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Special Features Index  

Spotlight Twentieth-Century Classical Music
  The term Classical Music is a convenient shorthand that refers to the body of Western art music, as distinguished from popular or folk music. It is an important component of Western culture to which glbtq people have contributed significantly.  
  Samuel Barber Samuel Barber (1910-1981) was an American composer who contributed to the cultural life of the United States and the world, though he is also remembered for the failure of his opera Antony and Cleopatra, a collaboration with Franco Zeffirelli that flopped spectacularly.  
  Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson (1883-1950), the fourteenth Baron Berners, was a composer, painter, and novelist; he was also, first and foremost, a genuine British aristocratic eccentric whose life was, in a sense, a grand performance.  
  Leonard Bernstein Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was a popular, glamorous, brash American composer who lived a closeted life. He is remembered for his contributions to musical theater as well as his classical compositions.  
  Marc Blitzstein (1905-1964) was an American composer who worked in a variety of musical forms and is best known today for his opera scores, especially The Cradle Will Rock (1936). He had a substantial influence on other twentieth-century composers including Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.  
  Nadia Boulanger Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) was one of the greatest teachers of musical composition in the twentieth century. Her influence on classical music came through her students, including such gay composers as Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Leonard Bernstein, David Diamond, Marc Blitzstein, Gian Carlo Menotti, and Ned Rorem.  
  Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) was the most prominent and highly honored British composer of the twentieth century. Many of his works were inspired by his relationship with his lover, tenor Peter Pears.  
  Sylvano Bussotti (b. 1931), an Italian avant-garde composer, is among the most important artists to bring a polymorphous sexuality onto the operatic and concert stage.  
  John Cage (1912-1992) was an influential, irreverent, and controversial composer who ironically emphasized the importance of silence in music. Undoubtedly the most famous (or notorious) example of Cage's shifting the burden of creating meaning to the audience is his 4'33" (1952), in which a pianist sits silently at a piano for precisely four minutes and thirty-three seconds.  
  Shura Cherkassky Shura Cherkassky (1909-1995) was a Russian-born pianist who enjoyed the longest career in the history of classical pianism. Following his American debut in 1923, his "supernatural" playing so impressed listeners that he was invited to play for President Harding at the White House at the age of fourteen.  
  Van Cliburn Van Cliburn (b. 1934) is an American pianist who became a national hero when he won the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958 at the height of the Cold War, but his brilliant career as a performer stalled in the 1970s.  
  Conductors who are self-identified and openly gay are comparatively rare even in the early years of the twenty-first century despite the presence of many gay, lesbian, and bisexual figures in the field of classical music.  
  Aaron Copland Aaron Copland (1900-1990) composed many musical works that embody the ideals of American history, struggle, and courage despite his outsider status as a Jewish homosexual.  
  John Corigliano (b. 1938) is an American composer of symphonies, chamber works, choral settings, operas, and film scores who has written some of the most moving music inspired by the AIDS epidemic.  
  Henry Cowell Henry Cowell (1897-1965) sought to create an "ultramodern" style based on Western, Asian, and African music. His brilliant career as composer and performer was severely damaged when he was arrested at the age of 39 for having sex with a seventeen-year-old male and subsequently imprisoned.  
  Sir Peter Davies (b. 1934) may be the most renowned living British composer, and is certainly one of the most prolific, having composed over three hundred works encompassing virtually every genre of classical music.  
  David Del Tredici (b. 1937), a Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer and pianist known for his famous "Alice" works and neo-Romantic style, has also written music concerned with gay experience.  
  David Diamond (1915-2005) is recognized as a leading American classical music composer even though he was openly gay and fiercely outspoken when he confronted discrimination and stupidity, a trait that earned him enemies in the conservative musical milieu of the 1940s and 1950s.  
  Manuel de Falla Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) is one of the most illustrious twentieth-century Spanish composers. Evidence of his homosexuality is circumstantial, but almost all of his close personal relationships were with men.  
