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Handel, George Frideric (1685-1759)  
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Especially important in this regard is a set of cantatas--works for various combinations of solo voices with instrumental accompaniment--written precisely during this time (1706-1730). These largely ignored pieces, written for and in the company of private circles of mainly homosexual men, and which (significantly) Handel never published, give rich expression to the pleasures and dangers of same-sex love.

Standing in opposition to the religious view of homosexuality as sin (), and the political view of homosexuality as exotic threat to the British nation, these texts connect with the classical pastoral tradition in which male same-sex erotic desire is both idealized and celebrated.

The classical and thus "legitimate" pastoral, with its elaborate system of mythical references and coy Arcadian disguises, functioned much in the same way as the coded references to homosexuality in Hollywood film during its censorship under Will Hays and Joseph Breen--that is, as a screen of metaphorical displacements and double-meanings through which what was publicly forbidden could be privately expressed, understood, and enjoyed.

The figure of Orpheus, connoting both "musician" and "homosexual," and with whom Handel was often compared, is one salient example.

It is also significant that when a series of crackdowns on the burgeoning and increasingly open homosexual subculture of London began in the 1730s, Handel reworked many of these texts from which he had borrowed liberally over the years. In so doing, he sanitized them of their more obvious homosexual content.

In light of all this, and in the absence of even a shred of credible evidence to the contrary, we must ask the question on what basis--more to the point, in whose interests--can it be argued that Handel was anything other than ?

Though discomfiting to many, such questions are urgently political, made so not by any "homosexual agenda" but by the persistence of homophobia in our culture. More important, finally, than the question of Handel's sexual identity are the socio-cultural contexts and political struggles in which the composer's sexuality was meaningful--for Handel, for his biographers, and for us.

We must take these contexts into account if we are ever to escape the politically suspect myth of "timelessness" and properly appreciate both Handel and his magnificent work.

Gary C. Thomas

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arts >> Overview:  Castrati

Male singers who were castrated before they reached puberty, castrati reached the height of their popularity in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; although not necessarily homosexual, they occupy a "queer space" in cultural history.

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arts >> Overview:  Opera

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arts >> Corelli, Arcangelo

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arts >> Hytner, Sir Nicholas

British director Sir Nicholas Hytner is acclaimed for his work on musicals and plays in London as well as New York, and also for directing films and operas.


Brett, Philip. "Musicality, Essentialism, and the Closet." Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology. Philip Brett, Elizabeth Wood, and Gary C. Thomas, eds. New York: Routledge, 1994. 9-26.

Harris, Ellen T. Handel as Orpheus: Voice and Desire in the Chamber Cantatas. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002.

Hogwood, Christopher. Handel. London: Thames and Hudson, 1984.

Rousseau, George S. "The Pursuit of Homosexuality: 'Utterly Confused Category' and/or Rich Repository?" 'Tis Nature's Fault: Unauthorized Sexuality during the Enlightenment. Robert Purks Maccubbin, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985. 132-168.

Thomas, Gary C. "'Was George Frideric Handel Gay?' : On Closet Questions and Cultural Politics." Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology. Philip Brett, Elizabeth Wood, and Gary C. Thomas, eds. New York: Routledge, 1994. 155-203.


    Citation Information
    Author: Thomas, Gary C.  
    Entry Title: Handel, George Frideric  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated September 18, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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