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.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Lee Hoiby

Composer Lee Hoiby (1926-2011) was best known for his operas and songs, although he originally sought a career as a concert pianist. After studying composition with Gian Carlo Menotti he made a career change, going on to make a significant contribution to American music. His vocal repertoire is favored by singers everywhere, especially his art songs, which are championed by such luminaries as Leontyne Price and Frederica von Stade. Many of the texts were selected by his partner, Mark Shulgasser.

Hoiby’s musical style and language were old fashioned. Critics wrote that much of his music could have been written a hundred years previously. When he encountered atonal music for the first time, Hoiby reacted with revulsion. “If music doesn’t have melody and harmony and rhythm as I understand it,” he said, “I’m not interested. A lot of that stuff sounds like wallpaper to me.”

For the most part Hoiby eschewed dissonance and rejected compositional “fads” such a serialism, minimalism and eclecticism. Over a span of sixty plus years of composing music, his style remained consistent and has now come full circle, in that today’s young composers are writing music that is in step with Hoiby’s lifetime output. 

Hoiby wrote only to please himself. He was not part of the musical establishment, instead keeping his distance. In a 2010 profile by Zachary Woolfe, Hoiby stated, “All I did was compose. I never went anywhere, I didn’t know anybody. I never went to any parties. I never met anybody. I’m basically not interested in social life, I guess.”

While composing his best known opera Summer and Smoke (1971), a musical setting of the play by Tennessee Williams, Hoiby had a breakdown that led him to a search for spiritual fulfillment. He joined a New Age group that was also attended by his future partner Mark Shulgasser, a writer and astrologist. “He’s the Jewish intellectual I’ve always wanted,” Mr. Hoiby said.

To mark its tenth anniversary in 2006, Minnesota-based male chorus Cantus commissioned Hoiby to set to music a letter written by Pfc. Jesse Givens, who was killed in Iraq in 2003. Addressed to his pregnant wife, unborn son and six-year-old stepson, it was to be opened only in the event of his death. The closing lines are "Go outside and look at the stars and count them. Don't forget to smile."

Last Letter Home performed by the Cornell University Glee Club:

Hoiby photographed with CANTUS male chorus performers at the premiere of Last Letter Home.

Hoiby died on April 8, 2011, at the age of eighty-five, and he was actively composing at the time of his death. He was survived by Mr. Shulgasser, who shared a home with Hoiby in a remote location in the Catskills.

1 comment:

  1. NYT says he died on March 28, 2011.