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Mitropoulos, Dimitri (1896-1960)  
 
page: 1  2  

As he had in Minneapolis, Mitropoulos lived in modest lodgings in New York and avoided high-society parties. He also continued his habit of following the model of St. Francis when dealing with his musicians, leading through mutual respect and gentle persuasion rather than force and fear. The egos that he confronted at the Philharmonic made this approach problematic, however, and music critics began to carp that he was losing control of his orchestra.

Another element working against Mitropoulos was his sexual orientation, long an open secret in the music community. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, at the height of McCarthyism, it was not a good time to be known as a homosexual. Mitropoulos had always dodged questions about his bachelor status by claiming "I married my art" when queried by the press.

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In a 1952 letter to a friend Mitropoulos wrote, "for me music is another expression of my unlived sexual life." Trotter states that Mitropoulos did indeed lead a celibate life in both Minneapolis and New York, although perhaps "very occasionally" not on tour, his "sexual drive . . . sublimated ruthlessly into his music-making."

Although true close friends--including composers Ned Rorem and David Diamond--viewed Mitropoulos's existence as monkish, rumor and innuendo swirled around him, often fed by orchestra members and contributing to a lack of respect for Mitropoulos on the part of his players. Ironically, among those encouraging the whispers was the closeted Leonard Bernstein, who, since he was married, could present himself as the sort of "family man" that the orchestra wanted in the decade of conformity.

Bernstein got his wish, being named co-conductor with Mitropoulos for the 1957-58 season and taking over as sole musical director the next. Typically gracious, Mitropoulos bowed out with praise for Bernstein's talent, but the loss of his position as director of the leading American orchestra was deeply hurtful to him, a wound from which he never fully recovered.

He also mentioned his desire to devote more time to "that very tempting mistress, the Metropolitan Opera," which he had also been conducting for several years and with which he had recently staged a triumphant performance of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin.

In the last years of his life Mitropoulos undertook a demanding tour guest-conducting with European orchestras. The accumulated stress proved too great, however, and he suffered a fatal heart attack on November 2, 1960 while rehearsing Mahler's Third Symphony with the La Scala Opera House Orchestra in Milan.

Tributes poured in for Mitropoulos, not only for his prodigious musical abilities but also for his gentleness and decency as a person. "He was a dear, good man who was always so kind and full of understanding," commented diva Maria Callas.

Mitropoulos is remembered for his extreme generosity. Throughout his life he gave away nearly all his money, often to help struggling musicians and orchestras. In addition, during World War II he eschewed the opportunity to supplement his income by going on tour as a guest conductor, choosing instead to volunteer his time coordinating blood drives for the American Red Cross.

After Mitropoulos's death he was largely forgotten in the United States. One can only wonder if the lack of support from the musical community in New York contributed to this. In recent years, however, there has been renewed interest in his work, and many of his recordings have been reissued on CD so that they may be appreciated by new generations of music lovers.

Linda Rapp

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arts >> Overview:  Conductors

In spite of the presence of many gay, lesbian, and bisexual figures in the field of classical music, it is difficult to identify more than a handful of self-identified, openly gay or lesbian conductors even in the early years of the twenty-first century.

social sciences >> Overview:  McCarthyism

McCarthyism, which attempted in the late 1940s and early 1950s to expunge Communists and fellow travelers from American public life, made homosexuals the chief scapegoats of the Cold War.

arts >> Overview:  Music: Classical

Classical music is an important component of Western culture to which glbt people have contributed significantly.

arts >> Overview:  Opera

Opera, an eclectic synthesis of voice, drama, music, costume, visual arts and spectacle, has played an integral role in queer culture since its development in seventeenth century Venice.

arts >> Bernstein, Leonard

For most of his life, the specter of the closet lurked threateningly behind the glamorous and often brash public image of American composer Leonard Bernstein.

arts >> Diamond, David

One of the leading American composers of the twentieth century, David Diamond created music that is melodic and lyrical even as it jumps with modern energy.

literature >> Rorem, Ned

The American composer Ned Rorem has achieved literary prominence by publishing a series of diaries that include candid descriptions of homosexual love affairs and relationships.

arts >> Saint-Saëns, Camille

One of the most highly honored French figures of his day, composer Camille Saint-Saëns reputedly declared--perhaps sardonically--that he was not a homosexual but a pederast.

arts >> Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilich

One of the greatest composers in the history of music, Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky inspired a cult of gay admirers who detected in his work themes of forbidden love.


    Bibliography
   

"Maestro Mitropoulos Stricken in Milan, Dies." Washington Post (November 3, 1960): B8.

"Mitropoulos, Dimitri." Current Biography 1952. Anna Rothe and Evelyn Lohr, eds. New York: The H. W. Wilson Company, 1953. 431-433.

Schonberg, Harold C. "He Lived for Music." New York Times (November 6, 1960): X11.

Trotter, William R. "Mitropoulos, Dimitri." New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 2nd ed. Stanley Sadie, ed. London: Macmillan, 2001. 16: 764-765.

_____. Priest of Music: The Life of Dimitri Mitropoulos. Portland, Ore.: Amadeus Press, 1995.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Mitropoulos, Dimitri  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated September 30, 2006  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/mitropoulos_d.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  
 

 

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