“SEX HAS ALWAYS BEEN the favorite topic of every intellectually cultured person I’ve known. The favorite topic for every unintellectually cultured person I’ve known is Books, or, what is worse, Music.” I’m thinking of these words, from a 1952 entry in his Paris Diary, as I ring the bell to Ned Rorem’s Upper West Side apartment on a late, gray winter’s afternoon.
Yes, I remind myself, we’ll talk about sex, but I also want to talk about books and music, Rorem’s books and music. It’s a prodigious body of work. His corpus of music includes symphonies, concertos, operas, keyboard works, chamber pieces, choral music, and songs, lots and lots of songs. How can we not talk about all this music? And the books—eighteen at last count—comprising several volumes of essays and six volumes of diaries—spanning the years 1951 to 2005—which Edmund White once referred to as Rorem’s “long peacock tail of memories.”
“No writer has composed, and no composer written, better than Ned Rorem,” gay poet J. D. McClatchy writes in the Foreword to A Ned Rorem Reader (2001), an anthology published by Yale University Press, which won an ascap-Deems Taylor Award for musical writing.