The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: As Pride month comes to an end, let us proudly recall LGBTQ classical composers and musicians. Plus, you hear a concert of queer composers and performers | June 30, 2019

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By Jacob Stockinger

This past weekend, this whole past month, the Rainbow flags (below) have been flying openly and high.

We saw all sorts of major Pride parades for LGBTQ rights as well as the 50th anniversary of the riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York City that eventually gave birth  to a worldwide movement to ensure that queer people receive the human rights they deserve.

Since today is the last day of June, of Pride month, it seems fitting to recall the many LGBTQ composers and performers in classical music.

The gay rights movement has opened the closet doors not only of individual lives today but also of historical figures.

So here are several lists that may teach you something new about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer musicians.

Some of the calls seem iffy, unconvincing or overstated. Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin, for example, lived when homoerotic friendship did not necessarily mean a queer sexual identity. But one way or the other, historical proof and documentation can be hard to come by. And clearly there is much more to know about the past.

But take a look. At least you will see how scholars are undertaking new research and often undermining the heterosexual assumption that has wrapped so many historical and even contemporary figures in wrong or mistaken gender identity.

And if you find someone missing, please leave the name and appropriate information in the comment section.

Freedom, acceptance and respect are not zero-sum games in which one person or group can win only if another one loses. There is enough of each to go around. All can celebrate pride.

So enjoy the information, whether it is new or not, and the respect it should inspire for the central role of LGBTQ people in the arts both past and present.

Here is a pretty extensive and comprehensive list, in alphabetical order, from Wikipedia of LGBT composers, both living and dead. It includes Chester Biscardi (below) who did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Pauline Oliveros who did a residency at the UW-Madison several years ago. You don’t have to click on each name. Just hover the cursor arrow over the name and you will see a photo and biographical blurb.

And here is a list, also in alphabetical order and also from Wikipedia, of LGBT musicians and performers, not all of them classical. It works by clicking on sub-categories that include nationality – though one wonders if musicians from extremely homophobic countries and cultures are included.

Here is a more selective list from The Advocate, an LGBTQ magazine, of 18 queer composers — including Corelli — who made history and you should know about:

And here is a similarly selective list from radio station WFMT in Chicago of 15 LGBT composers — including Handel and Lully — you should know about:

And in the YouTube video at the bottom is a Pride concert — 1 hour and 43 minutes long — recently held in New York City at the Greene Space, and hosted and recorded by radio stations WQXR and WNYC.

It features music by queer composers and performances by queer artists. Metropolitan Opera star Anthony Roth Constanzo performs. Also playing are pianists Steven Blier and Sara Davis Buechner, who have performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, respectively. The New York Gay Men’s Chorus sings. The Ear found the concert timely and moving.

If you have questions, comments or additional names, please do leave word in the comment section.

Happy Pride!

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music
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  1. I found the links very interesting.

    I read Swafford’s biography of Beethoven and remember thinking about the relationship he had with his nephew. It certainly went beyond the norm, but it is hard to reach a definitive conclusion, since Beethoven hated his sister-in-law so much.

    Swafford does not take any position on sexual preferences that I can recall, but I do remember questioning Beethoven’s proclivities.

    After reading “The Leonard Berstein Letters” I’m convinced that Bernstein and Copland would have married in today’s more accepting world.


    Comment by Augustine — June 30, 2019 @ 10:13 am

    • Is it really that much more of an “accepting world” today? Note that 10,000 Wisconsinites (at least) have signed a petition to stop Gov. Evers from flying the gay-pride flag. Bullying and hate crimes are at an all time high. A hater of all that is good is the Commander in Chief.

      No wonder Handel in effect married his hired help (thus having him in house all the time) and left him everything. The British (as noted in my previous post) still cannot accept what that really meant.


      Comment by fflambeau — June 30, 2019 @ 7:37 pm

      • This is anecdotal but having taught in public schools for 15 years, I can say that the kids are more accepting. Unless parents want to lose their kids, they generally become more accepting as well.

        This is just my anecdotal observation.

        As far as the flying of the gay pride flag, I have found flag symbolism to bring out the very worse behaviors in people. Those 10,000 Wisconsinites probably have quite a few gay kids or gay relatives in their families who they have no problems with. Put up a gay pride flag and they go crazy.


        Comment by Augustine — June 30, 2019 @ 10:25 pm

      • I agree with you, Augustine, on young people. On their elders, I see little change.


        Comment by fflambeau — July 1, 2019 @ 9:52 am

  2. I visited the Handel House in London a few years ago. Marvelous place well worth spending time at. I admit I had to chuckle when the clueless British tour leader mentioned that Handel lived with his butler/servant for many years and left him everything in his will. No mention of his being gay, of course, even though all signs pointed in that direction.

    Ditto for Beethoven who loved his nephew and, of course, Tchaikovsky. It’s hard to listen to public radio, to instance, and hear them dodge these situations or lie out-rightly. The situation has improved, somewhat, but is still horrible in many places.


    Comment by fflambeau — June 30, 2019 @ 7:14 am

  3. Thanks for the timely post and links!


    Comment by Carol Pollis — June 30, 2019 @ 7:10 am

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