Dorf’s and Moore’s readings of Satie’s Socrate and Poulenc’s Les Biches and Aubade as works influenced by a queer aesthetic do seem justified to me. The blatant de-sexualization of the text that Satie set (“Great care [is] taken to eliminate any reference, even oblique, to sex from Plato’s original text…Satie’s libretto excises all references to the body from Plato’s texts” [Dorf, 95]), the original designation of speaking parts to certain of the Princesse Edmond de Polignac’s female friends and lovers (and, after the format of the piece changed to include sung instead of spoken text, the insistence on soprano vocalists), and the original conception of the piece as music for Polignac’s private salon–a place where she could potentially be less guarded about sexual innuendos–all point toward at least a conscious preoccupation with the sexual repercussions of Socrate. Meanwhile, Poulenc’s works interact with elements that communicate sexual undertones more obviously than we may safely assume abstracted music to do. Much of Moore’s analysis relies on Nijinska’s simultaneously ambiguous and provocative choreography to support its assumption of queer undertones; when Moore does discuss potential musical markers of the camp aesthetic, it is almost always in connection with the more explicit visual elements of the ballets. For example, in examining the sexual implications of Poulenc’s choice of musical genres, Moore writes, “The awkwardness [of the Hostess’ movements] was perhaps simply a further indication of the character’s confused sexual identity—a way for Nijinska to dramatically depict this ‘man trapped in a female body.’…Poulenc’s Rag-Mazurka is as confused about its genre as the Hostess seems to be about her gender…The ‘Rag-Mazurka’ also abounds in quirky mixed time signatures…and quickly changing meters, all of which suggest that the composer took particular pleasure in queering the Hostess’s beat” (Moore, 315-316).
I think Dorf’s and Moore’s interpretations are legitimate–but perhaps to a large degree because the pieces they consider are inseparable from more explicit, extra-musical elements, namely text and dance. As scholars rightly continue to study music through the lenses of gender and sexuality, the questions that Matt brought up in class today are of utmost importance: when is it actually appropriate to use these lenses? When might their employment bring about more harm–either to our understanding of a composer as a multi-faceted person with more than one way of defining him or herself or to our understanding of that composer as a musician who does not necessarily intentionally attempt to communicate gendered or sexual messages through her or his compositions–than good? I left class today feeling like we didn’t come up with any concrete, helpful guidelines for justifying the use of various lenses. On the one hand, we have to use the lenses of gender and sexuality in our interpretations; if we don’t engage with them, we ignore the significance of marginalized identities and concede to explanations based on traditional frameworks of power (because those, too, are lenses–different only in that they have the privilege of being the assumed and “normal” lenses that we employ when we are not attentive to how we are interpreting information). On the other hand, it is important to avoid essentializing people and their work as being the product and manifestation of one aspect of their identities and thereby ignoring individual complexity and flexibility, just as it is necessary to avoid insisting on innuendos that may be totally irrelevant or non-existent. As Matt asked, where and how do we draw the line?