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.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Composer Francis Poulenc

French composer Francis Poulenc, who engaged in a long string of homosexual relationships, was born January 7, 1899, into a wealthy Parisian family. In 1920 he became a member of a group of young composers dubbed “Les Six.” The others were Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Georges Auric, Germaine Tailleferre, and Louis Durey. Their music was a reaction against the music by the Impressionists (Debussy and Ravel) and late Romantics (Wagner, Puccini, etc.).

During the late 1920s Poulenc first acted on his homosexuality when he met painter Richard Chanlaire, who became his lover. Poulenc’s second lover, the bisexual Raymond Destouches, was a chauffeur and dedicatee of several of Poulenc’s compositions.
Musicologists suggested that Poulenc considered gay sex impure and thus had a difficult time with making homosexuality his identity.

The success of his 1924 ballet score for Diaghilev’s “Les biches” (The Deer) led to the commissions of his Concerto for Two Pianos* (1932) and the Organ Concerto (1938), both commissioned by fabulously wealthy lesbian American expatriate Winnaretta Singer, known as Princesse Edmond de Polignac. The organ concerto was premiered in the music salon of her private home, which housed a pipe organ. Famed organist Maurice Duruflé was the soloist.

Poulenc would later have a brief affair with a woman known as Frédérique and have a daughter by her in 1946. They did not marry. In a tour of the United States Poulenc met a friendly gay couple, Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale, accomplished duo pianists who commissioned the Sonata for Two Pianos (1953). Poulenc found tours difficult, because they separated him from Lucien Roubert, his lover who died of pleurisy in 1955, just after Poulenc completed his masterpiece, the opera “Les dialogues des Carmélites.” In 1957 he met his last significant lover, Louis Gautier, who helped to revive his spirits. In that year, Poulenc produced his Flute Sonata (middle mvt. in YouTube excerpt below). 

Poulenc also composed a significant body of first-rate art songs, numbering more than 200; they remain staples of the genre.

"Hôtel" from a set of five songs "Banalités" (1940). Sung by Régine Crespin.



Leonard Bernstein commissioned Poulenc to write "Sept répons des ténèbres" (1961) for the opening of the Philharmonic Hall, hence known as Avery Fisher Hall, now David Geffen Hall (since 2015) at Lincoln Center, NYC. Shortly thereafter Poulenc died of a heart attack on January 30, 1963. One of the most honored composers of his time, he left an enduring legacy.

 

Sources:


Poulenc: A Biography by Roger Nichols

Poulenc: The Life in the Songs by Graham Johnson

 

*French conductor Georges Prêtre championed the works of Poulenc. I’ll never forget a performance in Paris (November 2004) of Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos, selected by Prêtre to be performed on his 80th Birthday concert at the magnificently restored Art Deco masterpiece, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Prêtre owns this piece. Here he conducts the Orchestra National de la RTF with the composer (piano on the left) and Jacques Février (piano on right) in the first movement of the concerto for two pianos.


Next: Poulenc at the piano with Jean-Pierre Rampal on flute (Rampal was the dedicatee). This middle movement of Poulenc's Flute Sonata (1957), marked Cantilena, is typical of his light, accessible style. This sonata has the honor of being the most often performed work in the entire repertoire of pieces written for flute and piano. Your blogger had the pleasure of rehearsing this sonata last evening (as accompanist). Pure pleasure.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Stephen Sondheim

Update: Mr. Sondheim died suddenly on November 26, 2021,
at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut.
He was 91 years old.

































 

 

Photo: Fred R. Conrad/NY Times

Original post from 2012 - I have not changed the verbs from present to past tense:

On September 15, 2010, eighty-year-old Stephen Sondheim, one of the greatest theater composers of our time, joined other legendary theatre artists who have had Broadway theatres named after them – Ethel Barrymore, David Belasco, Edwin Booth, George Broadhurst, George Gershwin, Alfred Lunt & Lynn Fontanne, Richard Rodgers, Helen Hayes, Eugene O'Neill, Neil Simon and August Wilson.

