Anne-Sophie Mutter: When I was young, nobody cared about my hair and makeup

Anne-Sophie Mutter: When I was young, nobody cared about my hair and makeup


norman lebrecht

October 08, 2021

The German violinist, 58, lets rip in a Spanish interview with El Pais:

‘Women are being judged not only on stage, but off. I thought the arts would free us from being subjected to that… When I was a teenager, nobody cared about our hair or makeup. Just look at the covers of those albums. Now looks are everything to young people. It hurts to see that the artistic content is not always as attractive as the packaging, but it must be what record companies want. Anyway. Music is something you enjoy with your eyes closed.’

‘My concern now is to change the repertoire and play fewer men, less white. Too many works have been forgotten because the repertoire has been reserved for a certain part of society. There is a fantastic concert by Joseph Bologne, a black contemporary of Mozart.’


  • Harpist says:

    Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges is worth a main discovery. Just for the name alone. Discovered him in 2020 for me when there was a rightful discussion about black classical composer. His music is great, totally worth to listen to and discover, in fact, its a shame that he has been mostly forgotten and only re-appeared on some labels (Naxos one of them and some quite unknown ones. Symphonies, concerts, he was a master violinist and lead one of the best french orchestras of his time.

    • We privatize your value says:

      He has now been rediscovered every decade since the 1980s. It’s becoming a joke. There are *more* overlooked or forgotten composers than Saint-Georges

    • Althea Talbot-Howard says:

      Thanks for your comment.
      Do check out this realisation and arrangement of the Andante from his Sonata for Harp & Flute, which I made for the new ABRSM Woodwind syllabus. Melanie Henry & Robert Thompson do the honours beautifully.

    • Y says:

      I’m guessing you’re also unfamiliar with Cannabich, Kraus, and other contemporaries of Mozart, and you probably aren’t interested in “re-discovering” them because it doesn’t increase your virtue points the way publicly admiring a black composer does.

      When will people learn that the way to stop discriminating by race is to stop discriminating by race?

    • John Borstlap says:

      Bologne led an extraordinary life but his music is OK music, nothing really wrong with it but it lacks the sophistication and the fantasy of the better music of that period and in that style – no need to name names.

      Everything happens according to expectation, it is thoroughly conventional in spite of some nice ideas – but those ideas could have been found by anybody. It will have been his performing qualities which have earned him his success.

      In terms of musical quality Bologne’s music is mediocre and conventional.

      His life ended miserably because he had gambled on the revolution horse which kicked him off. So much for égalité, liberté, fraternité.

  • More says:

    Overall I think Schoenberg was right: “If it is art, it is not for all, and if it is for all, it is not art.” The better the music, the less like it. How many love the art of fugue?

  • opilec says:

    ‘Music is something you enjoy with your eyes closed.’ There speaks a true Karajan protégé…

    • Couperin says:

      Didn’t she bang him too?

    • Anon says:

      He also conducted with his eyes closed

    • Peter San Diego says:

      …and someone whose off-the-shoulder concert attire inspired as much fevered comment in its day as Yuja Wang’s attire inspires today.

      For the record, I think that both Mutter and Wang are exceptional artists — and I’ve listened to both mostly with my eyes closed, to minimize the distraction.

    • We privatize your value says:

      But what about Previn?

    • V. Lind says:

      There speaks a true music lover. Unlike all these social justice warriors, who are more concerned that Otello be black than that he can sing that demanding role.

      However, she had me until “My concern now is to …play fewer men, less white.” My eyes are still closed — if she has found excellent women and non-white composers, bring them on, and I suppose they will not get found unless some artists of her calibre go looking for them and focus on presenting them for public response. But as most of the top composers of past centuries have been male and white — granted because of social norms at the time, not because others were devoid of talent — let us hope they are not lost in this rush to balance the books.

    • Tamino says:

      You have to be a Karajan protegé to understand that music is perceived through the ears? Don’t think so.

  • SVM says:

    Whilst I agree that we must broaden the repertoire, such an initiative should be driven primarily by the merit of the music itself, and not by identity politics. We should aspire to include more men *and* more women (or how about just “more people”?), not “fewer” of anything.

  • Nice to read that too many works have been forgotten. One has to be courageous not to play Bruch and company

  • Peter Hahn says:

    Such a double standard…what about her later album covers, concert dresses and make up .. now, of course all young are bad and she is playing only minority composers, like John Williams in Cinderella dress 🙂

  • Patricia says:

    Why would you want to go on stage looking like a frump?

  • Bone says:

    While I certainly appreciate her playing and attitude towards aural vs visual performance, the virtue signaling crap she spews about less white/less men is just so typical of her ilk.
    Hopefully, she means only black female composers – Florence Price makes excellent Dvorak-esque stew; perhaps Harriet Tubman wrote a few masterworks?

  • MacroV says:

    She’s not wrong, but Itzhak Perlman and Gidon Kremer (also in their first Brahms recordings), among others, also had fairly casual album covers around that time.

