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The Queer Composition of America’s Sound

The Queer Composition of America’s Sound: Gay Modernists, American Music, and National Identity

Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 293
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  • Book Info
    The Queer Composition of America’s Sound
    Book Description:

    In this vibrant and pioneering book, Nadine Hubbs shows how a gifted group of Manhattan-based gay composers were pivotal in creating a distinctive "American sound" and in the process served as architects of modern American identity. Focusing on a talented circle that included Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Leonard Bernstein, Marc Blitzstein, Paul Bowles, David Diamond, and Ned Rorem,The Queer Composition of America's Soundhomes in on the role of these artists' self-identification-especially with tonal music, French culture, and homosexuality-in the creation of a musical idiom that even today signifies "America" in commercials, movies, radio and television, and the concert hall.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93795-6
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION. Composing Oneself
    (pp. 1-18)

    Aaron Copland stands as ʺAmericaʹs most prominent composer.ʺ The fact is confirmed by no less an authority than the United States Army, which recently released a pair of recordings of Coplandʹs music as performed by the organizationʹs ʺpremier touring musical representative,ʺ the United States Army Field Band, and its ʺvocal complement,ʺ the Soldiersʹ Chorus.¹ These recordings were accompanied by educational materials, scrupulously researched and handsomely produced, and timed to coincide with the year-2000 centenary of Coplandʹs birth. Texts distributed in hard copy and on a special web site teach student-readers about a ʺquintessentially Americanʺ history in an essay whose title,...

  5. 1. Modernist Abstraction and the Abstract Art: Four Saints and the Queer Composition of Americaʹs Sound
    (pp. 19-63)

    The premiere of Gertrude Stein and Virgil ThomsonʹsFour Saints in Three Actsin Hartford, Connecticut, on February 7, 1934, was a major cultural and social event, a watershed spectacle that left its high-bohemian audience cheering wildly and weeping for beauty. The inspiration for such outpourings was an opera, performance, and occasion whose implications remain compelling and elusive even at some seventy yearsʹ remove.¹ In the moment, however, audience members scarcely lacked for explanations of their ardent catharsis. Kirk Askew and Julien Levy, important New York art dealers both and leaders in the crying that night, readily explained their tears...

  6. 2. Being Musical: Gender, Sexuality, and Musical Identity in Twentieth-Century America
    (pp. 64-102)

    In April of 1940 Virgil Thomson dispatched from Paris that he had ʺdiscovered music all over again.ʺ ʺAnd it turns out to be just as it was when I was seventeen,ʺ he effused: ʺthe daily joy of practicing a beloved instrument and of finding oneʹs whole life filled with order and energy as a result.ʺ While Europe burned and France hovered on the brink of Nazi occupation, Thomson in his studio pressed on toward a solution to ʺthe central esthetic problem in music today.ʺ This problem, by his report, occupied the pianists of Paris ʺ[t]o a man, and at all...

  7. INTERMEZZO. My Dear Freddy: Identity Excesses and Evasions chez Paul Bowles
    (pp. 103-116)

    Ned Rorem first met Paul Frederic Bowles (1910–99) in the summer of 1941. Bowles at thirty was living in Taxco, Mexico, and the seventeen-year-old Rorem was traveling there with his father. Two years later, when Rorem and Bowles were both living in New York, they struck up a friendship. Rorem recounts vividly his first visit to Bowlesʹs apartment of 1944, a small penthouse with a ʺspectacular view of downtown Manhattanʺ: ʺThe larger of the two rooms was all in white,ʺ Rorem writes, ʺwhite sofas, a white piano, with long white curtains moving slightly in Aprilʹs first warm breezes, and...

  8. 3. A French Connection: Modernist Codes in the Musical Closet
    (pp. 117-151)

    In 1919, in a Pennsylvania town, a nine-year-old boy summoned his courage, composed a letter, and set it out for his mother to find. The boy, then known as Sam, would grow up to be Samuel Barber, a celebrated American composer and a gay man. His letter begins:

    Notice toMotherandnobody else

    Dear Mother: I have written this to tell you my worrying secret. Now donʹt cry when you read it because it is neither yours nor my fault. I suppose I will have to tell it now without any nonsense.

    Having prepared the difficult ground, he continues:...

  9. 4. Queerness, Eruption, Bursting: U.S. Musical Modernism at Midcentury
    (pp. 152-174)

    Once the young protégé of his intergenerational circle of gay tonalists, Ned Rorem today is an elder statesman in the American arts world, a Pulitzer Prize–winning composer of hundreds of songs and other works, and a prolific author of diaries, memoirs, and criticism. And among the many vivid observations and recollections inscribed in Roremʹs prose is this 1994 account of the American midcentury music scene, which presents an arresting intrigue for any student of artistic modernism, or of queer history:

    Nor can you imagine the talent that seemed to mushroom from the fertile ooze of war. After the [1945]...

  10. CODA. Composing Oneself (Reprise)
    (pp. 175-178)

    The meanings of classical music, of homosexual identity, and of Americanness have changed substantially since the zenith of U.S. tonal modernism. Nevertheless, the history of the gay Americana composers and their work has much to tell us about ourselves today. For in highlighting the queer dimensions of central objects and figures in Americaʹs cultural life and national identity, this history elucidates the ways in which all of us—queers and nonqueers, musicians and consumers, Americans and global citizens—compose ourselves in concert with modern homosexual identity, the attendant forces of homophobia, and their mid-twentieth-century florescence in America. More broadly, in...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 179-248)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 249-264)
  13. Discography
    (pp. 265-266)
  14. Index
    (pp. 267-282)