|Aaron Copland with Samuel Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti|
in Bernardsville, New Jersey, 1945
By Heather O'Donovan
June 7, 2019
June is Pride Month, commemorating the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which took place in 1969 in New York City. To mark 50 years since those history-changing events, we've decided to compile a special playlist of musical dedications by LGBT composers – musical love letters, if you will – in honor of Pride.
In 1969, for many composers, dedicating their compositions to a same-sex romantic partner, or even referencing aspects of their lives in their work, could be considered risky, to say the least. From societal prejudices to legal ramifications, the world did not – and still does not always – look kindly upon the LGBT community. Today, these musical love letters can be viewed in the greater history of Pride as small acts of subversion and assertions of the fundamental rights owed to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identification.
|Richard Chanlaire: Nature morte aux fleurs, tableau|
Francis Poulenc's first serious love was a painter by the name of Richard Chanlaire. In a letter accompanying the original score of Concert champêtre, Poulenc addressed Chanlaire: "Here is the best gift I can offer you – accept it along with my heart as it contains all the best parts of myself. These are my tears, my joy, my blood and flesh itself that I have put into this Concerto. I offer it to you today because you are the being that I cherish most upon this earth. You have changed my life, you are the sunshine of my thirty years, my reason for living and for working. During my long months of solitude, I called to you without knowing you... Thank you for finding me at last".
The letter was dated May 10, 1929, although the pair had already established a friendship long before then. In 1927, Poulenc used an inheritance to purchase an estate. Rumors circulated that he was preparing for marriage, and perhaps wanting to dispel the gossip, and maybe in an attempt to grapple with his own "Parisian sexuality", as he referred to it, Poulenc proposed to long-time friend Raymonde Linossier. But she refused him, sparking Poulenc's first real relationship with a man, Chanlaire. Poulenc's letters became suffused with declarations of love for the painter.
After his short-lived affair with Chanlaire, Poulenc went on to have relationships with other men, and also fathered a daughter with Fréderique Lebedeff. Even when Poulenc's religious faith deepened in his mid-30s, he clarified in a letter to a friend that he remained "as sincere in my faith, without any messianic screaming, as I am in my Parisian sexuality".
Ethel Smyth to Emmeline Pankhurst: The March of the Women
Ethel Smyth – the first female composer to have her work performed at the Metropolitan Opera – was a strong figure who played an important role in the development of England's women's suffrage movement, and scholars today believe she was involved romantically with several women. As a female composer in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Smyth experienced significant prejudice and resistance, which hindered her ability to get her works performed, particularly at the beginning of her career. When she heard Women's Social and Political Union leader Emmeline Pankhurst deliver a speech in 1910, she was immediately drawn to the cause – and Pankhurst. Smyth gave up music for the ensuing two years, devoting herself instead entirely to the suffrage movement.
The evidence surrounding the actuality of a romantic relationship between Smyth and Pankhurst is somewhat speculative, as it is mostly based upon snippets from letters. Virginia Woolf (another intimate acquaintance) wrote, "In strict confidence, Ethel used to love Emmeline – they shared a bed". In 1914 Smythe wrote to Pankhurst, "Goodnight my darling amd thank you for your letters... Do you really know, I wonder, what they are to me? how I devour them... how I live on one, and all its wonderful news, till the next comes!" Regardless of the romantic extent of their relationship, Smyth was undeniably drawn to the "quiet, exceedingly feminine-looking companion" she found in Pankhurst.
In 1911, Smyth returned to composition briefly in order to compose The March of the Women, which she dedicated to Pankhurst. It became the official anthem of England's women's suffrage movement.
|Peter Pears & Benjamin Britten|
Benjamin Britten to Peter Pears: My Beloved Is Mine
Composer Benjamin Britten met tenor Peter Pears through a mutual friend in 1937. What initially began as a fruitful professional relationship soon blossomed into a meaningful personal bond as well. When Britten was nearing the end of his life, he asked a friend to promise that he would "tell the truth about Peter and me" once the composer had passed. It was important to Britten and Pears that their love not be struck from history, even if they were careful about the people with whom they shared their open secret.
Pears was Britten's "beloved man", and the composer wrote many of his greatest works for his voice, including Canticle I: My Beloved is mine, an effusive declaration of passionate and uninhibited love. The dedication says only, "This Canticle was written for the Dick Sheppard Memorial Concert on 1 November 1947, when it was performed by Peter Pears and the composer". The text comes from 17th-century poet Francis Quarles, who intended the poem to be a declaration of religious love for God. But we can confidently infer that Britten's relationship with Pears served as a major influence on his setting of the text and that, for him, it was an undeniable homage to romantic, rather than religious, passion. Its closing text beautifully summarizes the love the couple shared: "He gives me wealth; I give him all my vows: I give him songs; he gives me length of days; With wreaths of grace he crowns my longing brows, And I his temples with a crown of Praise, Which he accepts: an everlasting sign, That I my best-beloved's am; that he is mine".
|Gian Carlo Menotti & Samuel Barber|
Gian Carlo Menotti and Samuel Barber: Vanessa
Composers Gian Carlo Menotti and Samuel Barber met at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in 1928. Menotti had come to the school with very little knowledge of the English language. He did, however, speak Italian and French, and soon became acquainted with another student – one year older than himself – who also spoke French. Menotti's friendship with Barber ("Sam") may have been born out of practicality (in fact, for about two years the pair spoke almost exclusively French), but it soon turned into something deeply meaningful that would profoundly touch both their lives for over three decades.
