<< -- 2 -- Robert Hugill COMPOSERS AND SEXUALITY
Whilst I do not wish to peer into the closets, bedrooms or back alleys of the famous (and not so famous) composers, I do think it important to gain a sense of the people with whom a composer made emotional attachments. I am not a great believer in listening to music in a vacuum; it may be the least absolute of the arts (that after all is its beauty), but I feel that the composer's own life should help us to gain some perspective on the works.
If we look on the web site www.glbtq.com, this provides information on a variety of arts topics from a contemporary lesbian and gay point of view. Such sites are often written as a way of helping to validate the 'homosexual experience', to prove to ourselves that we are real people. But for me, one of the most constructive pages on the site are those listing known gay composers. Their list of gay twentieth century composers makes fascinating reading (Samuel Barber, Lord Berners, Leonard Bernstein, Marc Blitzstein, Benjamin Britten, John Cage, John Corigliano, Aaron Copland, Henry Cowell, Peter Maxwell Davies, David Del Tredici, Manuel de Falla, Lou Harrison, Hans Werner Henze, Colin McPhee, Gian Carlo Menotti, Francis Poulenc, Ned Rorem, Stephen Sondheim, Karol Szmanowski, Virgil Thomson and Michael Tippett). Such lists are, of course, neither completely accurate nor completely inclusive -- most of the people who figure in it are/were open about their sexuality. Though I can think of a number who are not open and some about whom not enough is known for certain, such as Maurice Ravel and Saint-Saëns.
By now, the average reader is thinking 'does any of this matter?' A list like this can be immensely validating for those coming to terms with their sexuality.
But, when push comes to shove, as a composer who is gay I am curious about my predecessors and what struck me (and what I hope has struck a number of readers) was the sheer number of major twentieth century composers that this list encompasses. Obviously, 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.
Copyright © 11 March 2004
Robert Hugill, London UK