for 4-part male chorus and piano four-hands
Commissioned by three choruses — the Golden Gate Men's Chorus, the Boston Gay Men's Chorus and the Empire City Men's Chorus — Queer Hosannas sets to music three poems by three gay poets. The forces are a four-part male chorus and a piano, four-hands.
Like my Gay Life (a song-cycle for baritone and orchestra commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony), S/M Ballade (a solo-piano piece commissioned and premiered by Marc Peloquin) and Love Addiction (a cycle of poems by performance-artist John Kelly for baritone and piano), Queer Hosannas is part of my continuing celebration of aspects of the gay experience, making vivid what until recently has been virtually invisible in the world of classical music.
Queer Hosannas' first movement — "Whitmansexual" — takes its text from a maverick poet known by a single name, Antler. It is a litany of tributes honoring Walt Whitman, our gay primogenitor. By turns bawdy, funny and absurd, each word of the poem, by adopting the "sexual" suffix, parodies the word "homosexual" — the clinical label that in contemporary usage has taken on regrettably hostile connotations. The music is fast and energetic, with frequent fugal entries by the various voices. In the process, the music explores many keys, at length ending quietly in E-flat major, where it began.
This quiet calm continues, developing into an ecstatic mood, in the second movement, "Then and Yes" — a setting of two poems of Muriel Rukeyser that I have musically conjoined. "Then" is a tiny poem of love, whose brevity belies its considerable intensity. Ending, as it does, with a line irresistible to any composer — "It is building music" —, I just had to set it. "Yes" is a poem Rukeyser calls "Looking at Each Other." Like "Whitmansexual", it is a litany poem, each line of which begins with the word "yes." Each "yes" is an acknowledgment and remembrance of a loving relationship now gone, lost. Some moments are tender, some angry, some mundane. In contrast to the charged stillness of "Then", "Yes" moves continually forward, touching gently on various keys, climaxing briefly, then vanishing in a haze of G major.
There is, however, nothing hazy about "Carioca Boy"! The poem, by Jaime Manrique, is insouciant and naughty — a frank appreciation of a sexy Brazilian's body. Each inch of his anatomy is poetically turned over, explored. This, I felt, demands a tango, that most sensual of Latin dances, which in this case sinuously transforms itself into a fugue on the last words of the poem — "Carioca boy, when your carnal saudade sets my lips afire." At the reprise of the tango, I wanted still more excitement, so a mariachi band seems suddenly to materialize, with triangle, tambourine and guiro adding their percussive clatter. The coda climaxes with wave upon wave of the impassioned invocation, "Carioca boy, Carioca boy!"