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


Faculty Sponsor

Katharina Uhde

Streaming Media


Arts and Sciences


Music History, Musicology, History, Queer Studies

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 4-27-2023


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.

Biographical Information about Author(s)

Kaelie Blair Eberhart is a senior History major with minors in Music and Music History & Culture from Medaryville, Indiana. She is currently a Collections Assistant at the Porter County Museum. After graduation, she will pursue her master’s in History at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England. Her interest in analyzing the music of Leonard Bernstein came from a longtime interest in post-World War II American music and history, especially regarding the LGBTQ+ community.

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