ALISTAIR HINTON replies to Robert Hugill on the subject of composers and sexuality
It is perhaps as well to note that Robert Hugill 'asks' what effect sexuality can have on the art of writing music, without providing answers to that question. To be fair to Mr Hugill, he does not suggest that he does have answers and, indeed, he invites comments from others, perhaps in the hope of eliciting some answers.
It is a sad reflection not only on journalistic standards but on journalistic expectations that the appointment of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies to the post of Master of the Queen's Music has been sufficient for one major UK daily newspaper to publish an article which brings the composer's sexuality and politics into the arena in its opening paragraph. True, one may note that if 'homosexuality' and 'old-fashioned socialism' are parts of what maketh the man himself, the appointment itself may appear to reflect, consciously or otherwise, an interesting desire to see, of necessity, an 'establishment' figure in that post ('establishment', that is, only in the sense that the present incumbent is not a heterosexual member of Tony's Cronies). That said, the validity of his homosexuality as a topic for conversation or writing appears to evaporate beyond such considerations and, with the best will in the world allied to personal insider experience, Mr Hugill seems to be at a loss to persuade us otherwise.
What he tells us about the birth of the term 'homosexual' is obviously of socio-historical interest and in itself goes some way to explaining why his list of homosexual composers from the last century is so much longer than any reliable list of nineteenth century ones would be.
Mr Hugill himself may not 'wish to peer into the closets, bedrooms or back alleys of the famous (and not so famous) composers', but others certainly do; his espousal of the subject of Schubert and his possible sexual proclivities reflects some extensive writings on the subject from an era in which 'gender studies' in music has been elevated to the status of an industry in its own right. When Mr Hugill then writes that he thinks it 'important to gain a sense of the people with whom a composer made emotional attachments', he allies himself with Percy Grainger's belief that it was vital to know as much as possible about each composer in order to achieve a true and comprehensive grasp of his/her musical expression.
Copyright © 18 March 2004
Alistair Hinton, UK