In 1956, the pair began working on an opera – Barber's first – entitled Vanessa. Menotti crafted the libretto and Barber, the music. By that point they had been partners for much of their lives, and so the work they completed together was born out of their deep understanding of and love for one another. Reminiscing on the intimate nature of Menotti's libretto, a pupil of Barber's remarked that small details like a character borrowing a comb harken back to Barber himself, who never had one. Other references to the intimate details of a life shared for many years come to life as mini love letters throughout the otherwise unhappy story of Vanessa.
Tchaikovsky's sexuality, once covered up by Soviet censors, has since become a topic of significant research. We know that Tchaikovsky had relationships with many men throughout his life, although the nature of some of his adorations, such as that of his nephew Vladimir Davidov, give today's reader pause. Tchaikovsky struggled to come to terms with his sexuality. At 36 years old, he even resolved to marry a woman, "so as to shut the mouths of assorted contemptible creatures whose opinions mean nothing to me, but who are in a position to cause distress to those near me".
One of Tchaikovsky's earliest infatuations was with Sergey Kireyev, a student four years his junior that he met at school when the composer was 16. It is believed that Tchaikovsky dedicated his first surviving song, My Genius, My Angel, My Friend, to Kireyev. The dedication reads only "To . . . . . . . . . . . . ." It is believed that these 13 dots refer to the 13 letters in Kireyev's name. The pair had a tempestuous relationship during their school days – possibly due to teasing from his schoolmates, Kireyev began to treat Tchaikovsky cruelly, flattering him one moment and mocking him the next. In 1867, 10 years following the composition of the song, Kireyev visited Tchaikovsky in Moscow. Tchaikovsky was happy to see him, but less smitten with him than he had formerly been.
|Victor Kraft, 1935 (Photo by Carl Van Vechten)|
Victor Kraft began studying music with Aaron Copland during his teenage years. Although Kraft would eventually turn to a career in photography, he remained a constant in Copland's life. The pair traveled to Mexico together in the fall of 1932 (when Kraft was 17 and Copland 32), and not long after their return, Kraft moved into the composer's Manhattan residence.
Copland dedicated El Salón México to Kraft. Named after a popular dance hall in Mexico City, Copland was determined to create the next España or Bolero, a piece devoid of any pretensions, which can be beloved by all. The orchestral work is a reflection of the Mexican spirit as perceived from the outside eye, suffused with Latin dance rhythms and quotes from Mexican folk music. This musical dedication demonstrates the extent to which Copland was inspired by his travel companion.
Kraft later fathered a son named Jeremy, requesting that Copland be the boy's godfather. After Kraft's death, Copland continued to provide financial support for the boy, even leaving $25,000 in his will to the mother in order to support Jeremy.
|Michael Tippett (right) with Wilfred Franks in Spain in 1933|
Michael Tippett and Wilfred Franks: String Quartet No.1
Michael Tippett met Wilfred Franks in the spring of 1932 on a train platform in Manchester, introduced through a mutual friend. "Wilf" was unmistakable, wearing a green shirt and green shorts. His personality was marked by what the friend described as "a taxi driver's fund of knowledge, irreverence and humour". Tippett quickly became enamored, and Franks became an embodiment of the sort of freedom that Tippett found elusive. Franks was a Marxist who represented a starkly different outlook on life, and through him, Tippett's understanding of music as a vehicle for social change grew.
In 1934-1935, Tippett wrote his String Quartet No.1, ascribing the piece's beauty to his "deepest, most shattering experience of falling in love", and dedicating it to Wilf. As he described it, "all that love flowed out in the slow movement of my First String Quartet, an unbroken span of lyrical music in which all four instruments sing ardently from start to finish". Tippett revised the work in 1943 after his relationship with Franks had ended, transforming the four-movement version into another with three movements, retaining only the last two of the original score.
|Lou Harrison & Bill Colvig, Cabrillo College, 1967|
Lou Harrison and Bill Colvig met in San Francisco in 1967 after a concert featuring the composer's works. Just weeks later, the pair moved into Harrison's woodland cabin together. They shared many interests, including a deep fascination with and love of non-Western musical traditions. They became particularly interested in the gamelan, a set of pitched percussion instruments from Indonesia. Together, Harrison and Colvig developed and built three "American" gamelans featuring such materials as tin cans and oxygen tanks. Outside of music, the pair were also active members in the Society for Individual Rights, a San Francisco-based organization for protecting gay rights. In 1975, Harrison performed at the very first Santa Cruz Pride celebration, playing one of the gamelans that the couple had built together.
Harrison was happy to live what he called "a life of mountains and music" with Colvig. He composed Music for Bill and Me shortly after the pair's meeting in 1967. The couple remained together for 33 years, until Colvig's death in March 2000.
|P. I. Tchaikovsky, Samuel Barber & Gian Carlo Menotti, Benjamin Britten|
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