What's Best With Backrubs?

Copyright © Fred Flaxman, 1997

As the earth has hurried around the sun almost one more time since I was born, I got to thinking about what I would like most for my birthday. Since the best things in life are supposedly free, and my household isn't exactly experiencing a financial surplus at this moment, a good, old-fashioned backrub would hit the spot, so to speak. And it would seem a particularly relevant gift since one's birthday suit is the most appropriate attire for the occasion.

But it raises an important aesthetic question: what music goes best with a backrub? And that, as it happens, is the subject of this serious discourse.

The music selected should reflect the type and style of backrub desired, the mood of the backrubbee and the backrubber, and the time of day that it is to be administered.

For example, there are those who like to be sat on, pounded with fists and pushed in with great force from above. In such cases the music chosen should be forceful, loud, rhythmic and highly vocal. Carl Orff's Carmina Burana might do the trick. I like the Telarc release (CD-80056) with Robert Shaw conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

Or try Orff's Catulli Carmina on Newport Classic (NCD 60118) with William Noll conducting the Choral Guild of Atlanta. This is a superb digital recording and interpretation. I only wish Newport hadn't paired it with Iggy Stravinsky's Les Noces, which, in my opinion, is not good for backrubs or anything else.

There are those who prefer more of a tickle than a rub, with finger tips going lightly and rapidly up and down the back. Any scherzo by Felix Mendelssohn would do the trick, but I think first of his Midsummer Night's Dream, which I have on a Philips CD (411 106-2) with Neville Marriner conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra, along with the Ambrosian Singers led by John McCarthy.

But have you ever tried old Nick Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee for this purpose? You can pick this up for a song, if you'll excuse the expression, along with other "Rimsky-Korsakov's Greatest Hits" on CBS (MLK-45811), though this is an old analog recording by Kostelanetz and the Columbia Symphony.

I imagine that most people prefer a variety of backrub techniques and an alternation between them. I don't know for sure, since I haven't conducted a survey. Perhaps I should do that before I start coming out with such brash statements in print. Anyway, I know I do.

For this you want to select CDs which offer a lot of variety. Suites are one form that is often perfectly suited to the task. Theme and variations often work well, as well. The most famous backrub record of all times is in that form: Bolero by Maury Ravel. I recommend Danny Barenboim conducting the Orchestre de Paris on Deutsche Grammophon 400 061-2. It also contains the Pavane pour une infante defunte (I think that means Pavane for a Jewish princess, but if you don't believe me, go learn French yourself), La Valse and Daphnis et Chloe: Fragments symphoniques -- all of which is also nice rubbingmusik.

Bolero was introduced to a mass audience in the movie "10." But was that a backrub that was going on? I can't remember. I'd better rent the video and look at it again and again and again, just to make sure. (Writing about backrubs is just the right assignment for a lazy researcher like me.)

I have just received and tested out a new CD which I found works very well on a sunny Sunday morning: Frankie Liszt's Opera Transcriptions, performed by Jean-Yves Thibaudet at the piano, digitally recorded by London (436 736-2). It will take you through keyboard-tickling, arpeggio-packed excerpts from Joe Verdi's Rigoletto through Charlie Gounod's Faust to Pete Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, a piece by Wolfie Mozart as adapted by Ferdie Busoni, and several works by Dick Wagner. With a total timing of almost an hour and nine minutes, this CD should last a full two backrubs without repeating material.

For a variety-packed Saturday night special backrub, you can't go wrong with Nickie Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. I recommend another London recording here with Chuck Dutoit conducting the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal (410 253-2). If the piece finishes before the rub, the whole affair can come to an exciting climax to the rhythmic dances of the Capriccio Espagnol, which concludes this digital disc.

Suppose a soft, soothing rub is more to your taste (or should I say "feel"), the three Gymnopedies and other piano works by Erik Satie should be just right for the mood. I recommend this music for a sleep-inducing, late-night rub. If you use it in the morning, you'll never get up. London strikes again with their recording by pianist Pascal Roge (410 220-2). This CD seems especially designed for adult bedroom use. After the three Gymnopedies, the next work is entitled Je te veux. If you don't know what that means, that should teach you for not taking French when you had the chance!

Which leads me, finally, to one of my favorite pieces of backrub music: The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saens. This is one work that your cat or dog will appreciate as well, and, if your household is anything like ours, those are the guys who get the most backrubs. For rubbing purposes, it's best not to have the accompaniment of the clever, but distracting, Ogden Nash verses. I recommend the Virgin Classics digital recording (VC 7 90751-2) with the Nash Ensemble of London (no relations of Ogden's, as far as I know). This CD has the extra advantage of including two genuine compact discoveries: Saint-Saens' Piano Trio in F, Op. 18 and his Septet in E-flat, Op. 65 for trumpet, string quintet and piano. And they make great backrubmusik as well!

I wonder what they called Camille for short?

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