Dorf’s and Moore’s articles propose readings of Polignac’s commissions and of Poulenc’s music that I would not have thought to consider, and each argument intrigues me. While both arguments concern carefully-crafted hidden queer references, I find that Moore has greater success in employing specific examples to construct his argument that Poulenc’s compositions, particularly works such as Les Biches, “simultaneously conceal and creatively exploit the secret of his sexual identity.” Dorf asserts that Polignac found a way to express her carefully-concealed sexual identity by “describing a space of lesbian possibility” through her musical commissions. Dorf, too, presents intriguing arguments, but they fall short of Moore’s concrete examples, leaving Dorf’s argument in the realm of mere speculation.
I do not see Dorf’s paper as a defense of an argument; rather, he seems to create a proposal for his audience to ponder. Dorf constructs his paper in a cyclical fashion, beginning with Satie’s narrative goals, discussing Polignac’s hopes for a commission, discussing how Socrate departed from Satie’s other works (arguably because of this commission), exploring Polignac’s carefully-veiled personal life, and returning to how Satie’s commissioned piece fits into this scenario. As a mere proposal, the set-up is compelling – I certainly find myself intrigued. However, Dorf’s evidence assesses the work as a whole, focusing on its overall construction rather than on specific musical elements:
Most strikingly, Satie’s libretto excises all references to the body from Plato’s texts. Characters are essentially made asexual, and this is particularly striking when we think about the texts Satie and Polignac chose to set. The first movement of Socrate takes its text from Plato’s Symposium, one of Plato’s most sexually explicit dialogues. (Dorf 95)
This excerpt is one example of Dort’s thought-provoking evidence, but it is unspecific. Dort’s argument seems to support the existence, rather than the substantiation, of his proposal.
On the other hand, I find Moore’s argument more step-by-step and easier to follow – it is much more clearly organized as the defense of an idea, and I believe it is well-substantiated. Moore sets up a clear trajectory of evidence:
Camp aesthetics may be noted throughout Les Biches, but techniques of cross-dressing, androgyny, and same-sex desire are most apparent in three of the ballet’s central scenes: the Woman in Blue’s “Adagietto,” the Hostess’s “Rag-Mazurka,” and the “Petite chanson danse´e” featuring the two young women. (Moore 307)
He then proceeds to expound on this “thesis to defend a thesis” with concrete and specific statements:
Despite the theme’s romantic affect, various idiosyncracies in the Woman in Blue’s drag routine serve to undermine this heteronormative mise-en-sce`ne in a subtle way. Indeed, the episodic structure of Poulenc’s “Adagietto” allows for incongruous musical interjections that discreetly point to the queer reality of this cross-dressing figure. The first such disruption occurs when a violent outburst of secco chords momentarily sunders the veil of seduction that had been created by Poulenc’s lithe modulations. (Moore 309)
Moore’s evidence is easy to trace, and I find his argument easier to digest as a result. I do not fully know if I would perceive the specific musical examples in the same way, but I am at least able to see why Moore made his judgments.
I cannot help but feel that I am missing a necessary lens through which to view each scholar’s argument in its entirety. Both scholars clarify that these heterosexual or queer qualities of composition can be missed or ignored by heterosexual audiences, a category into which I fall. I might not hear the queer references that Dorf and Moore outline, perhaps because at the subconscious level, my mind is not attuned to them. I have no way to know if this would be different were my sexual identity to be otherwise. Importantly, though, each scholar asserts that just because audiences do not hear potential queer musical elements does not mean that they are failing to interpret the music correctly. I think this part of the argument is crucial, making the argument more approachable. (This is not to say, however, that those who identify along the queer spectrum will automatically hear the queer references that Dorf and Moore propose.)