How To Tell If Your Bassoon Is Gay
23 Nov 2011
Inside the Classics

You guys, this is just the craziest thing I’ve ever read. It’s… well, I’m not even really sure what it is, or was, back when it was written in 1921, but as soon as regular commenter EmilyLiz brought it to my attention, I knew I had to share. It’s a magazine article, written in something approaching a scholarly tone, sandwiched in the middle of a truly massive tome called Current Opinion, from, like I said, the early ’20s, and it is headlined:


…I know. You’d never even considered the possibility, had you? Me, neither. My viola’s never given me even the slightest sign that it possesses a libido, and while I know plenty of musicians who have given their instruments names, I don’t know anyone who’s ever sat down and had the birds and bees talk with them.

Still, I’m an open-minded sort, so I was game to read through the article. Maybe I’d find some hidden truth that could explain why it is that fully 50% of the openly gay population of the Minnesota Orchestra resides in the viola section, (I’d always just assumed it was because we have impeccable taste,) or why violinists are always so pretty on the outside and so ugly on the inside. (Kidding, violinists, kidding. Back to your practice rooms.)

The article, as it turns out, is anything but scholarly. (EmilyLiz tagged it in a Google Books search, so if you want to read the whole thing, click here.) In fact, it’s pretty much a load of vaguely misogynistic garbage wrapped up in profoundly weird phraseology.

“The violin artist… even physically is of a different type from that of the cellist, the first being generally full of masculine vigor and life, while the second is apt to be effeminate, showy, soft and silky.”

To which I can only say: please meet Ms. Jacqueline du Pre.

Yeah, you’re right, there’s nothing vigorous or lifelike
about this performance. What a wallflower.

I mean, come on. It took me exactly two seconds to think of a specific performance I could use to demolish that argument. You’re gonna have to do a lot better than that, Current Opinion of 1921

“Tschaikovsky’s [sic] music… suggests Oscar Wilde’s literature

By “suggests,” I’m assuming you just mean that both of these men were at least part-time homosexuals?

“…there being a strong psycho-sexual resemblance between the writer and musician.”

Mm-hm. That was what you meant, then. Go on.

“Tschaikovsky gave the viola and the contrabass preeminence in his music…

Other than a couple of moments in the sixth symphony, this would be news to the violists and bass players of the world, but since your point seems to be that viola is by extrapolation a gay instrument, it fits nicely with my earlier statement about our viola section, so I’m going to allow it.

“…whereas the music of such as Berlioz or Verdi or Mascagnet or Massenet is of the male of the species – tenor and violin.”

uh. So, wait. All tenors are straight? Is that it? Or are you saying that straight composers like the violin more than gay ones?

“[Konrad] Berkovici observes… that the French and Italians are the best wind-instruments players, and that Teuton women have a predilection for the oboe and the nondescript saxophone.”

What the hell is a nondescript saxophone? For that matter, what’s a Konrad Berkovici? And if you’re right about the Teuton women playing any instruments at all, how cheesed off must they have been to spend years slaving away at their practice stands, only to find out that none of the big German orchestras would take them because they had the wrong chromosomes?

“The violin classes are always full of fiery, dark-eyed boys. Seldom, if at all, have blue-eyed violinists reached any artistic height…

Sorry, Josh. Apparently you can't play the violin.

“…while the classes of cello are comparatively swamped with female students. The males studying cello are in a minority and of a totally different type than their brothers of the violin: blue-eyed, soft, shy, retiring effeminates.”

I double dog dare you to come over here and say that to Tony Ross’s face. And while you’re at it, would you care to wrap up your little treatise with a bit of casual racism?

“Primitive races, or races in process of ascendancy, are said to produce more male violinists than highly cultivated ones.”

…wow. You’ve outdone yourself. Care to back that up in any way?

“[T]he French have not given a single great violinist in the last hundred years. Ysaye, Thibaud, Vieuxtemps are Belgians.”

Which is the same fracking thing and you know it. Also, Belgian isn’t a race. It’s a waffle without a government.

So, what have we learned? That scholarship on sexuality wasn’t exactly at an advanced place in 1921? Certainly. That people who want to ascribe particular human characteristics and personality traits to inanimate objects are a little unbalanced? Perhaps. That Google Books is apparently a treasure trove of Yesteryear’s Crazy? Without a doubt. Thanks, EmilyLiz!

<October 2019>

Become a Fan

Become a fan of Sarah Hicks to hear about new music, videos, event info & special offers.