Gay Music: The Case of Beethoven's Ode to Joy

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Here is something I wrote which Erwin wont publish as it is too controversial for Germany. Poor Germania.~Paul Knobel

Gay music: the case of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy

Beethoven was it seems gay or bisexual: see the entry on him in Bernd-Ulrich Hergemöller’s Mann Fur Mann: Biographisches Lexikon (2001) with over 12 sections of references (each one containing several works). A major work on Beethoven’s homosexuality is Beethoven and His Nephew by Editha and Richard Sterba (London, 1957; translated from the first edition in German). See also articles on Worldcat. Beethoven’s relationships with women were all difficult and none would marry him. I have included Beethoven in my list of the 10 most famous homosexuals and bisexuals. This list was compiled on completing the 4,000th entry for a proposed work Famous Homosexuals and Bisexuals, which I reached in late March 2010 (the list now contains 4,200 entries). Famous Homosexuals and Bisexuals is limited to males. It is one of the largest lists ever compiled since Keith Stern’s Queers in History (2009) has only 900 entries including some 300 lesbians.

What is the evidence of Beethoven’s homosexuality from his music? The last movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (the very last symphonic statement Beethoven made) culminates in the setting of Schiller’s Ode to Joy, which is now the anthem of the European Community. Only part of the poem is used and it culminates in the words “All men shall be brothers”. This could be read as code for homosexuality. Certainly if close same sex affectional relationships are taken as a type of homosexuality (eg as in Australian mateship) it is homosexuality that is being spoken of, or rather, a type of homosexuality. The “Ode to Joy” points forward to Walt Whitman who in the Calamus section of his Leaves of Grass spoke of “the dear love of comrades”.

In the “Ode to Joy” Beethoven can be seen to have proclaimed his homosexuality (Schiller, the writer of the hymn also had a gay side: see works in Anthony Reid, The Eternal Flame (2002), 208-09). Certainly the last movement of the Ninth Symphony can be interpretated as gay music. See the wonderful recording of the 9th Symphony by Sir Charles Mackerras or that of Christopher Hogwood on original instruments or any number of great recordings (eg those of Herbert von Karajan not to mention Wilhelm Furtwängler).

Paul Knobel Sydney, Australia 8 April 2010–16 August 2010

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