Saturday, July 27, 2019

But the rest is still noise


That photo was taken by me at today's Norwich Pride celebration and it shows our daughter with her colleagues from Norfolk & Suffolk Victim Care. Norwich has many links with the composer Benjamin Britten. He was a pupil at Gresham School in nearby Holt, and his orchestral song-cycle Our Hunting Fathers was commissioned for the 1936 Norfolk and Norwich Triennial Music Festival. Possibly the best appreciation of Britten and also of the role of gay composers in general is in Alex Ross' acclaimed The Rest is Noise. When the book was published in 2007 there was a prevailing mood of cautious optimism in art music, in the world of journalism, and in global politics. Those optimistic vibes could still be felt in the massive turnout for today's Norwich Pride. But elsewhere the noise is winning, with fake news and authoritarian politics dominating. In classical music the din of orthodoxy still drowns out marginalised composers cited by Alex such as Lou Harrison, whose opus includes a monumental Esperanto setting of the Buddhist Heart Sutra La Koro Sutro - listen here. The chapter titled Harrison, Homosexuality and the Gay World in Leta E. Miller and Fredric Lieberman's invaluable study of Lou Harrison opens with these words:
In 1942, when Lou Harrison's draft board summoned him, he candidly told them that he was gay, and they classified him 4-F. "'I just answered the psychiatrist correctly,' he explains. 'They didn't want me, and I didn't want them.'" It wasn't a coming out" or a rebellion against perceived accusations of sexual "deviancy" but a political statement pure and simple: as if to say, I have no desire to be associated with a group that not only has as its primary function the killing of human beings but also practices morally indefensible discrimination against people like me.
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