New article on abuse and classical music by Damian Thompson in the Spectator, and some wider reflections on classical music and abusePosted: December 5, 2014
A new article went online yesterday on abuse in the classical music world – Damian Thompson, ‘Classical music’s dirty little secret’, The Spectator, December 6th, 2014. It contrasts in particular the revelations about alleged abuse within the El Sistema organisation through the work of Geoff Baker, and those about abuse at Chetham’s School of Music and elsewhere, featuring an interview with me on this and related subjects. The article goes deeper than most have done previously, and I would urge all to read it.
I have been reflecting more widely on the relationship between the callous exertion of power in music and also aestheticised outlooks, and the abuse of both children and adults, and wanted to share a few thoughts growing out of what I said for the Spectator interview. I have published previously on this in the Times Educational Supplement here and here, and will write at more length on these issues at a future date. At the heart of this lie the issues of the exploitation of power beneath an artistic veneer, and the relegating of human interests secondary to other aesthetic or more abstract concerns, an subject which has exercised me for a great many years. Here are my thoughts for now.
There are multiple ways in which sexual abuse occurs in musical education in the UK (see my earlier posts here and here for documentation of various cases since 1990). One involves abuse of pre-pubescent boys in choirs, and has been found time and time again in many leading private schools; another involves adolescents, primarily but not exclusively girls, who are sexually exploited by instrumental teachers, especially in specialist music schools and at summer music courses and the like. There is also of course much evidence of abuse of both sexes by private music teachers, who are often not subject to the same checks as those working in some institutions. The process of sexual exploitation of adolescents also continues with young adults in conservatoires, in a similar fashion. Instrumental teachers have great power and prestige which can easily be exploited when they have access to vulnerable, sometimes star-struck, girls and young women. The many stories I have heard are utterly hideous and depressing. Teachers regularly reduce their students to tears so they can then comfort and sexually touch them, or ask the students to perform sexual acts as a sign of how much they ‘trust’ them. Some are told they can only do justice to certain types of music when they have become a ‘whole woman’, as a prelude to sex. Other teachers simply attempt to force themselves on students in lessons in ways which can be terrifying and amount to attempted rape. Some have been told by directors of institutions that if they dare to go to the police, then they can give up any hope they might have had of a musical career; those with powerful connections are indeed often in a position to do this.
But there are certainly non-sexual forms of abuse which have gone on at all the music schools as well, which can be just as damaging. The issues of abuse in the classical musical world are not in my opinion simply about some people in power being sexually attracted to some musicians – I don’t think that is something surprising, unnatural or wrong, even if they act on those desires, when the musicians are above the age of consent and of course consenting. But I believe these link to a deeper culture of power and its wilful exertion, a vocabulary and mentality of sexual predation as a strategy to demean, dominate, humiliate for reasons that are far from merely sexual. In this field, in my experience, there is no reason to believe that female teachers are any less likely to be culpable than male ones (and in the case of actual sexual abuse the gender divide is not necessarily so simple; even where not actual perpetrators, some female teachers and others have been amongst the most staunch defenders of abusers, and acted in hateful and vicious ways towards those they have exploited).
In such a context sexual abuse can often be an extension of other forms of emotional and physical abuse, in order to enforce a relationship of domination and dehumanisation mystified by the aura surrounding ‘artistic’ personalities and their relationships to others. An artistic aura and its associated temperament can often mask simple cases of fragile egos and other insecurities, which can be bolstered by dominating others. Such domination works best with a willing or at least helpless victim in the form of a child, or one who acts and appears like one.
At the same time, I think we need to look hard at the way audiences and others ‘consume’ and psychologically dominate musicians, especially young ones. Is the young performer presented in a rarefied fashion for an audience’s delectation so different from a glamour model, or even one in a window in a red light district? Are they meant to have a will of their own, or merely to please others?
