Poll: What's the Greatest Gay Collaboration in Classical Music?

Honoring the Contributions of History's Gay Composers

Friday, June 28, 2013 - 12:27 PM

After our recent article looking at new claims that Stravinsky went through an "ambisexual phase" between 1910 and 1913—the time when he was working with gay ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev on The Rite of Spring—several readers had this reaction: What does a composer's sexuality have to do with their work? Does sexual orientation matter any more today than a composer's interest in politics or sports?

Some would say it matters a lot. Scholars working in the field of gender studies, including the University of Michigan's Nadine Hubbs, have sought to identify a gay sensibility among American composers of the mid-20th century (tonalists like Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Leonard Bernstein and Samuel Barber). Some critics angrily responded that gay composers' embrace of tonality has little to do with the fact that they were gay.

Historians have also raised questions about the potential homosexuality of Schubert, Handel and Tchaikovsky, and whether that could be considered through a creative lens.

But there is also the matter of collaborations. Benjamin Britten wrote many of his songs for his partner, tenor Peter Pears. Partners Samuel Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti collaborated on the operas Vanessa and Hand of Bridge. John Corigliano and Mark Adamo, who married in 2008, have never formally collaborated, but have led master classes together. In another vein, Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein collaborated on Four Saints in Three Acts, the unusual modernist opera from 1927.

As pride weekend kicks off in New York, take our poll and tell us what you think: What have been the most productive gay collaborations in classical music?

Composers — both gay and straight — have directly addressed gay themes in their music, from Corigliano's "AIDS Symphony" to operas based on Harvey Milk and Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Tell us your favorite:


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Comments [30]

Mark M from Jackson Heights, NY

I think it's a perfectly legitimate topic and a very interesting one too. I'm not sure you can really say there's a "gay sensibility" in these composers (how can you compare Handel, Schubert and Tchaikovsky? They're so totally different), but it's still important to know the facts. Gay history has been suppressed and swept under the rug for so long that maybe a little sensationalism (if that's what this is) isn't such a bad thing. I applaud QXR for raising the topic and those whose panties are in a twist should calm down and face reality.

Jul. 04 2013 07:49 AM
Concetta nardone from Nassau

Happy Birthday America. This back and forth of differing opinions would have some of us dragged into the streets and stoned in other parts of the world.

Jul. 04 2013 07:41 AM
Little Old Lady from Westchester County

I think it's fun as well ! I don't think it's "silly" though to wonder how one's sensibilities might inform one's creative output. (It's super-clear how that works within literature and film.)

And for me = the phrases: 'that's so silly', 'that's so tabloid', 'don't even discuss it,' = will never trump a little thought given.

(Gay) author Bruce Bawer once wrote: "In a twist on the famous line in which Lord Alfred Douglas described homosexuality as "the Love that dare not speak its name,' some have complained in recent years that homosexuality has turned into 'the love that won't shut up.'"

I think that's hilarious and so, so true and I detect a shadow of that discomfort (kerfuffle?) here.

Jul. 03 2013 09:09 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

I do believe that QXR deliberately wanted to start a kerfufel with this blog about gay composers. Agree with the comment that they are getting to be like the tabloid headlines one reads while waiting on line at the supermarket. It is fun reading all the comments.

Jul. 03 2013 08:09 AM
Barry O'Neal

Silly business, this. What matters is the music and I say that as a gay man who is also a composer. The choices for greatest gay themed work were ludicrous. Not one is a really lasting work (well maybe the Corigliano). Stewart Wallace's tedious opera? Get real. Not a single opera by Britten? This is not a serious list just another example of the decline of WQXR. My picks? DEATH IN VENICE and BILLY BUDD, both light years above the pieces named.

Jul. 02 2013 11:56 PM
Little Old Lady from Westchester County

Orientation is a part of what informs us as individuals.
As straight folks, we express our orientation freely and often. Usually daily.
Every time we speak longingly about our husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend; every time we place their photo on our desk; every time we kiss our love goodbye at the airport; every time we hold hands with them on the street; ---- we publicly "refer to" our heterosexuality in a subtle, yet very powerful way.

