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As was with people of color, the contribution of gay composers and musicians throughout history has been largely forgotten, hidden, or ignored. And in this “Age of Grindr”, where the “woof” of an app is stronger than the bite of wit, we need to be reminded that we have a responsibility as lay curators of culture. With a sampling music of gay composers from as early as the 18th century, Countertenor Reggie Mobley invites you you join him in standing in the light of a whitewashed past, and expose the spectrum of color that deserves to be seen.
A collaboration with the Queer Arts Festival.
Programme (Texts and Translations)
Christum Ducem, qui per crucem – Johann Rosenmüller (1619-1684)
Venite Laudentes – Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704)
O quam tristis – Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602-1678)
O Lord Whose Mercies Numberless (From Saul) – George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Praeludium in G minor – Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
Vendendo amor, HWV 175 – G.F. Handel
Du Bist die Ruh – Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Fuga in A minor – Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)
An Sylvia – Franz Schubert
Look Down Fair Moon – Ned Rorem (1923-)
Mad About the Boy (from Words and Music) – Noel Coward (1899-1973)
So in Love (from Kiss me Kate) – Cole Porter (1891-1964)
Not a Day Goes By (from Merrily we Roll Along) – Stephen Sondheim (1930-)
Being Alive (from Company) – S. Sondheim
Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye – C. Porter
“My dear Michel Agnolo, your nickname of crow very well suits those ladies today, though I vow that they are somewhat less fair than the crows by the side of one of the most lovely peacocks which fancy could have painted.” ~Benvenuto Cellini (From his autobiography La Vita)
Over the course of history, the topic of human sexuality has been elusive and fluid. In nearly every culture, from the earliest reaches of recorded history, same sex attraction and love was not only accepted, but part of normative sexual behavior. In many cases, same-sex relationships served as a strong proponent in the function of military structures in the earlier years of many older civilizations. From The Sacred Band of Thebes, and the earliest practices of pederasty in Ancient Greece, to the Japanese practice of shudo among the samurai-class. Over time, these practices were also adopted in other areas of society. A major shift in thinking came from the rise of Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), which spoke against man engaging in any non-procreative activity (sodomy). Eventually, sodomy became to be redefined as to be chiefly linked to all acts homosexual, and the practice as a whole, was frowned upon. Same-sex relationships wouldn’t see a major resurgence until the Renaissance period.
By the 14th century, a growing fascination with the literature, architecture, art, and general lifestyle of Ancient Greece and Rome led to a new age of thought in Italy. This renaissance was largely centered in wealthier cities such as Venice, Naples, and especially Florence. It is there, in Florence, that we find a vigorous return of focus to more classical styles of relationships as well. Sadly, with the return of romantic freedom, also came a vigorous double down of the opposing team. The church, which has now for some time, frowned on “acts of sodomy”, took steps to curb Florentine sexual freedom. At the urging of the church, the city officials in Florence appointed a judicial committee called the “Officers of the Night” to investigate any and all charges of sodomy.
Evidence of the preferences of two of the earliest known homosexual composers survives in the form of legal charges. Franco-Flemish composer Nicholas Gombert (c. 1495- c. 1560) was a student of Josquin des Prez, whose music, like that of his teacher, stands among the best examples of the Franco-Flemish style of Renaissance polyphony. In the mid sixteenth century, he was caught and convicted with charges of sodomy, and sent to the galleys for hard labor. The music he sent to Charles V with his regrets so moved the king that he pardoned Gombert. Though not so unlucky as Gombert, the German Baroque composer Johann Rosenmüller (1619-1684), who served as the organist at the St. Nicholas church in Leipzig, was caught and imprisoned for alleged acts of sodomy. However, he escaped and fled to Venice, where he found employment at St. Mark’s in Venice. He later went to hold a teaching post at the Ospedale della Pietà, where Antonio Vivaldi worked 20 years later. Though his musical output flourished most in Italy, the beautiful motet Christum ducem, qui per crucem is from his Leipzig period.
