Does a composer have to get naked to get heard?

Does a composer have to get naked to get heard?


norman lebrecht

December 03, 2016

This is Georg Friedrich Haas, the contemporary Austrian composer, who has talked volubly of his sexual preferences within his marriage in recent months.

It has been quite a media campaign: starting with the New York Times, on to the London Times and today in the Daily Mail (below).



Perhaps it’s time to let the music speak for itself?


  • George says:

    Jesus. How am I supposed to un-see this?

    Is the Mail campaign an article or an ad? There’s no link here (not that I wish to click through).

  • John Borstlap says:

    Who would want to hear the music after his/her eyes were exposed to THIS?

    It’s the apotheosis of embarrassment. And it has to compensate for the emptiness of Haas’ works.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    UGH I feel sick.

  • David Boxwell says:

    I thought at first glance it was an ad for the new Met opera “The Love of Loin.”

  • Mark says:

    BRAIN BLEACH, PLEASE !!! Is this an ad for Jenny Craig – if you look like this naked, call us immediately ?

    • Sue says:

      Bubbles De Vere…. “champagne for everybody” (‘Little Britain’)

      And “adipose” does mean “fat”. There’s just no way to clean that up!!!

  • Mark Henriksen says:

    Some people should be heard and not seen (naked, that is)!

  • Cyril Blair says:

    Is that a wall calendar? Who are the other persons featured, and where can I get one?

  • Cubs Fan says:

    Gee, too bad RCA isn’t making those Wagner opera without words cds anymore – you know the ones I’m talking about. This picture would fit right in…

  • Jerome Hoberman says:

    Do you people ever listen to yourselves?

  • Mollena Lee Williams-Haas says:

    It is sad, really, that mockery and hatred are stock in trade for you and many of the teasers of your blog.

    In a world filled with hate, why create more? Why are fat bodies to be ridiculed? Why are fat bodies showing affection so threatening to you?

    I hope that, someday, you know, as my partner and I do, how beautiful it is to love yourself and your body and your partner instead of shaming, body policing and hating.


    • Sue says:

      Bogus refulgences.


    • John Borstlap says:

      It may be instructive to consider the following: there is nothing against affection between people, of any size or body shape or age or gender or culture or social class or race or income bracket or musical taste or whatever, but civilisation demands that physical expression of affection in public space be restricted to superficial gestures, which may vary from culture to culture, but are always carried-out completely dressed. Why? Because a more intimate expression of affection is something that takes place in private, to protect its emotional, inner value – which is concentrated on the people concerned – from the superficial, uninformed, materialist gaze by people who are not part of the relationship and hence have no incling of the nature of the emotional qualities inherent in that relationship. Affection is personal, not public, to be genuine.

      So, rejection of such exhibitionist demonstration (which is not necessarily ‘hate’) can be understood as a critique on the relationship: it seems to be used as a cheap way to attract attention to the very thing that demands privacy. In other words, it looks completely false, and as a gimmick for Haas’ nihilistic works, which thus get the label it deserves.

      • Robert Eis says:

        So how much time do you folks spend objecting to “girlie” calendars?

        *searches archive* NONE.

        Well then.

        • John Borstlap says:

          I always delegate research on girlie calendars to my PA, who actually had a good time of it last summer. I have read her report… which was disappointing. But none of the pictures tried to demonstrate nude affection.

      • Miriam Doyle says:

        Public affection can’t be genuine? That is absolute tripe. Your rationale for judging the intimacy of others to be false or gimmicky is garbage.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Well, just think about it: are you making love to your partner in your front yard? Or in the middle of a public square, to show how much you love each other? (in case the police would allowe for it) It is very different with actors in a movie, or on billboards showing underwear: these are not supposed to be themselves. The subjects in the phograph are themselves, the ‘message’ is about themselves, and it is deeply embarrassing.

          But maybe Mr Haas gets more performances for his work through this marketing strategy. I would suggest that the Donauesschingen Musiktage, Darmstadt Summer Course, and the Ensemble Intercontemporain play more Haas now that audiences want to hear the affection for themselves.

