Role models of greatness.
Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
American Composer Samuel Barber
Barber’s most famous composition by far is his “Adagio for Strings,” written while he and Menotti spent a summer in a rented house on Wolfgangsee, Austria (near Salzburg) in 1936. This eight-minute piece was originally the second movement of a string quartet. Menotti sent a version he had arranged for string orchestra to Arturo Toscanini, who championed it two years later. The rest is musical history.*
While a student at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute, Menotti spent much of his time at the Barber family home in West Chester, Pennsylvania. After graduation, the two men bought a house together in Mount Kisco, New York, which they named "Capricorn" and shared for over forty years. Capricorn boasted two independent studios, one for each composer, connected by a central room for living and entertaining. The surrounding grounds were secluded and beautifully landscaped.
Menotti, who lived to the age of 95, always had an eye and taste for much younger men. Well into his eighties, he had a handsome, young driver in Charleston, SC, for the duration of the Spoleto Festival (founded by Menotti). When the driver was replaced one year by someone less blessed by pulchritude, Menotti threw a fit, insisting that the former driver be found immediately.
Francis Phelan (b. 1938) was an actor and figure skater who appeared as a mime in several of Menotti’s operas. The two developed a physical relationship, and in 1974, Menotti legally adopted Phelan (known as “Chip”) as his son. Phelan took the last name of Menotti. Phelan was 36 at the time; Menotti was 63. In a perverse twist, Chip went on to marry a woman; both composer and adopted son were nearly impossible to work with as directors of international music festivals.
As time goes on, however, Menotti’s star fades, while Barber’s shines ever brighter.
Gay American composer Aaron Copland (left), with Barber (center) and Menotti.
*Many do not know that Barber himself arranged his Adagio for Strings for vocal choir (1967) under the title “Agnus Dei” (text from the Latin Mass: Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us; grant us peace). This composition, in both instrumental and vocal forms, is often performed during state funerals (Franklin Roosevelt, Princess Grace of Monaco, Albert Einstein, etc.). Many first heard it when used in the soundtrack for the film “Platoon.”