THE NOTION THAT "Unfortunately, history has set the record a little too straight," definitely applies to art, music and culture. In honor of Pride Month, I shine a spotlight on some well-known composers in order to share some of their lesser known interests. Until recently, women were not encouraged to compose music, so this article will focus on three not-so-straight male composers.
Black Swan was one of the biggest blockbusters of 2010 and centers on a production of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's master ballet Swan Lake. This avian love story has all the makings of a modern day soap opera.
What many still do not know is that Tchaikovsky was a closeted gay man with (what we can infer from letters) more than seven long-term male lovers throughout his lifetime.
His music is highly regarded for its longing, lyrical quality. Perhaps, this was the longing of a romantic gay man in a homophobic world. In contrast, his brother, Modest, boldly lived with his boyfriend, Kolia, at the end of the 19th century in Russia. Maybe Natalie Portman’s steamy same-sex dream with Mila Kunis in the movie had more truth in it than we knew.
The early American popular music songwriter Cole Porter was notorious for being photographed posing in the arms of beautiful women. He was also gay.
His “delightful, delectable, delicious, and delovely” lyrics tickle our funny bone and affect us both intellectually and emotionally. Despite his sometimes brazen parties filled with "scandalous gay and bisexual acts," Porter had a devoted wife for 34 years. She was even pregnant, though she miscarried. Porter had a long list of male lovers but the most significant one was Ray Kelly, whose children still receive most of the royalties from Porter’s music. Porter’s life was documented (somewhat accurately) in the movie Night and Day.
Best known for his musical West Side Story, Leonard Bernstein was gay or at least bisexual.
It may not surprise you to know that despite a long-term marriage to his wife, Felicia, Bernstein led a promiscuous gay life. His friend, Shirley Rhoads Perle once said, "He needed men sexually, but preferred women emotionally." Bernstein struggled with questions of his morality and even sought treatment from Dr. Sandor Rado, a psychologist who practiced in curing homosexual men of their "inversions."
Despite this, Bernstein provided a beacon of hope for many gay Americans. In his book, The Gay Metropolis Charles Kaiser notes, "Thousands of gay Americans fell in love with West Side Story… To many gay adults coming of age in the sixties, the romance, violence, danger, and mystery so audible on the original cast album all felt like integral parts of the gay life they had embraced. The lyrics of Somewhere, in particular, seemed to speak directly to the gay experience before the age of liberation."
Author | Que Jones