Dorf and Moore are sure of their convictions in their writing, but they haven’t fully convinced me. I understand how Dorf applied sapphonics to Satie’s Socrate, but the Sapphonic concept itself that Wood writes about in “Queering the Pitch” is hard to buy into. She is clear in her explanation of voice register theory and how the voice can be a metaphorical vessel of self-expression and flirtation. But the recordings we listened to of supposed Sapphonic singers seemed to sound almost like any other singing. Dorf does concede that Socrate is not overtly sexual but instead has unnamed hidden eroticism that he goes on to explain. In fact, Satie took care to eliminate any sex reference out of Plato’s text. Also, the very language that Dorf uses in his writing is not entirely definitive. For instance, “The very idea of women reading Greek to music can be seen as Sapphonic” (Dorf 97, emphasis mine). Not only does this and other wording leave me unimpressed, but the idea this sentence presents is questionable, if not ludicrous, to me. Overall, the piece appeared uncommitted and therefore, unconvincing, despite several of the arguments presented.
Parts of Moore’s writing are completely believable. Near the end, he discusses Poulenc’s Aubade and how it contains autobiographical undertones of inner conflict. Poulenc himself later referred to the work as “amphibian.” This endorsement from a primary source combined with the arguments Moore presents are convincing. Where he loses me is when he begins drawing parallels between the identity conclusions and specific musical elements in the pieces. For instance, the connections he asserts between Les Biches and Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty were a stretch on the first read. (Perhaps I’m in the minority here…) The points about the costuming and choreography of the Woman in Blue? Sure, those are great.
Musicologists seem to be more interested in discovering homosexual undertones in music than discovering other undertones, possibly because of the time and culture in which we live. Moore noted that a lot of interest has arisen (specifically about Poulenc’s life) in the last 20 years. Yes, we do explore how race and other factors affect the music composers wrote, but are we exploring as thoroughly what musical attributes of a piece point to the fact that a certain composer is straight? Or that a person wrote the piece after the death of their child. Or how the eighth notes in measure 14 show that a composer really liked peanut butter (okay, that’s absurd, but you catch my drift).
I think a lot of it comes down to what Moore mentioned; the references in these works could be seen or overlooked, depending on how informed the viewer is, if he or she is on the lookout for clues when listening to the work, and if he or she chooses to acknowledge the references. Personally, I’d need some more evidence, time, and thought to come to a stronger positive conclusion about the matter.
Christopher Moore, “Camp in Francis Poulenc’s Early Ballets,” Musical Quarterly 95 (Summer-Fall 2012), 299-342.
Elizabeth Wood, “Sapphonics,” in Queering the Pitch: The New Lesbian and Gay Musicology (New York: Routledge, 2006), 27-37.
Samuel Dorf, “‘Étrange, n’est-ce pas?’ The Princesse Edmond de Polignac, Erik Satie’s Socrate, and a Lesbian Aesthetic of Music?” FLS: Queer Sexualities in French and Francophone Literature and Film 34 (2007), 87-99.