Compact Discoveries
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, written, hosted, and edited by Fred Flaxman
©2002 by Fred Flaxman

Program 9
"Best Music for Backrubs"

MUSIC: "Finale" from Le Carnaval des animaux by Saint-Saëns, with the Nash Ensemble of London [Virgin Classics VC 7 90751-2, track 22]

FLAXMAN: What present would you most like to receive for your next birthday? Since the best things in life are supposedly free, would a good, old-fashioned backrub hit the spot, so to speak? It would seem to be 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 Compact Discoveries program. I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman.

MUSIC: [fades out]

FLAXMAN: As you can imagine, the extensive research I did for this program was anything but stressful. I've concluded after many years of intensively examining this intellectually neglected subject, that the music selected for backrubs should reflect three criteria: (1)the type and style of back rub desired, (2) the mood of the back rubbee and the back rubber, and (3) 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.

MUSIC: Carl Orff: "O Fortuna" opening section of Carmina Burana [Telarc CD-80575, track 1] [2:26]

FLAXMAN: "O Fortuna," the opening section from Carmina Burana by Carl Orff. Donald Runnicles conducted the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus on a Telarc recording.

When it comes to backrubs, there are those who prefer more of a tickle than a rub, with finger tips going lightly and rapidly up and down the back. It seems to me that the perfect piece for this type of backrub is The Flight of the Bumblebee by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakoff. But you'll need very quick fingers indeed to keep up with James Galway on the flute.

MUSIC: Rimsky-Korsakoff: Flight of the Bumblebee performed by James Galway, flutist, with the National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Charles Gerhardt [RCA Victor Red Seal 09026-68412-2, track 2] [1:07]

FLAXMAN: Rimsky-Korsakoff's Flight of the Bumblebee, performed by James Galway, flutist, with the National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Charles Gerhardt. This is an RCA Victor Red Seal compact disc release.

Any scherzo by Felix Mendelssohn is perfect music for the light, tickle-type backrub, but I think first of the scherzo from his A Midsummer Night's Dream.

MUSIC: Mendelssohn: scherzo movement from A Midsummer Night's Dream [Philips 411 106-2, track 2] [5:04]

FLAXMAN: The scherzo from A Midsummer Night's Dream by Felix Mendelssohn. It was performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Neville Marriner on a Philips compact disc.

In case you just joined us, I want you to know that you are listening to Compact Discoveries, and I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman. If you were searching for a serious program about classical music, you have found it! We are discussing today the ins and outs and the ups and downs of one of the most frequent uses of classical music: that is as music to accompany backrubs.

I imagine that most people prefer a variety of backrub techniques and an alternation between them. I know I do. For this you want to select music which offers a lot of variety of moods and tempos. Classical music suites are one form that is often perfectly suited to the task. One of my favorite suites is Háry János by Zoltán Kodály. It starts with a big musical sneeze, which is something that often happens when you first take off your clothes for a backrub.

MUSIC: Kodály: Háry János with the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by János Ferencsik [Hungaraton HCD 12190-2, tracks 1-6] [22:11]

FLAXMAN: Zoltan Kodály's Háry János. The Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by János Ferencsik. That piece provides music for a backrub to end all backrubs!

The best music for backrubs is our topic on today's edition of Compact Discoveries. I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break]

The musical form known as theme and variations is another good source for backrub music. And that leads us to perhaps the most famous backrub music of all time: Maurice Ravel's Boléro. Its association with backrubs comes from its use in a very sexy movie a number of years ago called "10." Come to think of it, was that a backrub that was going on or something else?

MUSIC: Ravel: Boléro with the Orchestre de Paris conducted by Daniel Barenboim [Deutsche Grammophon 400 061-2, track 1] [17:30]

FLAXMAN: Boléro by Maurice Ravel. Daniel Barenboim conducted the Orchestre de Paris. This was a Deutsche Grammophon recording.

I heard a story - I really don't know whether it is true or not - that Ravel expected the premiere of that piece to be a disaster. After all, the same theme and rhythm just repeats over and over again with the orchestral instrumentation and volume of sound being about the only things that change.

Well, Ravel was in the front of the audience and when the piece ended, much to his surprise, the crowd went wild with applause. All but one little old lady in the front row. She shouted loud enough for Ravel to hear her: "That was awful! Just awful!"

Ravel pointed to her and said: "She's the only person in the audience who understands this piece."

Could Ravel have possibly imagined that all these years later his piece would be highly recommended as musical accompaniment for backrubs?

MUSIC: Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals with the Nash Ensemble of London [Virgin Classics VC 7 90751-2, tracks 9+ to fade out]

One of my favorite pieces of backrub music is The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns. This is one work that your cat or dog will appreciate as well, and, in most households with pets, these are the guys who get the most backrubs.

The Carnival of the Animals has a huge variety of rhythm, volume, tonal color, and tempo. And the backruber can have loads of fun producing tactile imitations of musical hens, elephants, tortoises, kangaroos, fish, birds, fossils, swans, people with long ears, and pianists. So we're going to conclude our program with as much of this delightful music as we can get in. It is a Virgin Classics digital recording with the Nash Ensemble of London.

MUSIC: [continues until it fades out just before the following paragraphs]

Let me know how you feel about the program you just heard and about the Compact Discoveries series in general. You can call or send in your comments to me in care of this station. Or e-mail me at That's all one word:

Compact Discoveries is made possible by the members of WXEL-FM and the financial support of Barry and Florence Friedberg, Maurice and Thelma Steingold and an anonymous donor. The program was written, produced, recorded, and edited by your guide, Fred Flaxman, and is a production of WXEL-FM, West Palm Beach, Florida.



MUSIC: Sicilienne, Op. 78, by Gabriel Fauré [Bridge BCD 9038]

FLAXMAN: Next time on Compact Discoveries the theme of the program will be "Fauré's Fiasco and Other Favorites." I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman. Please join me for my light approach to serious music.

MUSIC: Down and Under

TAG: Sunday at 7 P.M. on WXEL-FM 90.7

MUSIC: Fades out at 30 seconds

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