Maestro Muti

This recording of Beethoven’s 7th symphony, Muti’s ‘debut’, came out in 1979, and I was at the Festival Hall for the London concert he gave to promote it (might have been in 1980—things moved more slowly back then). Frankly, though, although I remember being utterly thrilled by the music, what I left the concert hall with that night was a dizzy crush on this stupendously sexy Italian. He was (is still, I’m sure) sublimely gorgeous, powerful, musical, successful… and a total bastard. My type to a tee.

He’s made many enemies over the years—if I ever met him I’m sure I’d hate him. The La Scala musicians hated him so vehemently that they ganged up against him and forced the management to sack him. But then, they’re famous for hating just about everyone. In 1980, though, I was at college learning (theoretically at least, between drinking binges) to sing, and still imagined I had a career ahead of me—the fantasies we come up with to get us through life!

For a while in my second or third year, I had an American girlfriend called Karin who was also a singer and who was also training at the same college. I remember her father—an American lawyer who collected stamps, I think as a way of retreating into a world of meticulous care and order, such a contrast to his deeply neurotic family—managed to get one of the publicity posters of Muti from HMV (in those days, not as easy as it should have been) and framed it for her so she could put it over her bed.

They lived in one of those little squares off the King’s Road, Markham Square I think, and she had the two rooms at the top. They were rich. I was living just off Newington Green, north of Islington, in a ground floor flat that I had to leave to get to the bathroom at the top of the staircase. I was poor. Well, not truly poor. I had a grant and didn’t have to pay my college fees, so I was pretty well off in comparison with today’s English kids (poor things) who won’t have the luxury of studying something just for the sake of it. But that’s another story.

Anyway, I brought Karin into this post in the first place because I have a vivid memory of her saying, as we sat waiting in the Blandford Street studios for lessons or a practice room or some such, that she only became really serious about making music her profession when she first saw Muti at that concert. If she could work just once with him, if she could worship at the alter of his prodigious talent, as well as wallow in the deep oceans of his ostentatious Latin sexual magnetism (most of these words are my own invention, but Karin definitely mentioned the ‘sexual magnetism’) she would consider all the years of training we had ahead of us, and the deal-making, and the compromises, worth while.

I remember smiling knowingly (I was all of 19 and quite vile) and changing the subject. I don’t know whether she had a career or not—we didn’t keep in touch—but her aspiration has taken up residence in a side cupboard of memory, and pops out occasionally to make me laugh. Particularly when I hear Beethoven. The recording of the symphony, which I bought at the concert on my shiny new credit card stayed with me too, for a couple of decades. I listened to it obsessively for several years, until I gave away all my records when I moved to CDs, then only slightly less often to the cassette transfer. Before long, though, a dirty tape deck chewed it to pieces and refused even to give it up the shreds, so I haven’t heard it for a while. Not until this morning when I found it on youtube, as I looked for something else entirely.

Bottom line, it’s worth a listen. I wanted just to give you the second movement, but ‘whoever’ uploaded the whole thing in one chunk. It’s really worth the effort it’ll take to carve out the time to listen to it all—and don’t forget to turn on your speakers.

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