The following is a guest post from Archives Processing Technician Emily Baumgart.
You may have seen a few months ago our blog post announcing a guide to LGBTQ special collections within the Performing Arts Reading Room. More recently, the Music Division has been celebrating Pride Month by working to expand that guide to include many more of our materials pertaining to LGBTQ+ individuals and topics. Coming soon, we will be unveiling this new research guide titled “LGBTQ+ Resources in the Music Division of the Library of Congress.” In addition to the special collections material described earlier, this guide will highlight a treasure trove of other materials from across the Music Division: books in our collection on queer musicology; LGBTQ+ databases offered through the Library of Congress; digital collections like Ballets Russes de Serge Diaghilev; online exhibits like Molto Animato! Music and Animation, which draws heavily from the Howard Ashman Papers; LGBTQ+ materials in the Library of Congress’s performing arts and Library-wide web archives; videos of concerts and lectures; and other LGBTQ+ resources from across the Library of Congress and beyond.
In the meantime, check out these other highlights from the Music Division in celebration of Pride Month!
One of the best known composer pairs of the twentieth century was Gian Carlo Menotti and Samuel Barber. The two met as students at the Curtis Institute of Music in 1928 and remained together as partners for more than forty years, although their careers as composers and conductors sometimes kept them physically apart. In a charming letter during one such period, Menotti reminded Barber that “We are the luckiest people in the world because we love each other and we know we always will. Shake off your sadness, and love me.”[i] Although Menotti was the librettist for many of Barber’s operas, Barber also set the texts of many European and American poets such as A. E. Houseman, Emily Dickinson, and this early song setting from 1925 of Langston Hughes’s Fantasy in Purple.
Composer, conductor, and music educator Leonard Bernstein was also engaged in many social causes, from anti-fascism and civil rights to nuclear disarmament and AIDS research. He was an early supporter of this latter effort, as seen by this note for a speech for an AIDS research benefit in 1983 where he described the disease as “the new fatal weapon against the sexual liberation for which you have struggled so long.” Aspects of identity also occasionally appeared in Bernstein’s music: for example, in this movement from his Songfest cycle. That work, a series of settings of American poetry, includes the Walt Whitman poem “To What You Said.” Whitman’s poem had been unpublished and was discovered in the manuscript copy of Democratic Vistas (housed at the Library of Congress), and the setting is seen by many as Bernstein’s reflection on repressed love.
Although Billy Strayhorn may not be a household name, many of his compositions, including “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “Satin Doll,” “Lush Life,” and the jazz-inflected Nutcracker Suite, have become standards. He collaborated with Duke Ellington from the late 1930s until his death in 1967 as a composer, arranger, and pianist, and it was through Ellington’s family that Strayhorn met his first partner, Aaron Bridgers. Although Strayhorn and Bridgers separated when the latter moved to Paris in 1947, they remained friends, as seen in this letter where Bridgers referred to him as “Mon très cher Billy” and bemoaned the fact that they had not written recently. Bridgers, also a musician, composed “The Last Day of May,” subtitled “An Homage to Billy Strayhorn” after Strayhorn’s death.
Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale, seen here in a recently-acquired photograph, were partners both on- and off-stage. One of the most important piano duos of the twentieth century, they championed piano duets from many composers including Francis Poulenc, Henri Sauguet, and John Cage. When Gold’s worsening arthritis led to their retirement as concert pianists, they began a second career as authors, writing biographies of Misia Sert and Sarah Bernhardt and even their own cookbook.
Like Gold and Fizdale, composer Ned Rorem has also penned several literary works. Rorem’s The Paris Diary, published in 1966 and detailing his stay in Paris in the first half of the 1950s, was surprising at the time for its frank and open discussion of homosexuality. Janet Flanner, an American poet who spent most of her career in Paris, lovingly characterized the book as “worldly, intelligent, licentious, highly indiscreet.” A composer known primarily for his song settings, Rorem set to music some of Flanner’s own Paris Journal, also in 1966. Here you can see an excerpt of the “Sex of the Automobile” movement of this work, where Flanner gives a tongue-in-cheek commentary about how the French Academy has determined the automobile should be referred to as “he” instead of “she.”
Peggy Seeger, daughter of modernist composers and musicologists Charles and Ruth Crawford Seeger, also pursued a musical career. A folksinger and songwriter, she has released dozens of albums of both traditional and newly-composed songs, starting with her Songs of Courting and Complaint when she was only a first-year college student. A more recent album, Love Will Linger On from 2000, is her first collection of love songs; the titular song, seen here in both draft and published forms, includes imagery connecting love to the enduring aspects of nature, as well as to Peggy’s partner, Irene Pyper-Scott. For the album’s accompanying booklet, Seeger specifies that “Love Will Linger On” and “Love Affair” be accompanied with images of a gay couple and a lesbian couple, respectively, and the album as a whole is dedicated to Pyper-Scott.
In the program note to David del Tredici’s Bullycide from 2013, the composer states that “It has been my mission in the last few years to create a body of musical compositions that unambiguously celebrate the gay experience—happy, sad, horrible, or bizarre.” Del Tredici has certainly accomplished this, with a range of compositions from Queer Hosannas to Ballad in Lavender to this work, Wondrous the Merge. A Serge Koussevitzky Foundation Commission, the piece features a string quartet and narrator-singer delivering the text of James Broughton’s poem of the same name. Del Tredici describes the narrative as one of “redemption through love” in the setting of a modern day gay coming out story.
These are just a few of the gems found within our collections. Be on the lookout for the upcoming research guide for more information on LGBTQ+ materials on music, dance, theater, film, and other aspects of the performing arts at the Library of Congress!
[i] Full translation of Menotti’s letter by Giovanni Zanovello:
My Piupi [nickname],
Think of me and stay close with joy and affection.
We are the luckiest people in the world because we love each other and we know we always will. Shake off your sadness, and love me.
I will be back soon, and better, calmer, skinnier, and nicer. At any rate, more Crochi [nickname] than ever.
I kiss you three, five, a hundred times.