          • Miriam Dotle says:

            Your subjective personal preference on maintaining privacy in your displays of intimacy, as well as my own preferences, are both irrelevant. You do not have objective authority to declare that someone else’s display is false. Your own preference does not determine what is broadly ‘right’ in any meaningful sense.

            You know what’s actually embarrassing? The fact that you are so invested in criticizing others’ relationships, and tearing down another’s work, that you’ll leave a dozen petty little comments about it. Give it a rest man, that is a far more humiliating public exposure than a photograph celebrating love of partner and self.

          • John Borstlap says:

            To Ms Miriam: not everything is entirely subjective, otherwise we would give Hitler the same respect for his opinions as to Christ’s…. There is a distinction between private and public space, and the erosion of such distinctions result in the immature nonsense as exhibited in this thread. Which is supposed to be a discussion by lovers of classical music – quite revealing.

      • Mollena Lee Williams-Haas says:

        The image is part of a political art project. His name is nowhere mentioned. So your assessment is incorrect on that score. Further, your screed devalues a wide swath of classic and contemporary art that depicts couples embracing. A trip to the Louvre must be terrible for you!

        • John Borstlap says:

          No, because all those art works with embracing nudes are depersonalized. They are symbols, not real people. And where the Louvre exhibits personalized paintings, like portraiture, it is fully dressed (even Adam and Eve are not real people, just for the record). The point is not being for or against nudity, but being for or against public display of something that belongs to the private sphere.

          • Wendyrama says:

            Adam and Eve aren’t real? Tell that to 90% of the earth’s population.

            While I admire your tanacity, art history is evidently not your field of expertise.

          • Dr. Melissa Hillman says:

            You are just factually incorrect that all nudes in classical and contemporary art are depersonalized. Howling so. It’s also startling that you assume that this must be a gimmick for *his career* without once considering what *her career* might be, or how this activist art might fit into that. You assume a Black woman must be nothing but a prop because a white man is also pictured.

            I recommend doing the smallest bit if research before sounding off publicly.

          • John Borstlap says:

            To Dr Melissa: I did not include 20C / contemporary nudes in my comment, for reasons that should by now be obvious. I can only think of one premodernist portrait and that is a quite silly image which was probably meant for a potential husband or lover – it would have been embarrassing if publicly displayed:


            “You assume a Black woman must be nothing but a prop because a white man is also pictured.” Race never came into my mind, and was not mentioned in any of my comments; again one of those fake suggestions when real arguments cannot be found.

    • cabbagejuice says:

      Make sure you take out the “hate” card.
      How about the “bored” card?

    • P. Michele Sugg says:

      This calendar isn’t about what you do, it’s about who you *are* …being comfortable in your own skin… loving yourself. It’s about seeing beauty everywhere. It’s about not being self-conscious. Like any great art, these images may cause deeply uncomfortable feelings, so–explore those feelings, examine those feelings. Be open.
      Huge praise to Mollena Lee Williams-Haas and Georg Friedrich Haas, for all of the beauty they bring in to this world, *just* by being themselves.

      • John Borstlap says:

        “Like any great art, these images may cause deeply uncomfortable feelings, so–explore those feelings, examine those feelings. Be open.” If anyone would like to see the proof in the pudding, this is it: thinking that such photograph is ‘great art’ and that having standards is not being ‘open’, explains what is wrong with this kind of thinking. Being critical, having standards, be them on decency, intimacy or aesthetics, is unacceptable, so rejection is explained away as feeling uncomfortable because you, the objectioner, is having a problem with yourself, with your own feelings. It is one of the signals of the trendy egalitarian world view in which everything is OK, anything goes, and in this happy playground there is no ‘wrong’. Which means that there is no ‘right’ either.

        One can only feel sorry for people who prefer to live in such mist.

        • cabbagejuice says:

          Any rational or intelligent response to this kind of schlock is useless because it is not meant to be art anyway. It is only a con to get attention, the puerile kind, like little girls raising their dresses and little boys dropping their pants . John Lennon’s 1969 so-called protest in bed was also stupid and pointless. Kids doing this might be written off as cute but this is no eye candy. ICK!

