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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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 Sound homes 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.

Excerpt

Aaron Copland stands as “America’s most prominent composer.” The fact is confirmed by no less an authority than the United States Army, which recently released a pair of recordings of Copland’s music as performed by the organization’s “premier touring musical representative,” the United States Army Field Band, and its “vocal complement,” the Soldiers’ Chorus. These recordings were accompanied by educational materials, scrupulously researched and handsomely produced, and timed to coincide with the year2000 centenary of Copland’s birth. Texts distributed in hard copy and on a special web site teach student-readers about a “quintessentially American” history in an essay whose title, “The Legacy of Aaron Copland,” echoes that of the set. Presented here are a number of interesting facts about Copland and his legacy, and their national significance: We learn, for example, that the Library of Congress’s Aaron Copland Collection comprises nearly 400,000 items, “[e]xhibited alongside the nation’s most precious documents.”

As I encounter these sentences the year is 2001. I am intrigued to note that the text produced by “Today’s Army” is unmistakably, even conspicuously, attuned to contemporary consciousness around minority identities. It highlights Copland’s “Jewish heritage,” for instance, and the values of hard work, self-reliance, and striving instilled by his Russian immigrant parents. Elsewhere the narrative sheds particular light on the composer’s racial attitudes: We are told that Copland’s “only effort as a lyricist” was registered in his alteration of a folk-tune lyric insensitive to African Americans, and that in premiering certain of his midcentury works he collaborated with the great African American baritone William Warfield. I note too that the Army has taken pains to provide its target audience of schoolage readers with documentation of its sources, giving meticulous endnotes and drawing on respected, up-to-the-minute research that would satisfy . . .

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