Feminism

Playlist 2017: 7th commentary

And another catch-up on my Playlist project for 2017. Quite a long post this time, as I’ve been romping through lots of music during August while I had plenty of time for listening. I’m expecting to be adding to the list rather more slowly in September as I’ll be out and about coaching a lot.

  • Maria Antonia Walpurgis, Sinfonia to Talestri, Regina delle Amazzoni(1760). The tale of a successful female ruler was apparently an appealing topic for aristocratic women of the C18th.
  • Valborg Aulin, Piano Sonata in F-minor, Op.14 "Grande Sonate sérieuse" (1885). I feel I’m getting a bit repetitious when I keep remarking on composers who defy the stereotype of C19th female composers having access to the market for domestic music, but generally being locked out of more substantial genres. But it’s interesting that people keep peddling that stereotype even when listing the substantial output in more public genres such as Aulin’s.

Soapbox: A Short Post About Women and the Musical Canon

soapboxAs you know, one of my projects for 2017 is making sure I’m listening to a lot more music by women by compiling a youtube playlist. One of the obvious points that keeps coming out in my commentaries on the pieces is how splendid so much of them are, and how boggling it is that I didn’t previously know it.

A possibly less obvious, and certainly less polite, point is that it makes me wonder how some of the repertoire by men that I do know seems to be taken seriously. I’m not saying that, say, Schumann wasn’t a ‘genius’ (though I am putting in scare quotes to distance myself from that rather loaded label), but I am saying that the label unhelpfully keeps some of his more irritating efforts in the repertoire (Symphony No 4, I am looking at you) when there are clearly better examples of the genre that get ignored because they are by people to whom the ‘genius’ label has been withheld – i.e. women.

Playlist 2017: 6th Commentary

Time for another catch-up on my Playlist project for 2017. I'm now over half-way towards my goal of 100 pieces this year, and I've yet to repeat a composer. Additions may accelerate this month, as I have more listening time than usual (and in anticipation of having less listening time later in the year).

  • Marianna Martines, Dixit Dominus (1774), 1st movement. I was aware of Martines as a composer for harpsichord, but her choral music is a pleasant revelation. This is a decent amateur performance – good enough for me to want to get my hands on it and make it an even better one!
  • L. Viola Kinney: 'Mother's Sacrifice' (1909). Quite captivating piece, speaking through the languages of both C19th pianism and American popular song. And some extraordinary uses of sequence, too.

    The video includes two more pieces by more recent composers, Dorothy Rudd Moore and Zenobia Powell Perry, so stay on and listen to those too.

Inclusiveness Versus Diversity

‘Versus?!’ I hear you cry. It’s true that we usually use these two words interchangeably when we talk about opening up our choirs (or our schools or our boardrooms) to attract people from a wider range of demographics than hitherto. But the two words approach the same project from interestingly distinct angles, and once you start thinking through the differences it can affect how you go about that project.

The immediate context for this is the Barbershop Harmony Society’s new strategic vision, which I both praised and critiqued a few weeks back. The topicality is far wider than this, of course, but it was this set of debates that had me thinking about this in a more focused fashion, and coming to the conclusion that, if you want to get ‘Everyone in Harmony’, inclusiveness is a more useful term to focus on than diversity.

Diversity, Revisionism and the Pitfalls of Ambition: A Barbershop Case Study

Music history, like any history, isn’t a neutral portrayal of the past, but the result of a value-laden selection process. Somebody decides what counts as salient historical fact worthy to be included in the narrative.

Revisionist history comes about when someone notices that the choices underlying the narratives we have inherited about our pasts no longer chime well with the values with which we aspire to live our presents. They then go and dig out information about people and events that had hitherto been omitted, and they re-interpret those already included, sometimes finding quite different meanings in them.

Playlist 2017: 5th Commentary

Time for another commentary on my growing 2017's Playlist. Background to the project can be found here.

  • Ruth Crawford Seeger, Suite No 2 for Four Stringed Instruments and Piano (1929). What I love about this music is the way it is both completely post-tonal and intensely melodic. The part of me that enjoys technical control can marvel at the intellectual integrity of it all, or it can let go and just let the lines pull my imagination in.
  • Pauline Oliveros, Bye Bye Butterfly (1967). Oliveros is one of those composers who work I’ve always felt I should know better than I do. Listening to this brings home why.

Playlist 2017 4th commentary

And it’s time for some notes on the additions to 2017's Playlist since my last post about it.

  • Morfydd Llwyn Owen, Nocturne for orchestra in D-flat major (1913). Starting the next tranche of playlist items with the same ‘why did I not know this?’ sentiment from my last commentary. This piece is in some ways so exactly of its time, whilst being a distinct compositional voice I’ve never heard before.
  • Charlotte Bray, At the Speed of Stillness (2012). And a century later than Owen’s piece, an ex-student of mine making her mark
  • Fanny Mendelssohn, Quartet in E-flat (1834). If I had a criticism of this quartet, it would be that I would have liked the first movement in particular to be longer. When it ended, I thought, ‘No, don’t stop, I was enjoying that’.

Playlist 2017: 3rd commentary

Time for a few words on my growing playlist of music by women. The overall sentiment I am feeling regularly as I add to it is, ‘Why did I not know this before?’

  • Alice Mary Smith, Symphony in C Minor (1863). This was a composer of whom I had no previous knowledge. That stereotype that women in the 19th century wrote in smaller forms (whether because of their inherently domestic nature, or their lack of opportunities to work with larger ensembles) turns out not to be a very safe generalisation.
  • Undine Smith Moore, Afro-American Suite (1969) - I. Andante, II. Allegro molto e marcato, III. Adagio ma appassionato, IV Allegro molto e marcato. I have been thinking quite a lot recently about the way classical music appropriated and commented upon African-American musics in the early years of the C20th (Debussy: I’m looking at you). It is fascinating to hear this cultural dialogue presented from a different point of view, with a much more complex and nuance sense of interchange.

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