  • D. Rosen says:

    I say it is lovely! Because it is! Why should young skinny folks get all the pics? And this is what people look like. Says nothing about his music. It says being what one is is beautiful. This is what women worry about: “does my nudity make me look fat?” I would dare guess – ‘I imagine these two are so sexually satisfied that those who wish to look away would be despondent should they truly know the depths of passion only insinuated above.’

  • Kim says:

    Wow… you guys are classy. No wait, I mean neanderthals. I’m surprised you could lift you knuckles off the ground long enough to tap out letters.

  • John says:

    Too much information. WAY too much information!

  • Julie says:

    The picture is not a promotion for his music. It’s a social media project to promote positive beautiful examples of people of all sizes. Gee I wonder why we need such a thing in this world? Maybe because of the above comments.

  • Rena Messerschmidt says:

    The photo is to promote body positivity and I think it’s a beautiful photo and you can see the love they have for each other. His passion for life and sexuality flows through his music. Apparently body shamers just aren’t smart enough to understand how life flows into music.

    • John Borstlap says:

      This comment confuses so many issues that it is not worth the effort to begin to tackle them. Only one thing: the ‘life’ in Haas’ work – which is, by the way, not music – does not express, but represents a sonic landscape of utter nihilism: there is no life there whatsoever. Which explains why he has no inhibition to expose himself with all his embarrassing pathologies.

      • Tristan Jakob-Hoff says:

        “[H]e has no inhibition to expose himself with all his embarrassing pathologies.”

        Did you know, Mr Borstlap, that you have written almost a thousand words about this photograph now, almost all of them spiteful? Perhaps Mr Haas has no inhibition about exposing his “pathologies” for the simple reason that he is as unembarassed by them as you are by yours.

        • John Borstlap says:

          There is a difference between pathology and maturity…. “Happy is he who daily checks his dictionary.” To-Fu, late Ping.

          • Tristan Jakob-Hoff says:

            If you believe it is your maturity you are exhibiting in this discussion, well then. . . who am I to argue?

          • John Borstlap says:

            PS: The curious thing about classical music is that there are so many complaints about the aging of audiences, but according to the majority of comments on SD one gets, in contrary, the impression that classical music lovers are mostly under 20. Maybe the don’t go to concerts but read SD instead.

          • Tristan Jakob-Hoff says:

            As you seem to be responsible for the majority of comments on Slipped Disc, I can only assume you’ve not been to a concert for some time. You should give it another go. It’s improved a lot since the bad old days when classical concerts were solely frequented by homogeneous crowds of white, middle-aged Europeans loudly expounding their priggish sensibilities and sense of cultural superiority to anyone within earshot.

          • John Borstlap says:

            PS2:: Just returning from another concert…. the [redacted] orchestra played 2 Mahler symphonies under [redacted] who did a really lousy job (as usual), 2 of these symphonies in a row for a full house where I was the only old white fogey, the rest of the audience were, as far as I could judge, young immigrants 2nd or 3rd generation, listening as if frozen. They were so quiet that it made me quite uncomfortable, wanting to pinch some of them to see whether they were not mannequins. But no, they were real and I got a pinch back, surrounded by angry whispers. When, at the exit, I asked some of these youngsters whether they had liked the concert, they smiled and said they had thought it was the best pop concert ever. They also added that it were nothing for me, though. So, going into the community really works.

            Such heavvy concert schedule is exhausting, especially when you have to spend the total of your daily attention span.

  • William Safford says:

    Earlier this year, I attended a recital of his music for two pianos, two hands (sic), one piano tuned a quarter tone out from the other.

    The pianist was impressive. Her level of endurance and focus were almost superhuman.

    For the most part, the music did not speak to me. There was much repetition. I find the music of Glass and Reich more engaging. (Your reaction to that assertion will be valid whether or not you like Glass’s and Reich’s music.)