The world view of the nineteenth-century aesthete still has a profound impact upon classical music culture, certainly in the UK, US, France and some other places. I have spent quite some time studying this in various contexts (not least the ways in which this outlook can be linked to fascism, as diagnosed in different ways by Walter Benjamin, Roger Shattuck and Frederic Spotts). The aesthetic movement was a type of quasi-aristocratic rearguard group of aesthetes reacting against the growth of bourgeois society and mass culture. They believed moral questions and human interests to be of little importance relative to their own notions of beauty. This beauty was of course something only a small number were in a position to appreciate, an aesthetic aristocracy if you like, and they often viewed other human beings in purely aesthetic terms. I believe this is profoundly dehumanising. There is also a considerable overlap between early aesthetes, including Pater, Wilde, Huysmans, Crowley and others, and the movement of ‘Uranian’ poets and some artists, a group of pederasts who were described in the volume Betrayal of Youth as like a nineteenth-century version of the Paedophile Information Exchange.
To the aesthete, a young boy not yet faced by the doubts, moral choices and responsibility of an adult, is unthreatening and more ripe to be adored and salivated over. If you look at pederastic photographs of naked young boys in classical poses by Wilhelm von Gloeden, who was associated with the Uranians (and whose work I have earlier written about in terms of its influence upon some music of Michael Finnissy), you will see a similar thing. Certain qualities are favoured – looks suggesting arrogance but submission, petulance and self-centeredness, and sometimes exaggerated hyper-masculinity, absolutely nothing which would suggest an emerging mind or any trappings of an intellectual-to-be.
I have seen exactly the same attitudes at play regularly amongst those with power in the classical music world. Young men and women favoured to the extent they exhibit (deliberately or unwittingly) certain of these attributes. Some men because they look like a slightly thuggish rent boy, some women because they can give the right type of Shirley Temple-like sickly-sweet smile. Fundamentally, they become objects, and often the critics, administrators, radio producers and so on who favour them will abandon them as they get older, so they can move onto their next bright young things. This is all part of the same processes of domination of which sexual abuse of children is the most extreme form.
There’s a very obvious continuum, to me, between von Gloeden’s arrogant yet submissive naked boys and the picture of Gustavo Dudamel with a smug and self-satisfied expression, showing how his willingness to conform to the needs of others is rewarded with a Rolex watch. Similarly between Lewis Carroll’s pederastic pictures of young girls and some of the images routinely encountered of young female violinists. The same is true of the publicity materials and discursive constructions around numerous Wunderkind young composers and performers. The arbiters of classical music enmesh musicians into their own web in ways which bear an uncanny resemblance to the grooming strategies of paedophiles. I have even come to consider more sinister interpretations of the apparent innocence, suffused with unspoken desire, which I hear in works such as Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies, possibly representing dances of naked boys (in part) at an ancient Spartan festival, at a time when the concept of ‘Greek love’ (love between men and boys) was very much in vogue in British and French artistic circles.
There were tyrannical teachers and educational practices which grew in the nineteenth century. It was seen as perfectly acceptable to beat students; teachers put them through gruelling (and generally useless) regimes of exercises so that the few who had not had a nervous breakdown or suffered irreparable muscular damage could feel themselves blessed and ‘toughened up’ for a musical career, in which they could inflict the same on their own students. Learning, practising, and music-making were made mind-numbing and conducted in an atmosphere of intense fear. In the educational culture bequeathed above all by the early Paris Conservatoire, the emphasis was no longer upon producing a rounded musician and individual, as in earlier times, but more simply a streamlined playing machine. But in many places these methods were found to be unsatisfactory in many respects and more mature and humane approaches began to take their place, which also often produced much finer musicians.
But then with the Cold War and the Soviet need above all to produce competition winners rather than rounded musicians, there was something of a backlash. Dictatorial approaches to teaching, with no concern for the wider consequences, came back into fashion. Some were aped in the West, crowding out some alternative approaches. Several of the specialist music schools in the UK – all of which were founded between 1962 and 1972 – were explicitly modelled on Russian institutions and styles of teaching, at a time when considerations of the welfare of children and the dangers of such hothouse environments hardly registered.
I have heard major allegations of abuse at all five institutions. The schools have certainly all produced some successful musicians, but if they are happy to take credit for these, they must also take responsibility for the ruined lives, sometimes racked by depression, self-harm, suicide attempts and more, which are equally their legacy. The effect of a school upon all who attended it, not just a small successful minority, matters.
