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

Samuel Barber was born in 1910 to a distinguished and well-to-do Irish-American family in Pennsylvania. His father was a doctor and his mother a pianist. He began composing music seriously in his late teens, and it was during his musical studies at the Curtis Institute that he met Gian Carlo Menotti, who became his lover, partner and musical collaborator. “Johnny” and Sam were soon inseparable.

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.

Over the decades, as Barber aged, Menotti’s interest in him waned. Barber was badly affected by the adverse criticism of his later compositions and spent many years thereafter in isolation, suffering from depression. He was humiliated to see Menotti engage in relationships with men half his age. Barber died of cancer at the age of 71 in 1981 in New York and is buried in West Chester next to his parents and beloved sister. There was an empty plot next to Barber's grave that was reserved for Menotti, but when the former lover died in 2007, he was buried in Scotland.

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.”


  1. I thought Barber & Menotti were life partners. Oh, well. Not surprised Barber is considered the better composer, whilst Menotti was the Adonis.

  2. Barber is the Oscar......Menotti was the "Bosie".

  3. Interesting article, but I can't find any reference anywhere -- including the N Y Times obit -- that says Menotti got married to a woman. His adopted son married a woman, but apparently it is not true of Menotti himself. He never mentions a wife in any interviews or articles, only his son and grandchildren.

    As for Menotti being the "adonis" [from comments], Barber was arguably the handsomer of the two.

    And Barber was only a year older than Menotti, and both successful, so I don't know if we can compare them to Wilde and Bosie.

    1. As it says in the article, his adopted son (who he had a sexual relationship with) married a woman. Strange how the article lists his son marrying a woman as "bizarre" but it makes no comment on a man adopting a younger man and having sex with him.

  4. Samuel Barber was gay and dating bob

  5. I could care less about Barber being gay. I love his talent, his music. I am sorry he died at 71 while Minotti Sr. lived to be 95.
    Very strange Minotti's adopted Son had a physical relationship with Minotti and then at 48 yrs of age got married and had 2 Sons. Obviously no ill-will between the two Minottis as the senior Minotti gifted Yester House to him as a wedding present. However, Minotti junior's wife died at 45. What she died of I don't know but she was married for 20 years.

  6. I love some of Menotti's operas, I don't think of him as below Barber--'Saint of Bleecker Street', 'The Medium', even 'Amahl and the Night Visitors.'

    Bobby deGaetano was probably one of Barber's 'young men'. Maybe John Browning too, I think he debuted the Piano Concerto.

  7. John Christopher SpoulosMarch 9, 2019 at 12:10 AM

    Samuel Barber wrote one of the worlds masterpieces! Adagio For Strings has moved people to every emotion. Only TRUE masters who have TOTAL understanding of musical craft can accomplish this. As musicians, we are all in awe and in total gratitude for Samuel Barber. I hope there is an afterlife and a place where we can meet such a renowned individual as Mr. Samuel Barber, thank you for your gifts!! They are truly appreciated!