Our heterosexual orientation is such a basic, 'taken-for-granted,' integral part of our lives that we might not even notice or be aware that we are "referring to" it or expressing it, but we surely are.

Gay people who do these very same things are often accused of "flaunting their sexuality" or "giving us too much information" or "making a political statement". Thanks for the article, WQXR.

Jul. 02 2013 09:52 PM
concetta nardone from Nassau

No, LOL from Westchester County. We do not refer to heterosexual orientation all the time.
I am upset a little though, because nothing is said about those of us who are orientated towards blue eyed Sicilians with Moorish features.

Jul. 02 2013 11:23 AM
Student from Southwest Virginia

Knowing a composer's biography is, in some ways, definitely an important part of appreciating their work. If nothing else, we at least can appreciate the inner struggles they surely must have gone through.

I suppose, for some, knowing the biographies of writers do not matter either, such as Oscar Wilde, possibly Henry James and Shakespeare.

Jul. 02 2013 10:36 AM
Little Old Lady from Westchester County

Let’s consider young gay people among our world-wide listeners and how inspired and reassured they might be, learning that there have always been successful gay composers.
If a teenager could be rejected (openly or subtly) by their parents, family, friends, faith community and/or is unable to marry or could be legally fired from their job on the basis sexual orientation, then the statement - “I don’t think sexual orientation matters.” - would be rather baffling.
It’s perfectly fine to refer to sexual orientation; we refer to people’s heterosexual orientation all the time.
Let the young be informed and encouraged!

Jul. 01 2013 12:05 PM
Avery from Kent, Ct

Carol, your comment betrays your real thoughts. You assume that there's something "controversial" or "sensational" about asking what are the great same-sex collaborations in classical music. The implication is that there's something "controversial" or "sensational" about one's sexuality. There is not. Indeed, if the question had been, "What are the great collaborations in classical music," omitting any reference to sexuality, I'm sure you'd be offering a few of your own. For those other commentators that keep harping on irrelevancy, have you ever heard Britten's Peter Grimes, or Billy Budd, or Turn of the Screw? If you think those operas aren't informed by Britten's sexuality, then you're missing out on part of his genius.

Jul. 01 2013 12:00 PM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

I agree with Andrew and Concetta. WQXR writes like a supermarket tabloid with headlines breathlessly asking: "Was Stravinski Bisexual?" and "What's the Greatest Gay Collaboration in Classical Music?" It all seems pretty sensationalistic to me, but then, I guess this is the only way they can get our attention. Have you noticed that lately there have not been very many comments on any of the blogs or playlists? The only way they can get us to make comments is to write controversial or sensationalistic blogs (it seems to be working, though). Maybe WQXR should concentrate on making better playlists instead of programming the same things all the time and writing these ridiculous blogs.

Jul. 01 2013 10:11 AM
concetta nardone

Frank: We are not bigots. I personally favor blue-eyed Sicilians. That's my orientation.
Bernie: You have led a sheltered life if you do not know what c--p stands for. I was trying to be civil.
Best wishes to all out there.

Jul. 01 2013 09:15 AM
Frank from UWS

Wow, there are a lot of bigots here.

Jul. 01 2013 07:34 AM
Andrew from NYC

I agree with most of the posts here. A human being is more than their sexual orientation. Enough.

Jun. 30 2013 10:49 PM
Bernie from UWS

I think Avery said it best. The commenters who are complaining here are probably happy to talk about Mozart and his father, or Brahms and Clara Schumann, or Bach and his 20 kids.

But the minute a gay person enters into the equation it's "oh, this sort of thing shouldn't matter. We should just talk about the music." Ridiculous! You either acknowledge personal biography matters or you don't. But what does "sick of all this c--p" mean? What c--p?

Jun. 30 2013 09:02 PM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

Concetta, you said it well! I completely agree - enough of this nonsense already!

Jun. 30 2013 06:55 PM
njbrit from Hackensack, NJ

I appreciate QXR doing its bit for gay pride but this is a stretch.

