Hyperion Records often puts art work on its classical album covers, but using this Romance-novel-style cover for Tanja Becker-Bender’s recording of the Paganini Caprices for solo violin is puzzling. (The cover is a reproduction of a 1996 allegorical painting by André Durand titled Salieri’s Dream.) The image of a sexy man playing an instrument to seduce a beautiful woman is an old cliché (carried to extremes in one scene in the movie The Red Violin), but using such an image here seems strange.
After all, the album’s performer is a woman—so why not show a man lounging on the couch, admiring a wild-haired woman who dazzles him with her beauty and virtuosity? Why show a woman posed on the couch, looking up adoringly at a male violinist? Or, looking closer, could the violinist also be a woman? What is he or she wearing? Is that a shirt or a nightgown? What kind of dream is Salieri having?
And what about about the howling dog with his huge paw draped over the brunette’s feet? If this cover was supposed to suggest that the CD contains music for romance, a howling dog doesn’t fit the mood. Perhaps it’s yawning. Or could those ferocious-looking bared teeth be some kind of ominous warning?
The disturbing image that Durand has placed on the mantle is Titian’s Tarquin and Lucretia, a famous painting that depicts Tarquin threatening Lucretia before he rapes her. Does the smug look on the violinist’s face, in combination with that violent painting and his knife-like bow, suggest that he is thinking of thrusting a menacing knife at his adoring admirer and then forcibly raping her? (She looks as if she might welcome some consensual thrusting, but no doubt she would be horrified to be raped at knife point.) Don’t trust him, girl!
Our dark-haired beauty reclines alluringly in her lacy red gown, mimicking one of the traditional poses of Venus. (Is this another reference to a Titian painting?). Could the African violinist in the lower right corner be some obscure reference to Manet’s Olympia? Durand himself states that the figure at the lower left corner represents Salieri, but that the face belongs to British art critic Brian Sewell, a man that Durand feels personifies “envy.” (I suspect Sewell criticized Durand’s paintings.)
If, for the sake of the album, the violinist is supposed to be Paganini, then the image is far off the mark. The Italian violinist’s appearance was so unusual that it helped feed the rumor that he had gained his phenomenal playing skills by making a pact with the Devil. Most drawings of the time portray him with long dark hair, a hooked nose, sideburns, and a rail-thin figure. No feminine-featured, fair-skinned blonds need apply.
Perhaps choosing this painting as the album cover was meant as a parody. If so, why not push it further? Remember the erotic scene in The Piano when Harvey Keitel caresses Holly Hunter’s leg through a tiny hole in her stocking as she plays the piano? (See below. I could only find it in Italian.)
If parody is the aim, then why not parody that scene? Perhaps the image on this Mexican soap (which promises that a woman who uses it will be able to say, “I dominate my man”) could serve as inspiration. (In Mexico you can buy “magic” soaps for almost any purpose.) If she had something to lean on, she could certainly play the violin in this position. If worked into a Romance-novel-style cover, I wonder how many CDs the image of a violin-playing dominatrix might sell?
Was the Durand painting used tongue-in-cheek? Who does their market research? What kind of buyers was this cover aimed at? Do the readers of Romance novels buy lots of classical solo violin albums? Perhaps they do. Perhaps they listen to them as they read. Perhaps the vibrant sound of the violin helps them visualize pure-hearted heroines domesticating the hitherto untamed, wild-haired men of their dreams.
If so, those readers should keep a wary eye on the violinist in Salieri’s Dream. Judging from the look on his/her face and Salieri/Sewell’s face, this dream could be a dark one. There are hints that this vision could turn into a Jack-the-Ripper nightmare rather than a bodice-ripper fantasy.