    As for expanding the repertoire, there’s nothing stopping her; she’s the biggest name in Violin World and I assume nearly any orchestra would be happy to invite her to play anything she wants. It’s on her.

    • Violinophile says:

      Biggest name? Sorry, no. Maybe to the Germans…who else do they have? She has made fine recordings, and others not as inspired. Her earlier versions may be better than remakes in many cases. She plays Baroque music way too fast, as do so many. I can’t fault her technique. Is she better than Perlman? Of course. Better than Hilary, Janine, Maxim, Nadja, Joshua, Sarah, Julia, Kyoko, Rachel, Baiba, Tasmin, Midori, and Pamela, not to mention the Szeryngs and Grumiauxs a bit earlier? No. No more than the equal of any of them. And sorry, no Hilary.

      • Violinophile says:

        Oops. Meant to include Lisa (Baliashvili). Done.

        • Tamino says:

          What‘s the point of voicing opinions based on personal taste, which is, ehmmm, personal, with the attitude of speaking absolute truth?

          Personally I find Mutters ability to create different sound colors snd dynamic shades on the violin unparalleled. She is one of a kind there. Now, again, some personally might not like that, find it „too extreme“. Such is the nature of art perception.

          Who else do the Germans have? Seriously? How about Zimmermann, Fischer, Tetzlaff among others?

          • Violinophile says:

            So, if I had only slipped in the IMO once or twice, you would be OK with everything? Fine, but I think that’s understood for all of us here. I never said she is not a fine player, but to me she can be sort of routine, uninvolved, impersonal in her interpretations. Not always, but some of the time. IMO I don’t find her the most moving violinist around, and I want to upend the reflexive heirarchy people cling to. There are a lot of brilliant violinists out there. No one is THE ONE. Well, except… I like violinists who reach out to my heart, and play like tigers. IMO

      • MacroV says:

        I didn’t say she’s the best violinist, or remotely my favorite (my favorites are two other Germans – Tetzlaff and Fischer, along with Gidon Kremer and Guy Braunstein). I said she’s the biggest name. With Perlman seemingly semi-retired and a shadow of his one-time self, she’s probably the biggest name and highest-paid violinist around (ok, maybe Joshua Bell). I’m happy to have someone from an orchestra or a management agency to tell me I’m wrong.

        • Violinophile says:

          Most in demand, most paid…might mostly agree as to those, with Bell, Hahn, Vengerov and Jansen as other contenders. I will have to check on this Braunstein guy. There always seems to be someone new coming along.

  • drummerman says:

    Ms. Mutter’s very attractive face has been featured on a number of her album covers. Surely, someone “cared.”

  • Get real says:

    That photograph is an anomaly. I recall the interviews she gave in her younger days about the necessity of bare shoulders to connect with the instrument, and her gowns were a large part of her appeal. She’s a great violinist no matter what she wears, but let’s not pretend that her attire had nothing to do with her international stardom.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    And that’s a position you adopt when you have far too much comfort and privilege!!!

    • Amos says:

      A comment derived from far too much animosity and bitterness for any independent woman addressing racism and inequality.

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    Not only that, it has never been so important the colour of your skin and whether one has internal or external genitals. Perhaps we need to start performing behind a curtain, like in orchestral auditions, so people learn that classical music is to be (mostly) heard, not seen.

  • Doug Grant says:

    The young woman on the record cover with Karajan is a million times more “appealing” than the nonsense we get today.

  • freddynyc says:

    Ja Fraulein, need to jump on the bandwagon in order to stay relevant in the current environment……

  • Robert Werblin says:

    This stuff is getting worse, not better. How about we just play the music no one gets to know who it is and certainly not what gender, sexual orientation, skin color, accent, ancestry, nor anything else, only get to hear the music. THEN decide what’s great or beautiful. This way no one could claim anything is good or bad based on anything but THE MUSIC ITSELF.

  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    …for every Bologne needs an Eminem.

  • Nijinsky says:

    One really must read the actually interview to give nuance to what Anne-Sophie says. She in no way is making a manifesto to get rid of white males, she’s trying to address a point, and not just about what isn’t the product of white males, but music or any art form that falls into a niche where it’s hidden or buried, the same as the women in the book “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” had to hide their communication in a secret language, that might have been, or is lost.

    When Mozart’s Finta Semplice was performed at all, because of horrible intrigue, or La Finta Giardiniera was performed a few times, and then Anfossi’s version, was played, remained being played, in the same kind of bubble that most of the music industry is diving into now, although the retrograde contrast with how often the one is still performed now, recorded or (I got a krick in my necking trying to find the name of the other, although I know her from the grocery store presently)… And that’s “Mozart” where there’s no copyrightable formula as to how that happened despite academic and commercial trends that would make it out to be within their culpable logic, although there’s behind him a lot that’s truly lost. Whole cultures even,which is the real sadness there….

