The idea that one’s sexuality could affect a composition is an interesting and notable concept that deserves some discussion. In Dorf and Moore’s articles about the homosexual undertones of the Princesse de Polignac’s commissions and the music of Francis Poulenc, the authors address elements of musical styles and influences, performance techniques, and theatrical effects which, they argue, contribute to hidden homosexual desire. The artistic choices of Poulenc in Les Biches, especially regarding the Woman in Blue, are particularly fascinating.
Moore offers a thorough analysis of the ballet Les Biches; he posits that Poulenc’s use of stylistic devices simultaneously conceal and reflect the composer’s engagement with the queer practices of camp (Moore 301). He describes ‘camp’ as the “‘deviant’ form of expression … largely express[ed] within the folds of dominant and heterosexual artistic discourses” (Moore 302). Poulenc’s music contains revealing moments of emotional expressiveness, which Cocteau described as “lies that tell the truth” (Moore 303) before the concept of ‘camp’ had become the vernacular.
The ballet Les Biches revolves around unconventional sexualities: “narcissism, voyeurism, female sexual power, castration, sapphism” (Lynn Garafola, Moore 307). The androgynous Woman in Blue is a character of much contention. She is either “a compelling illusion of heterosexual desire … [and] Poulenc’s music renders this illusion complete” (Moore 313) or a figure of sexual liminality conspiring with Poulenc’s musical treatment of the dance, Laurencin’s costumes, and Nijinska’s choreography to emphasize the erotic tensions and gender ambivalence of Poulenc’s entire ballet (Moore 315). She wears a blue velvet doublet, white gloves, and tights; it is unclear whether or not she is a page-boy. Poulenc’s choice of unexpected modulations and a possible reference to Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty further indicates the sexual ambiguity.
Moore provides an in-depth analysis of the artistic techniques and choices in Poulenc’s Les Biches; I found his argument solid in the reflection of sexual ambiguity, and yet I hesitate to view this as directly correlating to Poulenc’s sexuality. Is it not possible for heterosexual composers to create works of sexual ambiguity?