Both Dorf and Moore’s queer readings of Satie and Poulenc find that their music was informed by the lives that were carefully hidden from the public eye, claiming that the music itself contains a kind of hidden sexuality as well. Dorf looks at Satie’s Socrate and the relationship to the piece’s lesbian patron, the Princesse de Polignac. Moore analyzes two of Francis Poulenc’s ballets, Les Biches and Audabe. Both articles describe the conflict of the person’s sexual identity and how they present themselves publicly. Their arguments follow valid points about the composers’ and patron’s sexualities, but may be jumping to conclusions when they state that there may be sexual meaning implied in the music itself.
I will focus my analysis on Dorf’s article about Satie’s Socrate and the Princesse de Polignac.
I can follow Dorf’s argument up to a point, but when he indicates “hidden eroticism” in Socrate, I fail to understand how he reaches that conclusion. According to Dorf’s argument, it’s clear that the Princesse de Polignac’s sexuality informed her artistic choices as a patron. She was subject to slander, so she did everything she could to keep her personal life a secret. Therefore, the music she creates would logically omit any obvious references to her personal life. Polignac and Satie collaborated on the libretto and ideas for Socrate, which would mean that her personal musical preferences would be in the piece.
Dorf makes a comparison between Polignac and another lesbian American expatriate, Natalie Barney. Barney made no attempt to hide her sexuality in her public life, so this comparison further explains how private Polignac was, and how that informed their artistic choices. With all of these arguments in mind, it is clear that her hidden sexuality influenced Socrate in some way.
However, can we assume that the Princesse’s sexuality is inherent in a piece of music, when she clearly was trying to make her music devoid of sexuality? Dorf also notes that Satie and Polignac deliberately removed any references to sexuality in the libretto and the music. When Dorf claims there is a “hidden eroticism” in what is left unsaid in the libretto, his argument makes a big leap. Before this point, it seemed as if he was arguing that Socrate had no references to sexuality.
This comes down to a question – can something unsaid be apparent in a piece of music? Of course emotions are apparent in music: great sadness or joy, for example. But can a lack of a particular emotion indicate its presence? Understanding the specific historical context might reveal interesting background information, but this context will not always be understood, making the “hidden eroticism” lost. I don’t know if we can suggest that it lies in the music itself. With the conclusions made by both Dorf and Moore, they are making the leap that music itself can reveal hidden messages, messages that might not lie in the music, but instead in the historical context of the artists’ actual lives.