Peter Pears [which announcers frequently mispronounce to rhyme with the fruit] and Benjamin Britten are, I think, a rarity for both collaboration and more when it comes to the same sex.

We seem to moving to a stage where we are orientation-blind, however, so my suggestion is we should celebrate in a gender neutral way the joy of collaboration combined with intimacy wherever it has happened.

Jun. 30 2013 02:46 PM
concetta nardone from Nassau

I have noticed that QXR changed "fruitful" to productive. And who cares. Enough already. How about blue eyed composers, sicilian composers, composers who were master chefs, etc. Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, as well. this too is orientation. No, I am not hateful. Just sick of all this c--p.

Jun. 30 2013 01:33 PM
Anonymous from NYC

What about Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge?

Jun. 30 2013 01:04 PM
Possum Smile from Australia

Cheers from the down under:

Honestly ... It doesn't matter if they were gay or green or white or Indian or. White..

They brought music to the pinnacle of their times . They were all genius !

Classical it's classical music . It bring to ours ears the sensitivity of what their turmoils they were going thru and for me that's all it matters.
I play piano violin and I love classical music in every level.

Jun. 30 2013 12:34 PM
Avery from Kent, CT

I think it's an interesting question to ask. I can't help but wonder if those who've posted comments suggesting that this borders on gossip or something prurient are simply of an older generation. If your point is biography has no role in discussing music, then say that. I suspect, however, that for many comments, the issue isn't barring all biography, but simply barring any same-sex biography. Alas, it smacks of the rather dated sentiment, "I'm very tolerant, it's okay if you're gay, as long as I don't have to think about it."

Jun. 30 2013 12:14 PM
Beverly Lawson from Cambridge

I agree with most posts to date. If we are all in agreement that sexual orientation should not set some apart from the majority in their civil rights, and we should embrace everyone in our community with non-judgmental acceptance (too which I heartily agree) then WQXR creating this category of "exceptualism" is jarring to me.

Jun. 30 2013 11:53 AM
Ruthie from Jerusalem, Israel

I think sexual orientation is not important. Either a composer has the gift to write good music which I consider a miracle, or he/she does not. Yes, inspiration may help wherever it comes from. But nothing can explain to me how Shubert could create his quintet in c-major, op. 163

Jun. 30 2013 02:58 AM

News flash for the haters: composers don't create music in a vacuum. If they were gay, that probably influenced their music on some level. Ever heard of writing a love song? Who do you think inspires those? We shouldn't treat composers as sacred objects to be unexamined and untouched.

Jun. 29 2013 11:20 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

Enough already. Who cares besides WQXR. This does border on gossip as a prior comment posted. Do we really need to know?

Jun. 29 2013 10:03 AM
Bernie from UWS

Agree with Wally. Music history has been steeped in stories about Robert and Clara Schumann, Richard and Cosima Wagner, Gustav and Alma Mahler, and many others. We've heard all about how their love affairs influenced their creative decisions. So why shouldn't gay relationships be given the same focus? Let's face it, plenty of composers were gay - from Handel and Schubert to Tchaikovsky and Copland. It's not being "obsessed with sexuality" to give those equal attention.

Jun. 28 2013 07:29 PM

Did you really ask for the most "fruitful" gay collaboration? REALLY?

Jun. 28 2013 06:55 PM
Wally from manhattan

I don't think WQXR has become obsessed with composers' sexuality at all. It's simply that after years of examining and discussing collaborations in music of opposite sex marriages, now gay marriage is emerging as a legitimate part of life, and, therefore, the music world. So discussing gay collaborations is a great idea.

Jun. 28 2013 06:43 PM
Gayle Alstrom from Staten Island, NY

This topic borders on gossip because people want to find out who was gay.

Jun. 28 2013 06:38 PM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

Enough, already! Why has WQXR become so obsessed with composers' sexuality? It is getting very tiresome. I guess you don't have anything else to write about.

Jun. 28 2013 04:54 PM

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