SYMPHONIC VARIATIONS ON A GRUMPY THEME

Out-take from upstart Vol. 9 No. 4 (1997)

 

Agitato con fuoco

The Daily Torygraph sorry, Telegraph (Thurs. 17.04.97) had a ‘think-piece’ by Norman Lebrecht.  It was on the position of women in (what record vendors call) ‘classical’ music.  It isn’t really very secure.  Lebrecht quoted some orchestral musicians’ sexist (and racist) utterances.  They were German-speaking musos, which was… interesting.  He admitted that the managerial end of the ‘classical’ game is a male preserve.  As is – his- critical end.

His musings on opera, however, take the (dog) biscuit.  Here is the paragraph in full:

Why must classical music be a boy’s own zone?  The reasons are twofold: orientational and orchestral.  Like all arts, music attracts a dis-proportionate influx of minorities, including a sizeable homosexual element.  Homosexual men preponderate in areas of operatic and vocal activity, as organisers and audience, chorus and critics.  Their input is indispensable, both creatively and commercially, but their collective attitude is resistant to women.  Of all the impediments to openness and equality, theirs is the most deeply embedded.”

Another minority in classical (and other musics) is pompous Tory gets.  Lebrecht – inevitably – bashes musicians’ unions.

This article was to be entitled WITHOUT COMMENT – but Lebrecht’s assertion is not merely absurd and childish, it calls into question his adequacy for his post.

Gay men have tended to dominate the operatic stage in the English-speaking world.  But, apart from Britten’s all-male Billy Budd, they all wrote substantial pieces for women.  Britten’s first and last large vocal pieces Our Hunting Fathers and Phædra were written for sopranos (Sophie Wyss and Janet Baker respectively).  The opera Lucretia was tailored to Kathleen Ferrier’s voice… but this has the look of excuse-making and accommodation.

Lebrecht’s assertion is so breathtakingly bigoted that it is difficult to believe it was published in a broadsheet that fancies itself as an intellectual power house of the political Right.

If Lebrecht, or his editor, Max (‘Hitler’) Hastings, want a heterosexual Tory to carry the banner for vocal music they’ll have to go back to Elgar.  And he was a plebeian Papist.

 

Andante febrile

The Style section of the Sunday Times (May 4, 1997) has a piece about Ms Marta Brennan.  She is suing the New York Metropolitan Opera.  She was an assistant stage director.  The ‘Met’ subjected her to a “hostile work environment”.  Her grounds were that the management (in particular her immediate boss David Kneuss) favoured young Gay men.  Brennan (“a 46-year-old heterosexual female”) also claims that other employees had been “similarly discriminated against”.

The ST (aka Rupert’s Sunday Liar) emphasises the Gay male aspect of the case.  But Brennan’s formal complaint suggests that Kneuss “favoured younger homosexual male and younger homosexual female employees” (our emphasis – upstart).  The Times dug up another case of ‘reverse discrimination’, in 1988, (by the ‘Met’).   Dr. Leonard J. Lehmann’s contract was not renewed (by the director, John Dexter, who is English).  Dr. Lehmann claims the latter had a reputation for “pinching little boys’ behinds”.  The relevance of which to his case seems a wee piece strained.  (Where did Dexter find ‘little boys’ in an opera house?  Were they wheeked-in off the streets?)

 

Allegro con brio (tempo di balletto)

We were always under the impression that opera was the butch element in these great theatres.  Ballet was – allegedly – the queer’s own art-form.  Especially in the eyes of simple-minded, fat-arsed journos.

They found it difficult to square the fact that many of the men in dance were screaming binkies.  And superb athletes.  They (the drunks – sorry… journalists) decided it was all done by wires (and padding).

The real problem most non-ballétomanes had with ballet was the fact that dance in the twentieth century in the English-speaking world has been the domain of powerful women: de Valois / Mrs Connell, Rambert / Ramberg, de Mille, Martha Graham.  Even in Ireland the most substantial figures are Patricia Mulholland and Joan Denise Moriarty.

Strong women and muscular homos with painted faces (and tights!).  Is it any wonder Sexual Norm stuck a cork up his bum and ran?

 

Scherzando giocoso

The US Southern Baptists’ denunciation of Disney for extending spouse-right to Gay employees’ long-term partners gives us a piece of Urban Mythology:

Ten-year-old, having heard the news, wakes parent at (or before) the Skraik o’Dawn:

“Hey, Pop, I’m so glad we’re Catholics — we can still go to Disneyland!”

 

Allegro agitato

In his Monday column in The Times (14.07-97) Must we learn to hate Norman Mailer?, Melvyn Bragg mused on the differences between individuals’ personal and artistic attributes.

(Mailer has been exposed as a vicious wife-beater).

Bragg writes:

Do you think less of Peter Grimes when you know what we do now know about the often vicious sexual exploitation of young children by Benjamin Britten?

What “vicious sexual exploitation of young children”?

Even ‘biographies’ designed to slag Britten off can’t dig up anyone younger than 17, in whom BB took a sexual interest.  And there is no evidence that he actually had sex with anybody in their teens.  He almost certainly did not have sex with anybody until his mid-twenties.

(Peter Grimes was Britten’s first opera.  Premiered in 1945 it gave many listeners a great post-WWII boost.  And the illusion that England was embarking on a – musical – ‘Golden Age’).

Possibly a (very long) moratorium should be put on journalists (even quite superior ones like Bragg) throwing wild, un-researched allegations about.  The painters Dalí and Matisse are described as “endorsing Fascism” in this short article.  You might as well call the ardently Catholic composer de Falla a Communist.  He endorsed the (entirely bourgeois) Spanish Republic.

This is penny-plain, tuppence-coloured, let’s-not-engage-our-minds journalism.  And a tribute to the Blessed Rupert’s dumbing-down of a great (if overly staid) newspaper.

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