Leonard Bernstein and the Lavender Scare: Manifestations of Anxiety toward Queerness in Symphony No. 2 The Age of Anxiety
Level of Education of Students Involved
Arts and Sciences
Music History, Musicology, History, Queer Studies
Anxiety has always been a prevalent theme in music, including popular, symphonic, and operatic music. Many musicologists have analyzed composers’ sociopolitical and personal anxieties and how these have inspired their compositions. However, much of the current literature on this topic limits its study to music between the Baroque and Romantic eras. Additionally, very little research has been done on famous LGBTQ+ composers and how their complex emotions toward their identities influenced their compositions. This research brings 20th-century symphonic works by LGBTQ+ composers into the scholarly conversation by showing how Leonard Bernstein musically represented his anxiety toward his queer identity in Symphony No. 2 The Age of Anxiety.
Age of Anxiety was written in 1949 during the Red and Lavender Scares of the immediate post-World War II period. As a gay leftist, Bernstein was a prime target for these historical witch hunts, which brought him immense stress in light of his LGBTQ+ identity. By analyzing the symphony’s score, Bernstein’s personal letters, and biographies, this research examines how sections of the symphony reflected his intense self-loathing and fear in that period toward his queerness. This analysis reveals that many musical elements, especially dissonance and tempo variations, throughout Age of Anxiety reflect Bernstein’s own feelings of fear and doom toward his queer identity. These findings serve as a call for musicologists to further discuss the works of LBGTQ+ composers fully acknowledging their identities, especially during the “Age of Anxiety,” and how their anxieties toward their queerness can unlock meaning in their compositions.
Eberhart, Kaelie, "Leonard Bernstein and the Lavender Scare: Manifestations of Anxiety toward Queerness in Symphony No. 2 The Age of Anxiety" (2023). Symposium on Undergraduate Research and Creative Expression (SOURCE). 1140.