To celebrate LGBT+ History Month, we’re taking a look at some of the queer composers who appear on our syllabuses and the extraordinary lives they led.
Benjamin Britten is one of the highest profile English composers of the twentieth century, most famous for operas such as Peter Grimes and the War Requiem as well as chamber operas including The Turn of the Screw.
After showing prodigious talent from a young age, Britten started studying composition at the Royal College of Music in 1930. His considerable ability was evident to his tutors, as he won both the Sullivan Prize for composition and the Cobbett Prize for chamber music during his time there.
Homosexuality was illegal during Britten’s lifetime and he suffered the consequences of this, with a visit from the police in 1953 to investigate rumours of his relationship with his then partner, Peter Pears.
His legacy remains one of the most successful gay composers from the last century.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Widely regarded as the most successful Russian composer of all time, Tchaikovsky’s compositions include iconic ballets such as The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, the opera Eugene Onegin, and his 1812 Overture.
His personal life was a struggle, littered with trauma that includes his mother’s early death and his consequent attendance of a remote boarding school which isolated him further.
Tchaikovsky experienced being a gay man at a time when it was illegal in Russia. He married Antonina Miliukova in 1877 in an attempt to put rumours concerning his sexuality to bed, but unfortunately this marriage only exacerbated his own unhappiness, as well as Antonina’s.
Hailing from Ann Arbour, Michigan, Lisa Kron is an American actress and playwright who has enjoyed a successful career thanks to work produced both in the United States and internationally.
She is most widely known for the success of the musical Fun Home for which she wrote the lyrics and book. Fun Home scooped up several awards, including the Tony Award for Best Original Score as well as the Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical and the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2015.
Her work treats the role of the outsider with humour and shines a light on American society using insights from her own experiences as one of the few Jewish people in her family and a lesbian working in traditional theatre.
Poulenc was a prolific composer whose work continues to be performed across the world today. Turning his hand to chamber music, choral pieces, and solo piano tunes (which can be found in the ABRSM Piano syllabus!), his music combined the rigour of 18th century French harpsichord compositions with rich modern harmonies.
As a queer man under Nazi rule, he was in a dangerous position, but Poulenc managed to show defiance through his music. He composed pieces that incorporated the anti-German tune Vous n'aurez pas l'Alsace et la Lorraine and was a contributor to the National Front (pour musique).
These pieces were printed in secret during the French Resistance, cementing his role as one of the most historically important French composers of the 20th century.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this blog. Check out our Singing for Musical Theatre playlist, featuring our favourite songs from a wide range of shows that celebrate inclusivity and authenticity!