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The real question, however, is 'why' one should do so, other than to understand those attachments, those other people and those relationships per se. If we consider, for example, Britten's relationship with Pears and Shostakovich's with his first wife and with the lady he was in love with before and after that marriage, what instructive conclusions may be drawn from them about the way Britten and Shostakovich respectively composed their music?

Mr Hugill observes that 'you didn't have to be gay in the twentieth century to be a composer, but in some sort of strange way it seemed to have helped'; clearly, it didn't help Shostakovich -- or Rubbra, Simpson, Bartók, Rakhmaninov, Sibelius, Schönberg, Elgar, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Varèse, Carter ... it didn't help Alan Bush, either -- and when one considers how his politics was made to hinder him for much of his professional life, he could perhaps have done with some help ... I am not for one moment suggesting that the sexual or political leanings of composers are not of any interest in themselves; I merely put forward grave doubts about what any understanding of these factors can contribute to our grasp of particular composers' music.

The repressive treatment of homosexuals and homosexuality in the Western world for many years is not something of which to be proud; it must, as a consequence, be recognised that homosexual composers such as Mr Hugill have, with no small reason, felt the need for 'a way of helping to validate the "homosexual experience", to prove to (themselves) that (they) are real people'. This, however, is surely a shameful reflection on that very treatment of such individuals in the past; had homosexuality been generally accepted as 'normal' in those whose sexual identity is other than heterosexual, composers would not have felt any such need. In such circumstances, would their music have been any different?

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Copyright © 18 March 2004 Alistair Hinton, UK


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