Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Barg, Lisa. “Queer Encounters in the Music of Billy Strayhorn.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 66 (Fall 2013): 771-824.

Analyzing the music of Billy Strayhorn introduces many issues related to historicizing race, sexuality, and gender identity in the context of mid-century jazz. Two works in particular—Strayhorn’s songs for Federico García Lorca’s The Love of Don Perlimplin for Belisa in Their Garden and Strayhorn and Duke Ellington’s adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite—involve a fictive collaboration with gay figures from the past and address issues of black queer identity and desire. In fall 1953, Strayhorn composed four pieces for a production of Perlimplin by the Artist’s Theatre collective in Greenwich Village. Strayhorn’s music effectively sets the queer topics of Lorca’s text and the Artist’s Theatre production. Strayhorn’s collaboration with Ellington on an arrangement of The Nutcracker Suite to be released as an LP in 1960 also deals with issues of queer aesthetics. For one, working with a removed (dead) collaborator points to the asynchronicity or queer temporality that shaped Strayhorn’s work. Although some critics panned the LP as a crude parody, Strayhorn’s reworking of Tchaikovsky’s music is sophisticated in its relocation and translation of the original text. For instance, in the Arabian Dance movement, Arabesque Cookie, Strayhorn transforms Tchaikovsky’s sonic signifiers of exotica into modern jazz signifiers, akin to tunes like Caravan. Arabesque Cookie can also be likened to the blend of primitivism and stylized modernity of the queer black dandy as well as Afro-Orientalist imagery in Hollywood films. Overall, Strayhorn’s work on Perlimplin and his arrangement of The Nutcracker Suite provide a new queer historical framework for understanding his position in the Ellington Orchestra and the way his personal relationship with Ellington is portrayed in literature.

Works: Billy Strayhorn (with Duke Ellington): The Nutcracker Suite (793-813)

Sources: Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker Suite (793-813)

Index Classifications: 1900s, Jazz

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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Musical Borrowing and Reworking - - 2024
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