality, but melody (even bad ones like ‘Alma’s Theme’ from the 6th) was still central to his work. With the 10th, that ‘stretched tonality’ allowed him to express… Well we know what he was saying, it’s scrawled all over the page.

        • M2N2K says:

          My point is that in the Adagio of the Tenth, several passages stretched tonality almost to beyond recognition, thus bringing them close to being borderline atonal. Presence of melody – even its prominence – does not necessarily mean that the music is tonal. Just like absence of melody does not make the music atonal.

    • V.Lind says:

      This kind of thing can have surprising results. A pal of mine heard the old British Airways ad that used the Flower Song from Lakmé. He was so blown away by it he went to a lot of trouble to identify it — this is WAY pre-Internet — and went out and found a copy of the whole opera, which he bought. After seeing Diva, he went to a concert by Ms. Fernandez when she came to town. This is a guy who had had no education of any sort in music — just your basic Springsteen fan — and his parents had not given him any exposure to it either. He became of course an opera buff and a classical music listener.

      It’s him I often think of when I hear about things like Minnesota Orchestra playing at the football game and Renee Fleming singing at the Super Bowl. Sometimes, out there, there re people who just need a spark — they might get it from an ad (a kid I know was taken by the DeBeers commercial that featured Jenkins’ Palladio, leading to his dipping his toes into the concert hall for other music) or from use in a movie or TV show. When the established sources are doing less and less to bring music to the young, I think other means must be tried. It may sail right past many, or be the time to go out for a smoke, a beer, a trip to the loo, but there just might be a few who have the whole joyous world of classical music opened up to them.

      The three tenors singing at football in Italy led to The Three Tenors and to Pavarotti and Friends, which drew massive audiences. Some of course came for Sting or Bryan Adams, but they stayed for Pav and got an earful of what singing could sound like. (Those concerts were my introduction to pop music — I was brought up the other way, and the ones I saw were my first exposure to lots of popular singers I have come to enjoy very much, from The Cranberries to Eric Clapton).

      Classical music faces many challenges. It does not need to be closing doors to any ideas (not saying there cannot be criticism of lapses of taste).

  • Cyril Blair says:

    Ugh, there’s 2:32 of my life I’ll never get back.

  • David Boxwell says:

    Which one of these pretty people is Jared Leto?

  • herrera says:

    Has Gucci devolved from the sexy masculinity of Tom Ford to the insipid androgeny of Jared Leto? Guilty? Guilty of what? Jared Leto looks about as guilty as a plaster statue.

    Now, if Aschenbach and Tadzio were caressing each other in a bathtub, now that would be Guilty!

    The incomparable Visconti used the Mahler score to great effect.

  • Dan Oria says:

    … and what about Anna Netrebko’s new “Verismo” recital? There is a “limited super deluxe” edition which includes a 50x50cm silk cloth by Chopard! Such luxury is just an antagonism of “Verismo”, not to speak about the fact that “Turandot” is definitely not a Verismo opera. On the cover of this edition, showing Netrebko dressed up like an angel of death, the Chopard logo is as big as DGG’s.
    This CD , “set to be one of the most important and anticipated classical releases of 2016” shows, in my opinion, how Mme Netrebko’s voice is rather unfit for such repertoire not to speak about the second-class technique of her tenor-husband!

  • Dan Oria says:

    An amusing addendum: Compare the cover photo of Netrebko’s “Verismo” recital with that one of Virgin Classic’s “Artaserse” (opera by Leonardo Vinci), showing a winged Philippe Jaroussky…

  • Mason says:

    well I was introduced to the Nutcracker via a Cat Food commercial so that was very important to me when I was a youngster being introduced to classical music.

  • Gerry C says:

    How many people heard Orff the first time on an ad for Old Spice? I know I did.

  • Mark Troy says:

    Personally, I think Mahler would be delighted that people were being made aware of his work.