Bullying and malicious exploitation of power in musical education are also rampant. Insecure teachers do this plenty. One of my own former students underwent some serious bullying at the hands of another teacher on a course, who tried everything he could to undermine this pianist by repeatedly spreading malicious talk about him to others, doing all he could to humiliate him in front of others (and before he was about to perform) and so on, because he saw him as a threat. Various people complained about the behaviour of this teacher, but of course nothing was done. This individual once proudly pronounced ‘I get students who think they are good – my job is to make them realise they suck’. This attitude is all-revealing – it is not about helping the student, but playing power games to bolster the teacher’s own self-esteem.
Other types of behaviour I have often encountered have deeply shocked me – just the callousness of it all. One privileged young composer thought nothing of fabricating false rumours about a rival, claiming he was being beaten up by his father, so as to portray this rival as unstable and thus unlikely to be up to being a composer. What has shocked me even more is how many people know this and other similar things about this person, but are completely unbothered by it – certainly it did not impede his own progression in academia. I know one instrumentalist who feigns friendship in order to gain other musicians’ confidence, so that they might reveal such things as spells of depression, which he then uses as malicious gossip to undermine them; another did the same when he found that one woman was going through a legal process in which she alleged her father had abused her. A prominent musician, upon being appointed to a prominent position, bragged to others that now he had the chance to get revenge on all those who had previously stood in his way.
Classical music and its associated culture is still shot through by some fundamentally hierarchical nineteenth-century values which are little in vogue any longer in other cultural fields. I am not saying we should throw out the baby with the bathwater, but do believe much rethinking is necessary. Sexual abuse in classical music is maybe the most extreme symptom of a wider corruption. When you have a culture which idolises a small few ‘great men/women’, sees narcissism, bullying and despicable treatment of others not simply as unavoidable evils but actually as signs of artistry, and encourages an attitude of awe and submission, rather than concrete and critical engagement, then the dangers of abuse are acute.
Whilst figures such as Beethoven or Wagner or Furtwängler or Britten continue to be idolised not just for the work they produced but for the personalities they were, then the role models for younger musicians are fatally flawed. We should reject entirely the idea that musicians are a breed apart, and discourage such thinking.
A key text associated with the Paedophile Information Exchange and its sister organisations elsewhere is the volume Warren Middleton (ed), The Betrayal of Youth: Radical Perspectives on Childhood Sexuality, Intergenerational Sex, and the Social Oppression of Children and Young People (London: CL Publications, 1986), consisting of a whole series of essays generally written from a pro-paedophile viewpoint. Full details of the contents and contributors can be viewed here; in 2011 Middleton and various other PIE members were jailed for various offences relating to images of child sexual abuse. I have elsewhere posted the text of Steven Adrian Smith’s History of PIE from this book, but want to also post here the second appendix from the book, written by Timothy d’Arch Smith (author of Love in Earnest: Some Notes on the Lives and Writings of English ‘Uranian’ poets from 1889 to 1930 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970, of which I have recently received a copy and will post about when I have read more), on the ‘Uranian’ poets, specifically a group of poets devoted to the issue of man-boy love.
A three volume neo-Hellenic apologia was published by Boston aesthete Arthur Lyon Raile (Edward Perry Warren), A Defense of Uranian Love (London: Cayme Press, 1928-30), which can be read online here. A further book on the Uranians entitled Secreted Desires: The Major Uranians: Hopkins, Pater And Wilde (2006) can be read online here. Middleton, as can be seen below, specifically compares them and their offshoot, the British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology, founded in July 1914, with PIE. Recently two anthologies of Uranian poetry entitled Lad’s Love have been published, edited by Kaylor.
Whilst not yet any type of expert on the movement, I find what I read so far deeply sinister, and wonder about the extent to which secret cults of this type were allowed to flourish (perhaps in some of the English public schools?). As I say, I will post more on this subject in due time, but offer the below for your consideration.
