Classical Pride Playlist

By Evan Leslie, Library for the Performing Arts
June 29, 2018

The Public Programs team at the Library for the Performing Arts celebrates LBGTQ composers, both contemporary and historic. Enjoy this playlist of masterworks: 

Thomas Ades

Acclaimed composer, conductor, and concert pianist, Thomas Ades has written three operas, Powder Her Face, The Tempest, and The Exterminating Angel. He collaborated on two works, Polaris and In Seven Days, with Israeli video artist and former partner Tal Rosner. Ades taught composition at the Royal Academy of Music and is a current member of the Board of Directors for the European Academy of Musical Theatre. He is artist in residence this summer with the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood. 

Suggested music from our playlist: “Polaris” Voyage for Orchestra and “Hell is Empty” from The Tempest

Check out Thomas Ades at the Library.


Samuel Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti

Samuel Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti were both acclaimed classical composers and life partners. Gian Carlo Menotti is well known for the 29 operas he wrote, including the popular Amahl and the Night Visitors. Samuel Barber was known for his orchestral works, including Adagio for Strings. Barber wrote three operas, which Menotti provided two original and one revised libretto for. The two bought a house in 1943 and lived together for over 40 years.

Suggested music from our playlist: Summer Music by Samuel Barber and "Adagio from Violin Concerto" by Gian Carlo Menotti

Check out Samuel Barber at the Library.

Check out Gian Carlo Menotti at the Library.

Benjamin Britten

English composer of opera, chamber music, song, and symphonic music, Benjamin Britten enjoyed a life-long romantic partnership with tenor Peter Pears.  His works were often commissioned by the BBC and from the British government, such as his opera Gloriana, written for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. He collaborated closely with the gay poet W. H. Auden. In his later years, he founded the Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts, which still runs today. Britten became the first composer to receive a life peerage, becoming Baron Britten of Aldeburgh. The home he shared with Pears has now become a museum of their lives.

Suggested music from our playlist: "Sonnetto XXX" from Seven Sonnets Of Michelangelo and "Four Sea Interludes: Moonlight" from Peter Grimes

Check out Benjamin Britten at the Library.


Leonard Bernstein

Composer, conductor, pianist, and former Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein is beloved as the composer of West Side Story, On the Town, and Candide. He was the first conductor to present a weekly concert series for television. He championed the Israeli Philharmonic, and he was the first American-born Music Director of the Vienna Philharmonic. He was married to Felicia Cohn Montealegre, with whom he had three children, but his wife and friends were all aware of his homosexuality. He left his wife briefly in 1976 to live with Tom Cothran, a director of a classical music radio station in San Francisco.  He beautifully set Walt Whitman's poignant, unfinished poem, which pleads for understanding "To What You Said . . .", and his opera A Quiet Place focus, in part, focuses on a family dealing with a troubled, gay son.    

Leonard Bernstein in rehearsal for unidentified production, no. 169

Leonard Bernstein in rehearsal for unidentified productionImage via NYPL Digital Collections; ID 57362845

Suggested music from our playlist: “Somewhere” from West Side Story and “To What You Said” from Songfest (text by Walt Whitman)

Check out photos of the original cast of West Side Story from the NYPL archives.

Check out Walt Whitman manuscripts from the NYPL archives.


John Cage

20th Century American Avant Garde composer, perhaps best known for 4’33”, John Cage collaborated with choreographer and romantic life partner Merce Cunningham throughout his life and career. Most of his works involved departure from tonality and use of prepared instruments and unusual items such as plants and furniture. Cage also created visual art, wrote as a philosopher and music theorist, and developing aleatoric (chance driven) methods for compositions. He spent free time as a mycologist, expert on funguses and mushrooms.  

Suggested music: from our playlist: "Credo in Us" and "In a Landscape"

Check out NYPL's  John Cage digital exhibition.  


Wendy Carlos 

Walter Carlos began transitioning in 1968. Wendy Carlos is now best known as a composer and arranger of music for synthesizer, who found commercial success with the Switched on Bach albums. She also composed/arranged music for Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and The Shining,  and composed the score for Disney’s TRON.

Suggested music from our playlist: Prelude and Fugue in A Major (Bach) and "Theme to TRON"

Check out Wendy Carlos at the Library.


