Award Date


Degree Type


First Committee Member

Jennifer Grim, Chair

Second Committee Member

Alfonse Anderson

Third Committee Member

Janis McKay

Fourth Committee Member

Kenneth Hanlon

Fifth Committee Member

Troy McGinnis

Sixth Committee Member

Marina Sturm

Graduate Faculty Representative

Louis Kavouras

Number of Pages



A small enclave of gay composers in New York, led by Aaron Copland (1900-1990) and Virgil Thomson (1896-1989), established a distinct twentieth-century musical sound that became synonymous with America. Copland and Thomson were prominent among a group of gifted gay musicians and conductors in New York in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. While perhaps not self-identifying as gay, as the term had not yet been coined, they did however acknowledge, honor, and support one another's lives as being homosexual. Is it possible that something as seemingly unrelated as sexual preference could, in fact, impact a musical style?

In this document, the author will consider what these great composers' homosexuality may have had to do with their music making and how their gay social network--specifically during the height of the American Homophile Movement--supported a form of expression that directly influenced one another's compositional techniques. In addition to examining well-known works, the author will focus on two specific works for flute, Copland'sDuo for Flute and Pianoand Thomson'sSonata for Flute Alone.The exploration of these works, and the highlighting of the many similarities between them, will serve as an example of the mutual, homophilic influence these composers had upon one another.

Arguably, Aaron Copland is considered one of America's most notable composers. For many people, his music has become synonymous with American pride and culture in the twentieth century. It may be heard today in television advertisements and movie trailers as well in concert halls, and is often used to evoke an American spirit. In fact, it has been called the quintessential "American sound" by many critics and commentators. Virgil Thomson, composer and music critic for theNew York Herald Tribune,also had significant influence in the development of a uniquely recognizable American sound. However, the compositions of Thomson are often eclipsed by, and do not retain the equivalent and widespread notoriety, of the compositions of Copland.

What is often misunderstood today is that the unique quality of composition that Thomson began, while collaborating with famed lesbian writer Gertrude Stein on the operaFour Saints in Three Acts,greatly influenced the compositional style of Aaron Copland.


Copland; Aaron; 1900-1990; Flute; Gay composers; Homophile; Homosexual; Homosexuality and music; Homosexuality and popular music; Style; Musical; Thomson; Virgil; 1896-1989


Composition | Music

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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