    I am otherwise unfamiliar with his music.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Happy you! Haas has become the symbol of modernist convention and emptiness, and especially: neurosis. Many people like all of that wholeheartedly.

      I use the obligation to listen to Haas’ work as a threat when staff is misbehaving. It works better than Stockhausen.

      When in the course of 2011 it appeared that playing recordings of Mozart and Vivaldi in the Paris metro no longer worked to keep young querulants away, the RATP decided to play Haas’ limited approximations instead in a loop, i.e. non-stop. It worked fabulously and also chased the rats away. Also the work mixed pleasantly with the sounds of the trains coming and going:

  • David Osborne says:

    Come on Slipped Dics, that’s a beautiful image of human intimacy, enough with the body shaming. You’re a pack of prudes, really…

  • pooroperaman says:

    Revolting picture. Revolting people. Revolting music.

  • Inge Luett says:

    “This is Georg Friedrich Haas, the contemporary Austrian composer, […]”
    Funnily enough, I see two people.

    One might ask why you saw fit to not to mention Mr Haas´s wife – what was more important to you than being accurate in describing a picture?
    One might think there are other things on your agenda as well. Bigotry, racism, envy – there are a lot of coats one might put on your omission. But as you said: “Perhaps it’s time to let the music speak for itself?”

    Do you really want your own music to say so much about yourself, Mr Lebrecht?

    • John Borstlap says:

      The lady would never have had her bit of notoriety if she had not married kinki Haas, who used his relationship to attract attention to himself – why would someone otherwise want to do that? Of course it is all about Mr H.

      • Inge Lütt says:

        “The lady would never have had her bit of notoriety if she had not married kinki Haas”

        Are you really saying that being a published author, an actress, a performance artist, a teacher, speaker, activist… does not amount to anything compared to exchanging vows with a composer?

        Maybe it is not a strange world in which you live, but it seems to be somewhat limited perspectivewise.

        • John Borstlap says:

          My problem is that I’m grown-up.

          • Inge Lütt says:

            Grown-up? No hope for further development? You poor man, I do pity you.

          • John Borstlap says:

            As I feel sorry for people who feel so happy in the gutter and want to stay there, while others understood there is something better in the world.

          • Inge Lütt says:

            But you seem to see your own, self-proclaimed grown-upness as a problem (“My problem is…”).
            Anyway, while quoting let´s proceed with Matthew 7:1-3.

  • Oig0il says:

    OP, Perhaps it’s time you go back under your rock.

  • Rebecca Greenstein says:

    Let’s not forget that Haas is an already existing player in the contemporary music world with an impressive library of compositions that have been successfully performed in top house throughout the world. I find his music brilliant and many tims exhilarating, and I find it interesting that he is open about his personal evolution and how it is influencing his work. I also like the open, body positive message the photo infers, this is what a majority (60%) of normal looking people look like in America.

    • Rebecca Greenstein says:

      Forgive my terrible thumb typing and typos.

    • Sue says:

      That will explain the food stacked on plates in several orders of magnitude that one sees regularly in American popular culture. Guys, give it up. It’s killing you!!! Nothing to feel good about. Read some stats on mortality from obesity. And the cost to the health system.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Another exhibit: what is ‘interesting’ about a composer’s sadomasochism? And if it influences his work, what is ‘interesting’ about that? Would it not say something about the psychopathology of that work? I think you can clearly hear the psychoproblems in the work and H is not alone, in contrary, he is a perfect example of conventionalism in the field of ‘established contemporary music’. In that area, sickness is the new ‘health’. It is a form of art speak: you turn the world upside down and you are an original artist. Soon everybody is doing it, everybody being as original as everybody else, and sickness and pathology becomes the new conventional norm.

  • M says:

    It’s a sensual beautiful photo of expression .love and energy….very disheartening to read such NEGATIVE comments. …

  • Alan says:

    Great Composer his wife a gem I love the photo of who real people are love and emotion shines here

  • herrera says:

    1) He has found his dream sexual partner, 2) who is also his wife, and 3) he is completely liberated, 4) in private as 5) in public.

