Summertime Musical Musings I: George Haas

It is summertime. That suggests reading during down times, and even some cleaning up-late since this should have taken place in Spring. But maybe Spring cleaning is meant to be of the physical kind (as for Passover) whereas that which takes place in summer is to be mental.

In any event, I have been cleaning files off my computer and desk, trying to make sense of what remains, and circling back to materials I saved so I could comment on them after a certain gestation period. I wanted to make sure my responses would be well- reasoned and less emotive, as the materials initially provoked a strong negative response.

I have always thought that great music is a category unto itself. Should one care if the composer is a little green Martian, of either or no sexuality; a horse on an exceptional course of steroids; or a true-blue anti-Semite (like Wagner)? I come down on the side that says a composer may be outside of my understanding, a true bastard as it were, but that the music must be judged in and of itself. Thus, I love the Ring and detest the moral attributes of the man who wrote it.

Now, when we come to matters of sexuality or animals (let us not combine the two please), I would make a similar comment. I really don't care if one is straight, gay, bi, or any other of the other current designations of sexual categories. I will stand on the judgement of the music as music which must be undertaken by the listener or critic. The artist too is always judging, at every moment consciously or sub-consciously, assessing the rightness of every move. Of the thousands of possibilities, he must choose the right one; and upon reflection, retain the initial opinion or reject it. All other considerations are not worthy.

So do we really need to know the intimate details of a composer's sexuality, and how much of this needs to be displayed publicly?

In a New York Times article of February 23, 2016, penned by Zachary Wolfe, we are regaled with the sex life of composer George Haas. His music is apparently more buoyant and upbeat now that he has found love with his submissive but feminist Negro wife Ms. Williams-Haas. "The most important step," he said, "was to accept, yes, I want to be dominant. Yes, I love to play with pain." Is this really what we need to know in making an evaluative listening to his music? Is it helpful, or is it just smarmy? Does it in any way enlighten us about the music, which is apparently also political. Susan Boynton, chairwoman of the Columbia music department, where Hass now teaches, said she saw no cause for concern. "People might be more interested because they'll realize he's such a multifaceted person," she said. Really? One's sexuality is now what makes one multi-faceted in academe? I thought academe would welcome rich and deep opinions predicated on wide and deep knowledge, or aesthetically rich creative work. But now it would seem that diversity is desirable in that world in regards to all of life's nooks and crannies. Maybe we will find that Haas, like Wagner, is an anti-Semite and we can welcome this "multifaceted" aspect of his personality as well. Or maybe he likes Chinese food, prefers black to brown shoes, or likes a Cab over a Merlot. The possibilities are excitingly endless.