Although the argument that purely musical elements of a piece can indicate sexuality, gender, race, or any other factor of the composer’s identity seems insubstantial and virtually impossible to prove, however a few finer details within both Dorf and Moore’s arguments are worth considering.
Both of them focus on the dichotomous nature of certain homosexual artists’ lives in Paris at the time, and while the idea that a particular phrase or piece could be “queer” or “lesbian” is not proven, they do emphasize aspects of Satie’s, Polignac’s and Poulenc’s lifestyles which may have influenced the they supported and created music.
As Samuel N. Dorf explains:
“A retrospective queer/feminine reading of Polignac, Satie and their social circles sheds light on the special public/private dichotomy that the two of them shared… while they both publicly tried to distance themselves from overtly homosexual circles, they nonetheless were intricately involved in these in their private lives” (Dorf 95).
Dorf asserts that in order to maintain respectability and to safeguard themselves against criticism, public figures such as the princesse de Polignac had to remain extremely private. This at least is convincing and easily digestible. Dorf however stretches the bounds of logic a bit by asserting that she found a “way of describing a space of lesbian [musical] possibility” (Dorf 96). This assertion is undermined by his next paragraph which explains that there is nothing overtly or explicitly sexual about Satie’s Socrate (the piece being analyzed).
Dorf cites aspects of the music described as “white, pure, gentle, free, clear, classical, simple, modern, cubist, precise, and new” (Dorf 89) as details that made the music queer or at least tending towards lesbian qualities. While the music may be unique with these attributes, and it was created by people who were queer, there is no direct, explicit link between the product and it’s creators sexuality.
Now Christopher Moore hits an interesting point that helps address this problem. Claiming a direct link between a composer’s or a patron’s sexuality and the music they produce is insubstantial at best, however it is easy to see the impact (of their sexuality) on those people’s lives and also the impact of other’s reactions to their sexuality.
As Moore says:
“Homophobic prejudice was endemic to society and was expressed along with xenophobic sentiments that construed homosexuality as a ‘German-vice’” (Moore Paragraph 5).
With this in mind it is understandable that artists were not claiming their music as the epitome of their sexual expression. Once again there is a dichotomy between how composers behaved themselves in private and how they were expected to present themselves in public. Moore explained that even after his death Poulenc’s sexuality was hidden even in scholarship until 1994 when a more complete edition of his letters was released (Moore Paragraph 1).
Obviously there is no simple way to label music as “lesbian” or “queer” or “straight” for that matter. And it is slightly disappointing that Dorf and Moore use vague adjectives and generalized statements rather than pointing to exact facts, however they do highlight an issue which has been passed over many times within the field of music history. While it cannot be conclusively determined whether some “sexual” nature of these people can be found in the music they created, it can be said that their lives were greatly impacted by their sexuality and the way that society viewed them, both within private and public settings.