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Music: Classical  
 
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The term "classical music" is a convenient shorthand that refers to the body of Western art music, as distinguished from popular or folk music, composed from approximately 800 A.D. to the present.

The field is divided into large stylistic periods with subdivisions based on the kind of piece or genre. These periods are Medieval (up to 1400), Renaissance (1400-1600), Baroque (1600-1750), Classical (1750-1830), Romantic (1830-1914), and Twentieth Century (1914-present), with genres including chant, madrigal, motet, cantata, mass, requiem, concerto, quartet, symphony, opera, and song, to name only the most popular.

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Although the terms "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual," and "" are modern terms and anachronistic when applied to early modern periods, in almost every period there are composers and musicians who were attracted to their own sex or who wrote music that can now be understood as having particular interest for glbtq people, as well as one genre, opera, that has captured the hearts especially of gay men.

The presence in music of people whom we would now identify as gay or lesbian in earlier periods is apparent primarily through contextual clues rather than hard evidence or explicit documentation, hence the identification of individuals as attracted to his or her own sex is sometimes highly controversial.

Classical music is an important component of Western culture, both high art and middle-brow, to which glbtq people have contributed a great deal. Much classical music has also been assimilated into modern popular culture, often as background music for commercials and films, which explains why many of these pieces are well-known and recognized even by people who are not fans of classical music.

Pre-Baroque Music

Because of unfamiliar aesthetics, subject matter, and languages, the music of the periods prior to the Baroque is the least known and appreciated by modern listeners. A few pieces, however, have been used in movie soundtracks (as in Ismail Merchant and James Ivory's film of E. M. Forster's Maurice) or appear on novelty Christmas CDs (as in the popular Chant Noël).

The earlier the period the slighter the evidence that survives to reveal the sexual orientation or affectional preference of a particular composer or musician, and the more difficult it is to construct a case for anyone's same-sex attraction.

However, much early music was composed within all-male or all-female subcultures, as in monasteries, priories or convents, and sometimes elements may be discerned in the music, as, for example, in the texts and contexts of twelfth-century Notre Dame polyphony.

The strong emotional attachment of Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) to her disciple and assistant, Richardis von Stade, is well attested. Hildegard's liturgical cycle, the Symphonia, which expresses physical and spiritual desire for the Virgin Mary, has frequently been regarded as .

A thirteenth-century woman, Bieiris (or Bieris) de Romans, is credited with the only surviving example of a secular lesbian love song, "Na Maria, pretz e fina valors."

Records exist of the composer Nicholas Gombert (ca 1495-ca 1560) having violated a boy in the Holy Roman Emperor's service and being sentenced to the galleys for a period in exile on the high seas. This incident resulted in his removal as a priest (or canon) in the cathedral of Tournai, so we can infer homosexual interest (or at least ) on Gombert's part. Other early modern composers with a likely same-sex attraction include Guillaume Dufay, Orlando Lasso, and Madalena Casulana.

The Baroque Period

The baroque is among the most popular and well-known of musical periods today--think of J.S. Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann, and Handel. This music features a clear harmonic structure with well-marked cadences, generally functional harmony (it sounds "right" to modern ears), and clear and memorable melodic lines.

One of the most famous of the Baroque composers is George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)--best known for Messiah and the Music for the Royal Fireworks. He left tantalizing clues suggesting his same-sex sexual orientation. Still a controversial claim, the gist of the argument is that Handel apparently never slept with women, so he must have slept with men.

Gary Thomas, in Queering the Pitch, the seminal collection of essays edited by Philip Brett, Elizabeth Wood, and Thomas, argues that the circumlocutions used by Handel's earliest biographers in an effort to avoid addressing this issue support the conclusion that they believed that Handel must have been homosexual.

Thomas also discusses locations wherein Handel might have moved with some impunity: the eighteenth century equivalent of a gay bar, the molly house, and Italy; yet he leaves a final answer to the question open for further investigation.

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1) An image of Hildegard of Bingen from a medieval manuscript.
2) A portrait of Frédéric Chopin by Eugène Delacroix.
3) A portrait of Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky.
4) A portrait of Dame Ethel Smyth by John Singer Sargent.

  
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