In light of biographical information pertaining to the sexual orientation of Poulenc and the Princesse de Polignac, I see no reason to exclude a queer reading of Les Biches, or Socrates. Although I would not have used a queer reading initially with these pieces, this almost plays into the point of their ambiguity. The influence of the queer in these pieces, as Steven Cohan says, depends on “straight audiences missing the point or refusing to hear or see beyond what common sense dictated.”1 It is also similarly compelling that the first text used in Socrates is from Plato’s Symposium, a text which is very overtly sexual. However, Satie in working with Polignac removed all explicit material from this text, even going so far as to remove every mention of the body.2 If one was familiar with this text, it would certainly be odd that it had been altered in such a way, and might indicate to the informed listener that there is more to this piece than meets the ear.
Whereas Satie and Polignac try to hide any possibility of queer alignments by eliminating sex from the libretto, Poulenc disguises the queer aspects of himself in Les Biches by giving the listener red herring after red herring. While the vignettes of this ballet, and in particular the revealing of the two women being the couch, suggest sexual deviancy and queerness, Poulenc complicates the sense of the queer in the choreography by masking it in “an ensemble of dramatic, gestural, and musical conventions that strongly reinforce the conventional theme of heterosexual romantic desire.”3 This creates so much ambiguity that, as the composer himself remarked about the ballet “one can either see nothing, or imagine the worst.”4
I believe this inability of audience members to see beyond the black and white is what most strongly supports a queer reading of these two piece. While Poulenc forcefully creates ambiguity, as he often did in parties, Satie and the Princesse work to exclude any possibility of the presence of a sexual “abnormality” by stripping the piece of any mention of the sexual. This would be rather off putting to a reader of Plato, and could either go completely unnoticed by audience members, of be indicative of some larger plan. These pieces, just as their commissioners and composers, simultaneously encrypt and broadcast a queer sentiment that must inform musicology’s understanding of them.
1 Cohan, Steven, Incongruous Entertainment: Camp, Cultural Value, and the MGM Musical (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2005), 5–19. in,
Moore, C. “Camp in Francis Poulenc’s Early Ballets.”
The Musical Quarterly 95, no. 2-3 (2012): 299-342. Accessed November 9, 2015. doi:10.1093/musqtl/ gds023.
2 Dorf, Samuel N. ““Étrange N’est-ce Pas?”: The Princesse Edmond De Polignac, Erik Satie’s Socrate, and a Lesbian Aesthetic of Music?” Queer Sexualities in French and Francophone Literature and Film 34 (2007): 87-99. Accessed November 9, 2015. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxQzWOgr8AurNnljQzFHaHNBM00/view.
3 Moore, C. “Camp in Francis Poulenc’s Early Ballets.”
The Musical Quarterly 95, no. 2-3 (2012): 299-342. Accessed November 9, 2015. doi:10.1093/musqtl/gds023.
4 Francis Poulenc, Entretiens avec Claude Rostand (Paris: René Julliard, 1954), 52, in Moore, C. “Camp in Francis Poulenc’s Early Ballets.” The Musical Quarterly 95, no. 2-3 (2012): 299-342. Accessed November 9, 2015. doi:10.1093/musqtl/ gds023.