  Ricky Ian Gordon (b. 1956) is a composer often seen as an heir to the musical legacy of Stephen Sondheim. Gordon has been praised for the lyrical quality of his music and for bridging the worlds of theater and art song.  
  Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884-1920) was an American composer who responded avidly to the emerging musical styles of his day to create works characterized by refined construction, subtle gestures, and rhythmic sensitivity.  
  Lou Harrison (1917-2003), an American composer, is particularly well known for his use of instruments from the East, especially the Javanese gamelan.  
  Hans Werner Henze Hans Werner Henze (b. 1926), a German composer and conductor, employs a wide range of styles in his music. Despite his strong leftist convictions, he evidently does not associate sexuality with politics, though some of his works allude to homosexuality.  
  Vladimir Horowitz Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) was a Russian-American pianist widely regarded as one of the greatest musicians of the twentieth century. His legendary artistry, preserved on recordings, remains a source of inspiration and delight.  
  Stephen Hough Stephen Hough (b. 1961), a British concert pianist, is among the most talented and highly acclaimed classical musicians of his generation. Within the traditionally closeted environment of classical music, he may also be, at least among his equally successful peers, the most openly gay classical musician working today.  
  Wanda Landowska Wanda Landowska (1879-1959), a member of Natalie Clifford Barney's famed lesbian salon, was almost single-handedly responsible for the revival of the harpsichord as a performance instrument in the twentieth century.  
  Colin McPhee Colin McPhee (1900-1964) was a Canadian-born composer who not only helped preserve the musical traditions of Bali but also incorporated non-Western musical styles into his own compositions, a practice that influenced other North American composers.  
  Gian Carlo Menotti Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007), an Italian-born American composer, had a successful career even though he lived an openly gay life when it was dangerous to do so.  
  Dimitri Mitropoulos Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960) was a conductor and composer who achieved great success in the world of classical music, but was yet another victim of McCarthy-era homophobia, which severely impeded his career.  
  Music that Responds to the AIDS Crisis has been created by writers of popular music as well as by many avant-garde composers, including Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson, Pauline Oliveros, and Gerhard Stäbler.  
  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.  
  John Ottman (b. 1964) is an American film composer, editor, and director. In addition to scoring over thirty full-length motion pictures, Ottman has also created musical compositions for numerous short films, television programs, and commercials.  
  Peter Pears (1910-1986) was a highly respected British tenor and the life partner of composer Benjamin Britten, who wrote leading roles in many of his operas for him.  
  Francis Poulenc Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) was one of the first openly gay composers. He was one of the most thoughtful composers of serious music in the twentieth century and one of the most honored.  
  Maurice Ravel Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) was one of France's most distinguished composers. He projected a public identity as a dapper man-about-town; it is not certain that he was gay, though he was rumored to be so.  
  Ned Rorem Ned Rorem (b. 1923) is one of the most accomplished and prolific composers of art songs in the world. He has also achieved literary prominence by publishing a series of diaries that include candid descriptions of homosexual love affairs and relationships.  
  Dame Ethyl Smyth Dame Ethyl Smyth (1858-1944) was the most important female composer in early twentieth-century English music and one of the few significant English composers of opera of either sex.  
  Karol Szymanowski Karol Maciej Szymanowski (1882-1937) is revered as the father of contemporary Polish music even though he expresses homoeroticism in his work.  
  Virgil Thomson Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) created an American form of classical music that is both serious and whimsically sardonic. He is best known as Gertrude Stein's collaborator in two operas, Four Saints in Three Acts (1934) and The Mother of Us All (1947).  
  Michael Tilson Thomas (b. 1944) is one of the most prominent American conductors of his generation and may be the first gay conductor to achieve such eminence without masking his sexuality.  
  Sir Michael Tippett (1905-1988) was an English composer who became one of the most respected figures in British classical music despite his pacifism, unabashed homosexuality, and incorporation of homosexual themes in his operas.  
  Siegfried Wagner Siegfried Wagner (1869-1930), the son of composer Richard Wagner, was himself a prolific composer and conductor. His bisexuality was the source of both scandal and elaborate attempts to erase it from histories of the Wagner family.  


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