Appendix 2: Timothy d’Arch Smith, ‘The ‘Uranians’’, pp. 246-253.
In Britain, the birth of what could be called a politically conscious campaigning paedophile movement occurred around October 1974 with the inception of two groups; PAL – Paedophile Action for Liberation, and PIE – Paedophile Information Exchange. However, after a scurrilous SUNDAY PEOPLE exposé of PAL on May 25th 1974, the group went into a steady decline which, by 1977, resulted in both PAL and its magazine PALAVER being incorporated by the Exchange.
Until the emergence of PIE, never before in the history of this country had such a cohesive group of crusading paedophiles come together so openly to press for changes in the laws and public attitudes. Indeed, the nearest and only comparison one can make is with the Victorian literary clique known as the ‘Uranians’ (or Calamites) and its offshoot, the British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology, founded in July, 1914 by some of the group’s leading lights.
The Uranians consisted largely of undergraduates who extolled the beauty of young boys in their poetry and prose, and much of their work is refreshingly outspoken for the period.
We are indebted to Timothy d’Arch Smith for bringing this remarkable and hitherto unsuspected literary phenomenon to public attention with his brilliantly research study, LOVE IN EARNEST.
For the benefit of those not acquainted with this study, and because the Uranians were the forerunners of PIE, he was asked to expound a little about them for the present book. –ed.
The word ‘Uranian’ was coined by the nineteenth century Austrian jurist, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, before the word homosexual had been invented. Casting about for at term to embrace a group of poets who celebrated in their verse the love of boys, for whom in any case homosexual would not do, I chose Ulrichs’ word. My book appeared as long as sixteen years ago and yet the name appears to have stuck. Since alternatives – paedophile, paederast – originally discarded as unfamiliar, are now so overloaded with opprobrium synonymous these days almost with monster, perhaps semantical and, astrologers tell us – the word deriving from the planet Uranus – fatidical inexactitudes, it will continue to survive.
The Uranians flourished between 1850 and 1930; approximate but by no means arbitrary dates. Three influences were the cause of their ascension. Urlichs’ pamplets, calling for revisionary views on homosexuality, began to circulate in the 1860s and 70s and their influence soon spread to England for propagation in the 90s by the sexual reformers, Havelock Ellis and John Addington Symonds. Attention was being directed to homosexuality by its incidence at the public schools whose traditional structure nurtured its existence as loving as it zealously stamped out its manifestations; and intense study by boys of the classics, read during the Victorian age as much for their content as for their syntax, directed sympathetic minds to Greek love. Further, as the century progressed, there arose a rebellious dissatisfaction with Victorian ‘stuffiness’ that would lead, in the nineties to the ‘decadent’ movement; a conscious, indeed a self-conscious desire to shock.
The movement, not intendedly one despite mutual ties but retrospectively observable as such, numbered about forty exponents, each the author of at least one volume of unmistakably paedophilic verse. The best of the British, the public school tradition – it must not be forgotten that the Uranian movement was quintessentially British and proud of it – was the Rev. Edwin Emmanuel Bradford (1860-1944).  With twelve books to his credit, he was the movement’s most prolific writer. His cheerful verses, airily overlooking any sexual implications, tapped out in rollicking jingles the Uranian philosophy. Of the proselytisers, the campaigners for sexual reform who, in those days, saw no difference between homosexual and paedophilic attachments, or if they did see it, advanced no reason for dissimilar compassion, we may single out Edward Carpenter (1844-1929), author of TOWARDS DEMOCRACY,  and John Addington Symonds (1840-1893), who never missed a chance of bending classical and biblical themes to a homosexually allegorical advantage.  If we exclude Oscar Wilde, the chief exponents of the decadent school were Wilde’s catamite, Lord Alfred Douglas (1870-1945),  and the fashionably shocking Theodore Wratislaw (1871-1933), whose two poems ‘L’Éternal Féminin’ and ‘To a Sicilian Boy’ were almost the only examples of Uranian poetry to have suffered censorship and suppression. 