Sondheim (born March 22, 1930) gave a speech during the unveiling ceremony of the new marquee on the former Henry Miller’s Theatre at 124 W. 43rd Street. The signage on the marquee is Sondheim’s signature. The  restored neo-Georgian brick façade, which dates back to 1918, fronts an entirely new 1,055 seat theatre placed below street level. The restoration retained the “Henry Miller’s Theatre” letters, still visible etched in stone high above the Stephen Sondheim marquee
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It should not be lost on my readers that Stephen Sondheim is a homosexual Broadway artist. Sondheim did not come out as a gay man until he was 40 and did not live with a partner (dramatist Peter Jones) until he was 61. Update: In 2017 Sondheim married Broadway singer/actor Jeffrey Romley, who survives him. Romley (b. 1980) is 50 years younger than Sondheim.

Sondheim wrote the lyrics for the landmark musical West Side Story (1957) in collaboration with bisexual Leonard Bernstein’s music and gay Arthur Laurents’s book. Laurents, born in 1918 (the same year as Bernstein), died on May, 2011. Sondheim, the baby of that creative team, was just 25 years old when he was hired to work on West Side Story. He followed with another smash hit with his lyrics for Gypsy in 1959.

Sondheim helped establish what is known as the “concept” musical, which sought to tell stories in fresh ways – Company (1970), Follies (1971) and Pacific Overtures (1976), for example. He changed the nature of musical theatre forever and has influenced subsequent generations of writers.

Sondheim is the winner of a Pulitzer Prize (Sunday in the Park with George), an Academy Award (for Sooner or Later, as performed by Madonna in the film Dick Tracy) and multiple Tony and Grammy Awards. He was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center Honors (1993), the National Medal of Arts (1996), the American Academy of Arts and Letters' Gold Medal for Music (2006) and a special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre (2008).


Sondheim (above left) with Leonard Bernstein in 1965.

Among the many shows for which Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics are Into the Woods (1987), Sunday in the Park with George (1984), Sweeney Todd (1979), A Little Night Music (1973), Anyone Can Whistle (1964) and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962). Five shows are anthologies of his works: Side by Side by Sondheim (1976), Marry Me a Little (1981), You're Gonna Love Tomorrow (1983), Putting It Together (1993/99) and Sondheim on Sondheim (2010).

It is a lesser known fact that he has composed film scores, written songs for television productions and provided incidental music for stage plays.

Sondheim is currently working on a new musical, tentatively titled All Together Now, in collaboration with playwright David Ives, whose play Venus in Fur (2010) is enjoying an extended run at Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre.

In 2009 the Signature Theatre, in my home state of Virginia, established a new honor, The Sondheim Award, as “a tribute to America's most influential contemporary musical theatre composer.” The first award was presented at the Arlington, VA, theatre’s gala fund-raiser. Sondheim himself was the first recipient of the award, which includes a $5000 honorarium for the recipients' choice of a nonprofit organization. The 2010 honoree was Angela Lansbury, and in 2011 the recipient was Bernadette Peters.

Losing My Mind ("Follies" 1971) performed by Jeremy Jordan:




Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Gary Burton

Jazz Musician: the undisputed king of vibes





















Gary Burton (b. Jan. 23, 1943) is an American jazz vibraphonist. After many years of marriage Burton came out as a gay man in 1985, making him one of only a few openly gay jazz musicians. He chose a public means to declare his homosexuality, by coming out during an interview on National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" radio show with Terri Gross. That interview is frequently re-broadcast. Burton fathered two children from his marriage to Catherine Goldwyn, granddaughter of movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn (of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer fame).

Burton is the undisputed master of the vibraphone, not just a vibes player, but THE vibes player whose rule spans from the 1960s to the present. Today he lives in South Florida, where he shares a newly built house with his partner, Jonathan Chong. They were married in 2013.

A true original on the vibraphone, Burton developed a pianistic style of four-mallet technique as an alternative to the usual two-mallet style. This approach caused Burton to be heralded as an innovator. His sound and technique are widely imitated. But have a look and listen. Here Gary Burton plays a vibes solo (performance dating from the 1960s): “Chega de Saudade” (No More Blues), composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes. Do your best to ignore the dated fringed jacket and concentrate on his mind-blowing four mallet technique.