    How many of those who mock him can claim even one of these things?

    • Sandra says:

      Great comment, you nailt it. Thank you. ♥

    • John Borstlap says:

      Very stupid. Celebrating your psychopathology in public and demonstrating your happines resulting from your embracing neurosis with nude photos is not ‘liberating’ at all, it is ridiculous and embarrassing, such people should be protected against themselves by their therapeut.

  • Nikki Scott says:

    An even more interesting question might be:

    “Does a Composer have to call attention to a Peer’s lifestyle choices, rather than music, and yet, have an ironic little temper tantrum about some “media storm” in which the Composer feels that his Peer’s lifestyle choices will eclipse the discussion and relevance of music?”

    Dog chasing its tail….nothing more than that, it seems.

    I realize the Adipositivity Campaign may have nothing to do with his music, but I do enjoy how he and his lovely wife are portrayed here. The contemporary Rubenesque feel of the photo captures the very essence of Haas’ work, in a way. Like his music, the photo depicts a sort of aesthetic, which is at once artistically classic and yet, undeniably quite modern.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Would be interesting to find-out who this ‘Composer’ possibly could be. I did not see him in this thread.

      The reference to Rubens is rather awkward: where Rubens painted fleshy female nudes, they were not personalized. Where he painted fleshy portraits, they were dressed.

      These comments are interesting for their wide range of completely misunderstanding what their authors are actually seeing. Many lovers of classical music must be blind and indecent, is a conclusion that suggests itself.

  • Brian says:

    Well, a fitting symbol of the American (and perhaps German) obesity epidemic. I wonder about their Cholesterol and blood pressure readings.

    • Mollena Lee Williams-Haas says:

      Thank you for your concern about our health! I appreciate your caring! We just came from a follow-up appointment with our physician and you’ll be relieved to learn our blood pressure and cholesterol are within healthy limits.

      Have a great day.

  • Arlene Fried says:

    What I see are two people who love each othere very much.

  • Mark Henriksen says:

    Celebrate obesity at your own peril.

    It takes daily effort to live healthy. A lot more than putting attention seeking pictures out like the one above.

    • Sue says:

      Fully agree with your first sentence. I wrestle with weight problems daily and I absolutely detest it!!! I’ve been fatter and thinner; thinner is better!!

  • E.G. says:

    I wonder what it means, that I know more about the guy’s sex life than his music.

    • Steven William says:

      Probably that you spend more time reading gossip columns and newspapers than listening to music.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Listening to the music does not increase knowledge or understanding of it, being a bottomless pit of nothingness. That is why there have been made stories around it, to keep indifference at bay, even going so far as so share personal psychopathology with the public.

  • David Schwartz says:

    How is this evidence of a “media campaign”? A previously published photograph of George and Mollena is shown in the Daily Mail article, with a caption that identifies them simply as “two models posing”. No mention of their “sexual preferences”, and the photograph itself is as vanilla as it could be.

    Methinks you’re looking for some reason to hate…

  • Miriam Doyle says:

    What a foolish, completely misleading headline. This already successful composer did not get naked to be heard. He got naked through his participation in a body positivity project. Which the author doubtless knew, and manipulatively chose not to include in his short blurb.

    The subjects of the photograph don’t look bad here. Norman Lebrecht and this website come off as looking not only bad but shady, shallow, and following the worst trends of misleading modern reporting.

  • V Hoke says:

    There is nothing wrong with self expression. I suppose you all who are complaining have perfect bodies? I think not. To each his own. If you don’t like what you see don’t look. Simple as that. There are those of us free thinkers not bound by society’s rules of what should be. KUDOS Georg & Mollena! BTW, this pic is part of a calendar dipicting those NOT confined to the stigma’s of a society that is one sided.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Interesting comment, connecting things that have nothing to do with each other. It is not a stigma when people disapprove of public exposure of intimacy of people representing themselves, and in a quite tasteless way. It is embarrassing.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Some days ago we had a new-old discussion in this blogg on Music does express anything. Here we have a good occasion to deepen that discussion: does Georg Friedrich Haas compose fat music?

