Quiz: Test Your Knowledge of Gay Composers

Saturday, June 28, 2014 - 06:00 PM

Gay Pride Weekend brings a chance to reflect on gay and lesbian composers who have enriched classical music throughout history. It’s a topic that concert programmers or musicologists rarely address, whether because of conservative attitudes or the risk of improperly linking musical styles and sexual politics.

Still, the question hasn't been completely ignored. In the fall 2013 issue of Daedalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, University of Michigan women's studies professor Nadine Hubbs asserts that a core of American classical music developed a gay aesthetic during the mid-20th century.

Hubbs considers how American composers including Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Virgil Thomson, Marc Blitzstein, Paul Bowles, David Diamond and Ned Rorem formed a close circle and "performed and programmed, admired and envied each other’s work." All happened to be defenders of tonality at a time when experimental, atonal styles (rooted in Austro-Germanic traditions) were dominant. Hubbs traces a stylistic lineage linking Copland to Thomson, who himself was inspired by the work of the American, Paris-based author Gertrude Stein.

Some have contested Hubbs's writings, arguing that plenty of gay composers were writing thorny, non-tonal music in these years, notably John Cage, Henry Cowell and Harry Partch. Still, Hubbs's thesis remains a compelling starting point, and her book, The Queer Composition of America's Sound (2004), is worth seeking out. In the meantime, test your knowledge on the topic in our quiz.


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Comments [18]

Well stated, Arn and organman77.


Jul. 03 2014 01:02 AM

@A. Manigault: "If people (and here it's primarily heterosexuals ...) want to hold hands, or kiss, or wear wedding rings ..."

Sorry, you lost me here. Anybody (and everybody) should be able to do those things in public. Within bounds. (The words "get a room" come to mind -- but that applies to heterosexuals as well as homosexuals.) Really? They should wear wedding rings in private?!?


Jul. 03 2014 12:54 AM
A. Manigault from Brooklyn

I couldn't agree more with my fellow old timers (Concetta et al.) that a composer's love life should be completely irrelevant. Really, who cares if Robert Schuman knew someone named Clara, or if Janacek had a mistress. Hildegard von Bingen was a nun? Who cares, it's private information. She was female too? Irrelevant. And a few weeks ago when Operavore kept talking about Strauss's childhood and life? Really, it's all too much private information. This applies to other artists too. Gauguin left his wife and children to paint his masterpieces? Van Gogh suffered from schizophrenia? Why does any of that matter? Let's go a step further. Politics. I'm so sick of having first ladies. Who cares whether a world leader if married, or for that matter faithful? If people (and here it's primarily heterosexuals who are the worst offenders) want to hold hands, or kiss, or display photos of loved ones, or wear wedding rings, they should do in in the privacy of their own homes instead of assaulting me with it! Right?

Jul. 01 2014 11:31 AM
Reid Condit from San Francisco

Oh, come on, biography is always interesting even if it isn't relevant. But who's to say it isn't relevant? Surely we won't be able to say without some biography.

Jul. 01 2014 12:29 AM

organman77 from Kissimmee, FL. I was a DJ in Provincetown, MA, the gay capital of the northeast, a higher percentage of gays than San Francisco, so I had an unfair advantage because I researched music of gay composers on a regular basis to use for my programs. I'm glad to see WQXR presenting this. My word, it's all right to have black American music all during February but not o.k. for a weekend of gay music and some stories???? It is YOUR problem whoever pointed that out.

Jun. 30 2014 02:59 PM
Philip B. Spivey from Harlem, NY

I sure hope Nadine Hubbs cited George Gershwin in her list of 20th century gay composers. Although not public with his homosexuality, Mr. Gershwin is top-o-my-list of preeminent artists that lived double lives.

Taking my intuition and gay sensibilities a bit further, his attraction to the African American culture and musical idioms later in his life suggests strongly to me, that his affinity for Black folks was personal as well as musical. All the more reason to keep Gershwin's double-jeopardy personal life under wraps for so long.

Bravo, WQXR, for crossing a threshold a long time coming!

Jun. 30 2014 01:50 PM
Linda from New York City

Five out of eight correct. Not bad. Next time, I'm going for the Gold. Learning about the many facets of classical music is interesting. I find it wonderful to discover new things, i.e. gay composers and their numerous contributions, and it enriches my appreciation of the music.

Jun. 30 2014 10:12 AM
Arn Prince from UWS

I, personally, wish to thank WQXR for acknowledging this weekend by sharing with everyone the fact that all these composers were (if dead,) or are (if living), gay. To those of you who have problems with it - it IS indeed YOUR problem. I was a member of the profession for 30 years, and what most fail to recognize is the fact that the classical performing arts, all of which have an inordinate number of gay members in their ranks when compared to most professions, are all exceedingly homophobic in many, many ways - numerous of which are quite subtle and insidious as they are committed most often by individuals who are themselves gay. While knowing or learning of the sexuality of these composers may be of small comfort to the truly exceptional gay singer, dancer, or actor who suffers while watching a career handed to some mediocre heterosexual counterpart - which happens all the time (especially in opera) - perhaps it will give courage to a young gay composer struggling to find his or her voice, or wondering if he/she dare express true feelings in what he/she writes. But surely all gay musicians and performers can share a sense of solidarity with these men and women, most of whom found success long before the average gay person could do so if out of the closet. So no - none of you get to rain on this wonderful parade, and shame on you for trying.

Jun. 30 2014 12:48 AM
SLG from New York

This is offensive. Why is WQXR trying to consign some composers to a ghetto?

Jun. 29 2014 09:11 PM
Bernie from UWS

Wasn't Copland used by Rick Perry in the last election too? If only Perry knew.
Love this feature.

Jun. 29 2014 07:41 PM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

WQXR is doing nothing of the kind - they are just jumping on the politically correct bandwagon. If they want to be inclusive and educational, they should include some longer works in their regular programming schedule, instead of continually playing the same mix of 20 minute-or-less light classics all the time (but then of course they wouldn't have time for the commercials - oops, I mean promos - or whatever they are!)

Jun. 29 2014 07:08 PM

Be respectful. It's Gay Pride weekend, and WQXR is being inclusive and education, as always.

Jun. 29 2014 03:38 PM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

Concetta, once again you said it well! WQXR spends too much time trying to be trendy and not enough time putting together good playlists. What difference does it make whether a composer is gay? Just play the music.

Jun. 29 2014 03:02 PM

I too agree with Ms. Nardone.

Jun. 29 2014 01:11 PM
The Truth from LES

Well, it sounds as if it did matter for composers like Barber, Copland, Bernstein, etc. They were all part of the same circle and influenced each other's music. If they had all been straight, I'd wonder if the same degree of influence and visibility would have occurred. Food for thought.

Jun. 29 2014 10:02 AM
Concetta Nardone from Nassau

Yes, Mr. or Ms.Arden, Amahl is a wonderful opera and not presented enough. I can hum along to some of this. When NBC was owned by the Sarnoffs, it was presented every Christmas season.
Best wishes

Jun. 29 2014 09:48 AM
arden broecking from connecticut

I agree with Ms.Nardone. Does it matter????
I had the real joy of knowing Gian-Carlo Menotti, working as hie assistant on one production of "The Consul," and later directing several productions of
"Amahl and the Night Vistors." Personal lives are none of anyone's business.
Genius is genius, End of story.

Jun. 29 2014 09:39 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

I guess QXR wants to start up another controversy. Just play the damn music. Who really cares.

Jun. 29 2014 07:09 AM

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