A Queer Musicology, A Review of Homosexuality in Music

             The study of sexuality in music developed alongside gender studies. It seems that acceptance into the musicological and critic’s societies for homosexual composers had similar struggles to those men and women fighting for their rights in the streets of Stonewall. Britten received nasty reviews of his opera Billy Budd, claiming it was basically an all-male daytime soap-opera. Early musicologists commented on Tchaikovsky as being “shameless in its sensuousness and splendor”.  It is only within the last 35 years that studies in the area of homosexuality began to develop, including in music. It wasn’t until 1993 that a collective body of gay and lesbian essays in the subject of musicology was generated. Musicology had developed so far by this point, Philip Brett coined the term “Queering the Pitch” to represent the study of homosexuality in musicology. This has caused a movement that prevents the ability to simply ignore the fact that composers such as Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein lead a lifestyle that could be studied apart from their music, rather than in connection.

barbermenotticopland           Homosexual composers simply weren’t taken seriously. It has only been in the recent decades that we have begun to search for the true history behind composers such as Franz Schubert and G.F. Handel. Philip Brett wrote many essays on the subject of “queer theory”, taking the lead role as a musicologist in homosexuality. Through this research, we are able to discover more about composers and the music they wrote. For example, Britten’s opera Peter Grimes was a subtle tribute to his rough life coming to terms with his own sexuality and lifestyle. It was also the deciding moment for Britten to return to his home country from the United States. As our society, country, and world become more accepting and diverse, more freedom in composition and other areas of art will continue to grow. It is disappointing, frustrating, and a travesty that it has taken centuries for classical music to develop into this role, however it seems to be headed down a good and right path.  More avenues for gay and lesbian composers are open.

-Joshua Lott

Brett, Philip. “Britten and Grimes.” The Musical Times 118, no. 1618 (1977): 995-1000. doi:10.2307/959289.

Brett, Philip. “Are You Musical? Is It Queer to Be Queer? Philip Brett Charts the Rise of Gay Musicology.” The Musical Times 135, no. 1816 (1994): 370-76. doi:10.2307/1003225

Duckles, Vincent et al. “Musicology.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed January 24, 2017, http://0-www.oxfordmusiconline.com.lib.utep.edu/subscriber/article/grove/music/46710..

Peraino, Judith, and Suzanne G. Cusick. “Music and Sexuality.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 66, no. 3 (2013): 825-72. doi:10.1525/jams.2013.66.3.825.





One thought on “A Queer Musicology, A Review of Homosexuality in Music

  1. ntblack1992 says:

    It is interesting that you mention Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein because I am familiar with the theory that they were in a romantic relationship with one another. Do you know anything about this? If this is true, do you think they wanted to keep it a secret?


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