Inquire into the existence of gay female composers almost always lead to the convent. St. Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) is known to have had powerful feelings for her fellow nun and assistant, Richardis von Stade. Though the body of evidence is not as strong, the seventeenth century Italian nuns Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602-1678) and Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704) are often suspected of preferring the companionship of other women, not due to any strong contextual evidence, but because of the strong focus of their texts and music on women. Nuns gifted with the skill of poetry, as well as writing and performing music, could subversively code their thoughts and feelings into very sensual religious poetry and compositions. This manifested in works that expressed sentiments from respectful infatuation to somewhat racy admissions of love, all in the guise of Marian motets. We’ll explore a sampling of this range of extremes with Leonarda’s Venite Laudentes and Cozzolani’s O Quam Tristis.
Around the time Rosenmüller was living out his self-elected exile in Venice, a young Italian violinist moved to Rome from Bologna to further his career. Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) rose up through the ranks of the musical society in Rome quickly, mostly due to his incredible talents as a violinist, conductor, and composer, which garnered the attention of dignitaries including Queen Christina of Sweden, who kept a residence in Rome at the time. Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, one of the greatest of patrons of his generation, Ottoboni and well known for enjoying pomp, splendor, and sensual pleasure, noticed Corelli too. Ottoboni was also well known in many homosocial circles, and supported many of the most talented artists and musicians Rome. It was because of his wide social connections that he was able to meet, and eventually introduce Corelli to il gran Sassone (“the great Saxon”), George Frideric Handel (1685-1759).
Young Handel spent several years in Italy under the care of the patrons Ottoboni, and his somewhat more discreet peer, the Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili, the patron who penned the libretto of EMV’s mainstage production of Summer ’14, Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno. In Rome, Handel studied the Italian style of composition from Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti. Both whom were also under the patronage of Ottoboni. It was also for his more flamboyant patron, that Handel likely wrote the cantata Vedendo Amor. In this cantata, Cupid disguises himself as a birdcatcher. “Birds”, since as early as the 15th century, was a coded reference to men, an allusion strongly insisted upon in the autobiography of the Florentine artist, Benvenuto Cellini.
By the beginning of the 19th century, many artists and musicians were no longer supported by the patronage of the church and aristocracy. Instead, due in large part to the Industrial Revolution, the middle class became stronger, more financially confident, and able to support things such as the arts and entertainment. Public operas, plays, concerts, and recitals became popular among the middle class, and musicians able to accept full adoration and constant praise of a hungry and adoring public. No longer bound to courts and chapels, many composer-performers like Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) found great fame in touring, and were welcomed in by all social classes.
The widespread relaxing of punishments for sexual deviance across Europe, the rise of the nature- and self-centric Romantic sensibility, and the increased popularity of dandyism, self-retrospection, and confirmed bachelorhood came a return to the habit of men gathering into homosocial circles and relationships. One musician who took great advantage of this was Franz Schubert (1797-1828). Schubert was associated with a very tight knit circle of male artists and students with whom he spent most of his life. With them, he began his “Schubertiades”, informal musical social gatherings held at private homes. Through these events, he presented a great deal of his solo piano pieces, male part songs, and solo lieder such as Du bist die Ruh and An Sylvia.
Throughout the 19th century, many countries like the Netherlands, Brazil, Portugal, and Japan decriminalized homosexuality. German writer, Karl Ulrichs, became the first openly gay person to publicly campaign for gay rights, and the words “homosexual”, “heterosexual”, and “bisexual” began to be used in print. By the 20th century, musicians like Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Benjamin Britten, and Ned Rorem (1923- ) became fully cognizant of having a sexual preference. Musicians could live their lives no longer sentenced to explore their feelings in subtext. We now have openly gay composers setting the words of assumed homosexuals, such as Rorem’s setting of Walt Whitman’s Look Down Fair Moon, who offer different perspectives on the voices of the past.