Aaron Copland

American composer, best known for works Rodeo, El Salon Mexico, Fanfare for the Common Man,  Aaron Copland is considered the dean of American mid-twentieth century composers. He worked in every contemporary medium, writing music for film, theater, dance, radio, and television.  Copland was the dean of "American Music," mentoring an entire generation of American composers, including many who would become the first generation of "out" composers in America. 

Aaron Copland, [no. 13]

Aaron CoplandImage via NYPL Digital Collections; ID ps_mus_374

Suggested music from our playlist: "Quiet City"and "El Salon Mexico"

Check out Aaron Copland at the Library.

John Corigliano

John Corigliano wrote his First Symphony to honor the friends he lost to the AIDS epidemic. Well known for his film scores for Altered States and The Red Violin, he is also one a very few contemporary composers to have their works performed at the Metropolitan Opera. The Ghosts of Versailles premiered there in 1991.  Corigliano has composed works with the texts of Bob Dylan and Dylan Thomas.  His One Sweet Morning was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. His students include Nico Muhly, Eric Whitacre, and Mason Bates.

Suggested music from our playlist: "Snapshot - Circa 1909" and “Tarantella” from Symphony No. 1

Check out John Corigliano at the Library.

David del Tredici

David del Tredici won the Pulitzer Prize in 1980 for "In Memory of a Summer Day." Best known for adaptations of the texts of Alice in Wonderland series by Lewis Carroll, del Tredici Has written several “Gay Works” incorporating the work of famous authors Allen Ginsberg, Walt Whitman, and Rumi. His piece "Bullycide" was composed  as a reaction to the bullying provoked suicides of Tyler Clementi, Billy Lucas, Asher Brown, Zack Harrington, and Seth Walsh.

Suggested music from our playlist: “Matthew Shepard” from 3 Baritone Songs and "Mandango: II. LGBT"

Check out David del Tredici at the Library.

Meredith Monk

American avant garde composer, performer, filmmaker, and director, Meredith Monk is well known for her vocal works and dance works, which often combine singing and unusual vocalizations with physical movement.  She is also a prolific filmmaker, and some of her music has appeared the films of Jean Luc Godard. She was the subject of a documentary by director Peter Greenaway. Her life partner was Dutch choreographer Mieke van Hoek, who died in 2002. Meredith Monk’s most recent work is Cellular Songs, which made its world premiere at BAM in March 2018.

Actress/writer/director Meredith Monk in a scene fr. the Off-Broadway play

Meredith Monk in a scene from Off-Bradway play Specimen DaysImage via NYPL Digital Collections; ID swope_626518

Suggested music from our playlist: "Ellis Island" and "Panda Chant li"

Check out Meredith Monk at the Library.


Nico Muhly

Born 1981, Nico Muhly studied music composition with John Corigliano and Christopher Rouse at Juilliard. He works as arranger and orchestrator for both classical and pop musicians, including Bjork, Philip Glass, Grizzly Bears, and Usher. A member of Icelandic record label Bedroom Community, his opera Two Boys was commissioned by the English National Opera and the Metropolitan Opera.

Suggested music from our playlist: "The Egg" and "Seeing is Believing"

Check out Nico Muhly at the Library.


Pauline Oliveros

American electronic music composer, accordionist, and teacher, Pauline Oliveros pioneered composition and performance techniques using magnetic audio tape mixed with oscillators. She founded the San Francisco Tape Center with composer Morton Subotnick.  Her Deep Listening Institute preserves her work and promotes her philosophy. The organization was founded after an album she recorded in a subterranean cavern led her to seek healing properties in the music.

Suggested music from our playlist: "Bye, Bye Butterfly" and "Suiren"

Check out Pauline Oliveros at the Library.

Pytor Illyich Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky is a late Romantic Russian Composer, best known for his 6 symphonies, assorted ballets, and operas. Historians and biographers more often than not agree that Tchaikovsky was gay, desiring the company of men over women, and having had several failed heterosexual relationships and a marriage. His many letters reveal his struggles and romantic desires. 

Tchaikovsky at the age of 51, taken in New York City. An illustration from

Pytor Illyich TchaikovskyImage via NYPL Digital Collections; ID 5111244

Suggested music from our playlist: "Fantasy Overture" from Romeo and Juliet and "Elegie" from Serenade for String Orchestra

Check out Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky at the Library.