Each of these sub-sections had, of course, its neurotics; obsessive paedophiles who spent their lives thinking of very little else. John Gambril Nicholson (1866-1931),  arguably the best poet of them all, friend to his recurrent disadvantage of Fr. Rolfe (‘Baron Corvo’),  fell into this category. Ralph Nicholas Chubb (1892-1960), attempted to raise paedophilia to a religion, and his prose-poems, issued in stringently limited editions from his own hand-press, were examples of fanaticism run riot.  A late runner in the decadent stakes, Philip Gillespie Bainbrigge (1891-1918), with his smutty pastiche, ACHILLES IN SCYROS, provided the best example of unashamedly erotic verse. 
Love of boys – or girls come to that, although there is no similar sub-literature – raises the acutest problems, and although Uranian poetry was, for the most part, not very good, it raised psychologically interesting points. Shot through with simple yearnings – analogy with the negro blues not too far-fetched, both reflecting the discontents of an outcast people – it was permeated with longings for the poets’ lost boyhood; with regrets for the briefness of boyhood’s span; with declarations of the supremacy of Uranian love over other manifestations of affection; its, as it were, rightness.
As might be expected, dissatisfactions outweighed euphoria. Celebrations of untroubled and untrammelled love affairs were few and far between. With admirable stoicism, however, the Uranians were able to console themselves with very little: a boy seen in the street, the sound of a treble voice, glimpses of bare flesh at a bathing place, and on occasions, a kiss. Hard won, of rare occurrence, these to the Uranians were riches indeed. Almost all of the group were quick to assimilate the catachrestic lessons of Symonds, and Uranian poetry abounded with reiterations of the legends of Achilles and Patroclus, Zeus and Ganymede, David and Jonathan.
The most striking curiosity of their verse was an almost unanimous obsession with class distinctions. This slightly reprehensible ‘snobisme’ took the form of the poet (the lover’s) desire for lads of the lower orders. Guttersnipes, lift-boys, oil-begrimed stokers on the knife-edge of puberty bowled over, like so many skittles, are Uranian poets. One wonders why this should have been.
The uniqueness of the Uranians’ ideal lay in their single-minded tenet that society should discard the socially acceptable prerogative of parenthood and allow them to take from a boy such love as he has had, in the past, to reserve for his father and mother at a time in his life when he most needs a trusted adult guide outside the confines of home and school.
That a man may take from a boy the kind of physical donation he should reserve for a girl may present us with a problem of the gravest kind, or it may not; for the Uranians maintained that the very nature of male-to-male experience of sex, with its unwritten code of impermanence, was not callous or immoral but altogether harmless. It was their bravery in throwing down this challenge which demands our attention. 
I will conclude this appendix with two poems, the first by Alan Stanley, the second by E. E. Bradford, both of which typified the work of the Uranians.
Silver mists on a silver sea,
And white clouds overhead
Sailing the grey sky speedily
To where the east turns red.
And one lone boat her sails has spread,
Sails of the whitest lawn,
That seem to listen for the tread
Of the tender feet of dawn.
The risen sun now makes the sky
An arching roof of gold,
Amber the clouds turn as they fly
Uncurling fold on fold ;
The sun a goblet seems to hold
A draught of fervid wine,
And the young day no longer cold
Glows with a fire divine.
Stripped for the sea your tender form
Seems all of ivory white,
Through which the blue veins wander warm
O’er throat and bosom slight.
And as you stand, so slim, upright
The glad waves grow and yearn
To clasp you circling in their might,
To kiss with lips that burn.
Flashing limbs in the waters blue
And gold curls floating free;
Say, does it thrill you through and through
With ardent love, the sea?
A very nymph you seem to be
As you glide and dive and swim,
While the mad waves clasp you fervently
Possessing every limb.
King of the Sea, triumphant boy,
Nature itself made thrall
To God’s white work without alloy
On whom no stain doth fall.
Gaze on him, slender, fair, and tall,
And on the yearning sea
Who deigns to creep and cling, and crawl,
His worshipper to be.
(From Love Lyrics, 1894)
See the lad, of late a child
Irresponsible and wild
Now look up with earnest eyes
Tender, passionate and wise!