Reginald Mobley, countertenor
Noted for his ‘shimmering voice’ (BachTrack), American countertenor Reginald Mobley is highly sought after for the baroque, classical and modern repertoire.
Reginald leads a very prolific career on both sides of the Atlantic. In the United States, where he resides, he became the first ever programming consultant for the Handel & Haydn Society following several years of leading H&H in his community engaging Every Voice concerts. He also holds the position of Visiting Artist for Diversity Outreach with the Baroque ensemble Apollo’s Fire, and is a regular guest with Cantata Collective, Musica Angelica, Agave Baroque, Charlotte Bach Akademie, Seraphic Fire, Quodlibet, Pacific Music Works, Bach Collegium San Diego, San Francisco Early Music Society and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra.
Recent engagements have included concerts and recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Opera Lafayette, Blue Heron, Chatham Baroque, Washington Bach Consort, Atlanta Baroque Orchestra and Early Music Seattle. Future highlights include Carmina Burana with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Messiah with the New York Philharmonic and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestras, a debut at Carnegie Hall with Orchestra St Luke’s and at the Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles.
In Europe, Reginald has been invited to perform with the OH! (Orkiestra Historycsna) in Poland, Vienna Academy in Austria (Musikverein), Musée d’Orsay in Paris, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Academy of Ancient Music, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Balthasar Neumann Chor & Ensemble, Bach Society in Stuttgart, Holland Baroque Orchestra and in the autumn of 2021, he performed the role of Ottone in L’incoronazione di Poppea in Geneva, MUPA and Teatro di Vicenza in a European tour with The Budapest Festival Orchestra. He has also extensively toured with the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra under the baton of John-Eliot Gardiner, and more recently performed a series of English music programmes in Germany with the Freiburger Barockorchester under the leadership of Kristian Bezuidenhout.
His recordings have been received with great critical acclaim, most recently American Originals with Agave Baroque ensemble, recorded with Acis Productions, which has been nominated for a GRAMMY Award, following A Lad’s Love with Brian Giebler on BRIDGE 9542 label. Reginald features on several albums with the Monteverdi Choir and Sir John Eliot Gardiner, including a recording of Bach’s St Matthew Passion and Magnificat, where Reginald ‘encapsulates whimsical pathos’ (Classical Music Magazine) His solo recording debut with ALPHA Classics will be released in June 2023. Reginald’s work has earned him both a 2023 Grammy Awards and 2023 Classical Music Awards Nomination.
Alexander Weimann, harpsichord & piano
Alexander Weimann is one of the most sought-after ensemble directors, soloists, and chamber music partners of his generation. After travelling the world with ensembles such as Tragicomedia, Cantus Cölln, the Freiburger Barockorchester, Gesualdo Consort and Tafelmusik, he now focuses on his activities as Music Director of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra in Vancouver, Music Director of the Seattle Baroque Orchestra, and regular guest conductor of ensembles including the Victoria Symphony, Symphony Nova Scotia, Arion Baroque Orchestra in Montreal and the Portland Baroque Orchestra.
Alex was born in Munich, where he studied the organ, church music, musicology (with a summa con laude thesis on Bach’s secco recitatives), theatre, mediæval Latin, and jazz piano, supported by a variety of federal scholarships. From 1990 to 1995, he taught music theory, improvisation, and Jazz at the Munich Musikhochschule. Since 1998, he has been giving master classes in harpsichord and historical performance practice at institutions such as Lunds University in Malmö, the Bremen Musikhochschule, the University of California (Berkeley), Dartmouth College (New Hampshire), McGill University, Université de Montréal, and Mount Allison (New Brunswick). He now teaches at the University of British Columbia and directs the Baroque Orchestra Mentorship Programme there. He has received several JUNO and GRAMMY Award nominations – most recently, for the album Nuit Blanches with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra and Karina Gauvin.
Photo Credit (top banner: Reginald L. Mobley): lizlinder.com