    • John Borstlap says:

      No, it is thin, very thin, sonic art. And representing nothingness – i.e. it does not EXPRESS nothingness, which would be something being digested and transferred into musical art, but simply merely presented, and quite loudly:

      How would nothingness sound if musically expressed? What would that be? It seems to me: an expression of profound depression and loss, like someone staring in a void. It has been done and it is a moving musical work:

      • Sue says:

        “art”? Now I’m confused!!

        • John Borstlap says:

          It’s not difficult…. music as an art form has a psychological dimension (conveying an emotional experience, a nuanced mood, or reflecting thought processes as in Bach’s Goldberg Variations, communicating it through a network of interrelated notes and ‘tönend bewegende Formen’. Sonic art is ‘flat’ without this dimension and ‘speaks’ only of itself: it is the colours and patterns of pure sound that ‘mean’ nothing but themselves, like abstract painting. Unintentionally, Haas’ work represents inner emptiness, as Tracey Emin’s installation ‘My bed’ merely represents her life style, but not through an artistically worked-through painting or drawing. Both Emin and Haas don’t artistically digest things, they merely present them and hope that the onlooker / listener will do the work for them.

          • Holly Golightly says:

            You see, when you revise western culture down through cultural relativism then everything becomes available as ‘art’. Debase the original notion of ‘great art’ and it becomes open slather. That’s how I feel about Emin’s “Unmade Bed” and other assorted landfill.

  • englishman says:

    We’ve found the true basket of deplorables: Slipped Disc commenters. Just last week they were lambasting Andrew Norman, the talented winner of a Grawemeyer, because of his purported PC-speech.

    • Sue says:

      I’m afraid I’d have to tackle somebody because of a “pc speech” too!! It’s tantamount to UN-thinking and eminently worthy of criticism.

  • Wendyrama says:

    What I see is art, created by two prolific artists. I don’t like all art. But I do appreciate art that is provocative.

    Mr Haas iseems to be broadening his range of artistic expression. To strip oneself, literally, of layers of repression can only be a transformative experience. For a musician to feel new levels of freedom when exploring the boundaries of sound and experience has to be pretty close to nirvana.

    Mrs. Haas has been a performance artist since she insisted on finishing her Sunday matinee in her mama’s womb.

    I say encourage all expression and give thought to your reactions.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Future anthropologists, puzzled about the 20-21C erosion of culture in such a developed society, will find SD a treasure trove of material explaining the rise of confusion.

      Exhibit A:

      ‘But I do appreciate art that is provocative.’

      The 19C idea that art that transgresses boundaries, must be better than art which does not. Focus on material and language, not on content. This creates the ‘obligation’ to transgress boundaries all the time, with the result that when there is nothing left to transgress, there is no longer any art left.

      Exhibit B:

      ‘To strip oneself, literally, of layers of repression can only be a transformative experience.’

      Being dressed is not: being repressed. And in his work, Mr Haas considers ‘order’ as repression, hence the freewheeling and meandering result of his sonic imagination. All art is a realisation of an artistic idea through the handling of craft, which is ordering things according to the artistic idea. This is not repression, but in contrary the freedom that mastering a craft offers to realise artistic ideas. Someone who thinks that order = repression, should never want to become an artist. It is a juvenile idea, typical of the sixties of the last century.

  • Mario Denis says:

    I find this picture quite puritanical actually….what do they have (or not) to hide?….Remember Lennon/Ono’s wedding album cover 46 years ago?…you got to go full frontal or find another gimmick…

  • Alvaro says:

    The really hilarious side of the story is that I can bet good money 99% of the people commenting look WAY worst than either of the characters in the picture.

    If not, please respond with a similar take to compare/contrast.

    • John Borstlap says:

      A ridiculous comment betraying complete missing the point, which is not how people look, but how they present themselves in public space and for which reason.

  • Mikey says:

    It’s fascinating to see all of these first-time posters defending the “art” in the photo… it’s almost as though the composer and his cabal decided to troll boards that make any mention of them.