Love has lent him for an hour
Beauty’s holy, awful power;
When he’s ripe for toil and pain,
Love will take it back again.
Boyish beauty comes and goes,
Like a rivulet that flows;
Woman, as a placid pool,
Long is fair if clean and cool.
Yet the running waters shine
With a splendour more divine;
So the fairest woman’s grace
Fades before a boyish face!
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. Among Bradford’s best known works, all of which were published by the London firm of Kegan Paul, were, THE NEW CHVALRY AND OTHER POEMS (1918); RALPH RAWDON: A STORY IN VERSE (1922); and THE KINGDOM WITHIN YOU AND OTHER POEMS (1927).
2. Carpenter’s TOWARDS DEMOCRACY, which was heavily influenced by Whitman’s LEAVES OF GRASS, first appeared in four parts at various dates, but the complete edition was published in 1905. Carpenter was also the author of many other works, among them, IOLAUS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF FRIENDSHIP (Sonnenschein, London, 1902), which was nicknamed ‘The Bugger’s Bible’.
3. Symonds was a noted classical scholar who wrote many books, among them, MANY MOODS: A VOLUME OF VERSE (Smith, Edler, London, 1878), and ANIMI FIGURA (Smith, Elder, London 1882).
4. Douglas’ best known boylove poems appeared in his SONNETS (Rich & Gowan, London, 1935), and LYRICS (Rich & Cowan, London, 1935).
5. These were included in his extremely rare book, CAPRICES: POEMS (Gay & Bird, London, 1893).
6. Nicholson, a schoolmaster, was author of the paedophilic novel, THE ROMANCE OF A CHOIRBOY (privately printed by F. E. Murray, London, 1916) and four books of boylove poems, including, A CHAPLET OF SOUTHERNWOOD (Ashover Derby, Frank Murray, Mayday, 1896), and A GARLAND OF LADSLOVE (F. E. Murray, London, 1911).
7. Corvo, the genius who died in penury in Venice, was the writer of the well known HADRIAN THE SEVENTH: A ROMANCE (Chatto & Windus, London, 1904), and the scandalous THE DESIRE AND PURSUIT OF THE WHOLE: A ROMANCE OF MODERN VENICE (Cassell, London, 1934). He was also the author of the notorious ‘Venice Letters’.
8. Poet and artist, Ralph Nicholas Chubb (Blake’s Mantle), was theauthor of several limited volumes of poems which were decorated with beautiful hand paintings of boys. Among the best were THE HEAVENLY CUPID: OR, THE TRUE PARADISE OF LOVES (Newbury, the author, 1934); and FLAMES OF SUNRISE: A BOOK [end p. 252] OF THE MANCHILD CONCERNING THE REDEMPTION OF ALBION (Newbury, the author, 1954).
9. ACHILLES IN SCYROS: A CLASSICAL COMEDY (Cayme Press, London, 1927).
10. For those wanting to know more about the Uranians, and see some of their works, read: LOVE IN EARNEST: SOME NOTES ON THE LIVES AND WRITINGS OF ENGLISH ‘URANIAN’ POETS FROM 1889 TO 1930, by Timothy d’Arch Smith (Routledge & Kegan Paul, Lonodn, 1970). FEASTING WITH PANTHERS: A NEW CONSIDERATION OF SOME LATE VICTORIAN WRITERS, by Rupert Croft-Cooke (W. H. Allen, London, 1967). SEXUAL HERETICS; MALE HOMOSEXUALITY IN ENGLISH LITERATURE FROM 1850 TO 1900, by Brian Reade (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1970). ERO; AN ANTHOLOGY OF FRIENDSHIP, by Patrick Anderson & Alistair Sutherland (Anthony Blond, London, 1961). THE PENGUIN BOOK OF HOMOSEXUAL VERSE, ed. By Stephen Coote, Penguin, Middlesex, 1983). GREEK LOVE, by J. Z. Eglinton (Neille Spearman, London, 1971). MEN AND BOYS: AN ANTHOLOGY (revised edition – the old Coltsfoot Press, New York, 1978).