    I have a very soft memory of having a whole conversation with Anne-Sophie, when she was just a teenager, in fact it’s taken me years to realize that it was with her. In the cafeteria of a conservatory. Nothing but a very simple, astute canny girl of 16 years old, from the Black Forest; and that memory remains, in contrast to what she mentions as being very degrading and irritating involving any media presence as a female, which jars incredibly and seems to be about a whole other entity all together. Something the media does to anybody, whether famous or notorious.

    Makes me think of the word monostrosity, and then even monstrance, something that’s referred to regarding another friend of mine, who I have incredibly soft memories of, and who has been there in the simplest most profound human way, in STARK contrast to what he’s made out to be: A tight A$$ed homophobic bigot that finds any culture not assimilated by his mob evil….

    Monstrance: “late Middle English (also in the sense ‘demonstration or proof’): from medieval Latin monstrantia, from Latin monstrare ‘to show’.”

    THERE you have it. Let’s see if the keepers of the Monstrance can resurrect Il Commendatore.

  • Phillip says:

    “My concern now is to change the repertoire and play fewer men, less white”…which explains why she has been doing so much recording of John Williams music during the last two years?

  • MusicBear88 says:

    Women who give a concert have to walk a very fine line of fashion, which is completely ridiculous but nevertheless part of the world today. This is the line between provocative and slutty, harlot and prude, and if you read any review of a woman recitalist or soloist, THE DRESS will almost undoubtedly be mentioned. Do men have it easier in this regard? Yes, we do, because we put on a tuxedo or tails depending on the formality of the occasion and nobody seems to care if it’s old or new or fits or is moth-eaten. Small wonder so many students obsess about what they’re going to wear for a recital; they’ve been conditioned to do it by watching the professionals.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Anne-Sophie Mutter is very market conscious. I love her recorded performances in the 70’s and 80’s.

  • Sir Writeabit says:

    I remember playing on stage with ASM in the 80’s and 90’s. She always looked stunning when she was performing. I guess she cared about how she looked, even if “nobody else did”.

  • Tamino says:

    „ My concern now is to change the repertoire and play fewer men, less white.“
    If my name were John Williams or Thomas Adés, I would probably feel betrayed and used, and throw the score I just wrote for her into the fire. 🙂

  • David K. Nelson says:

    I agree with Mutter’s sentiments about the increasing role of good looks but …. is she really the one who should be railing against this? Doesn’t she and didn’t she choose her outfits for stage and album covers? She played a role in starting this trend. The complaint would have more power if it came from Jorja Fleezanis or Dora Schwarzberg, marvelous artists and violinists whose opportunities perhaps were narrowed because they do not look like, well, supermodels, although both have a wonderful stage presence per se.

  • sonicsinfonia says:

    So she’s leaving the bandwagon of physical appearance and leaping onto the female/BAME composers one.

    I’ve listened to some of Joseph Bologne’s music. He may have been black but he was far from Mozart. There is a reason why one remains a leader in the field today and one doesn’t.

    I feel similarly about, for example, Florence Price. It’s good music, just not the greatest.

    Not to say we shouldn’t hear it and decide for ourselves but it may not be leading the charts for a reason, and that’s not necessarily prejudice!

  • guest says:

    Just seeing Wanda Landowski on an album cover was thrilling. I think, just mebbe, cuz she played good.

  • Interesting that Mutter’s comments are in El Pais. During the 1991 Munich Philharmonic tour in Madrid, Sergiu Celibidache referred to her in an interview in the same newspaper as a “geigende Henne”(a violin-playing hen).

    Some time earlier, Mutter had been engaged as soloist with the Munich Phil, but so resented Celibidache’s treatment of her that she walked out of a rehearsal and cancelled her performances.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      Let it go, William.

      • Nope. No way. Much to the chagrin of those here who have turned SD into a rallying place for right wing nut jobs. Mutter specifically addresses women and diversity in El Pais, and yet we’re to forget that in 1991, a committed sexist like Celibidache was calling her a “violin-playing hen” in the very same news paper. That the struggle continues twenty-nine years later, illustrates the provincial, ignorant bigotry we are still dealing with.

        • Anthony Sayer says:

          William, it’s disingenuous to qualify all those who do not agree with your crusade as ‘right-wing nut jobs’. If women’s rights or, indeed, women themselves, are in danger from any particular group, it’s from those who seek to deny their existence as a biological reality. These ‘nut jobs’ are found very firmly on the left of the political spectrum.

        • Tamino says:

          I think it‘s nonsense to label Celi a „comitted sexist“.
          He was a neurotic man with a troubled private past apparently (like many in the arts), but nothing he did can not be explained by the demons of his subconscious, while you claim his deeds and words being conscious choices, „comitted“. As if he undersigned to an anti-female secret society, which I doubt he did.

  • John Borstlap says:

    The jumping onto the BLM bandwagon seems to be a good example of ‘Handlungsinkompetenzangstverdrängung’.