What is the feminine in music?

Work in progress

  • Gender: a set of expectations and limitations based on sex (masculine and feminine); “a system of assigning social roles, power, and prestige that is sustained by a vast web of metaphors and cultural practices commonly associated with ‘the masculine’ and ‘the feminine’” (Cusick 475)
  • Feminism: according to historian Lerner - “a doctrine advocating social and political rights for women equal to those of men; an organized movement for the attainment of these rights; assertion of the claims of women as a group and the body of theory women have created; belief in the necessity of large-scale social change in order to increase the power of women” - this can fall under women’s rights , i.e. equality, reformist (19th-c./suffrage) or women’s emancipation, “freedom from oppressive restrictions imposed by sex” (this can be a “level of consciousness, stance, or attitude”) (Lerner 236)
  • Why is music considered woman’s work?
    • Erotic power: “music’s irresistible power as akin to the erotic power that women’s bodies are supposed to have over men’s”; “metaphors of gender, sexual difference, and sexual allure”; detachment from the object of study (Cusick 478)
    • Opposition set by Pratt - the art of music and the science of music
    • “Intuition, feeling, imagination” Arthur Elson characterizing woman’s work in music 1903; combined with Pratt’s 1915 article - the art of music (feminine) depends on the science of music (masculine) - metaphor, more detachment, away from “feminine” (Cusick 479)
  • Especially in vocal music with specified female and male characters, music is gendered towards the sex of the character; McClary cites that composers since the 17th-century have worked to establish a language that represents gender in music, i.e. “masculinity” and “femininity” (McClary 7)
  • McClary discusses binary opposition of masculine cadences (occurs on strong beat) versus feminine cadences (occurs on weak beat); feminine cadences more common in Romantic music, although masculine is usually the “norm” (McClary 9)
  • A.B. Marx, in 1845, was probably the first to use “masculine” and “feminine” as signifiers of themes in sonata form: McClary cites Peter Bloom’s translation of an excerpt from Marx’s 1845 text, Die Lehre von der musikalischen Komposition:
    • “The second theme, on the other hand, serves as contrast to the first, energetic statement, though dependent on and determined by it. It is of a more tender nature, flexibly rather than emphatically constructed–in a way, the feminine as opposed to the preceding masculine. In this sense each of the two themes is different, and only together do they form something of a higher, more perfect order.” (Bloom 162)

Women and literature in the 19th century

  • The novel, popularized in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries, was considered a feminine literary genre. This is true regardless of the sex of the author, according to Linda L. Clark.
  • Subjects in novels appealing to women included human relationships and private life.
  • Late eighteenth-century saw the start of many periodicals geared towards a female readership.
  • The number of women publishing in the nineteenth-century increased more than any century before. This included about 4,000 female authors publishing in German and a similar number publishing in French. (Clark 41)
  • One French female author, Germaine de Staël (1766-1817), claimed that philosophy was an appropriate field for men, as men were more skilled at reasoning, but literature was better suited for women, who had an emotional advantage. Clark cites this example as a common argument used by nineteenth-century female authors - using publicly accepted gender distinctions to their advantage. Although, some of de Staël’s subject matter, such as that of the novel Corinne (1807), did not fit these gender distinctions entirely. Clark claims that de Staël was an influence on later female authors of the nineteenth-century such as George Sand, Cristina Belgiojoso, Charlotte Brontë, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
  • Clark argues that the Restoration period (c.1815-1830, with the return of the monarchy to France) featured a joint effort by political and religious figures to emphasize the domestic and maternal roles of women. (Clark 49)
  • George Sand began her writing career with Indiana published in 1832
    • According to Clark, German women wrote under about 1,500 pseudonyms in the nineteenth-century - to avoid recognition of family names (although many women, like de Staël, had published under their given name)
    • In 1832 Sand asked a friend not to call her a woman author (similar to many contemporary female composers) (Clark 52)
    • Sand was criticized in the press, with one contemporary (Honoré de Balzac) observed that she was an artist with “the main characteristics of a man; ergo she is not a woman” (Clark 53-55)
  • In contrast, author Annette von Droste-Hülshoff (1797-1848) encouraged women authors to find their own voice and not follow “male literary models” (Clark 53)
  • Though novels were considered a feminine genre, the number of men writing novels increased towards mid-century.
    • As a result of this, Clark argues that “many critics and male authors insisted that certain topics were inappropriate for women, for moral reasons or because of their presumed ignorance, and so advised women to stick to sentimental domestic fiction and not try to emulate the social realism of writers like Charles Dickens” (Clark 57)

Women and the arts

  • Before and after 1800, women of the upper class were encouraged to learn aspects of the fine arts, such as sewing, drawing, singing, or playing piano - but not encouraged to pursue a professional career in such arts.
  • Several interesting quotes by impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir in 1888 (as cited in Clark 82):
    • “Women are monsters who are authors, lawyers, and politicians, like George Sand…”
    • “Woman… artist is merely ridiculous, but I feel that it is acceptable for a woman to be a singer or a dancer.” Elaborating on this: “gracefulness is a woman’s domain and even her duty.” (does this mean, then, that a female singer or dancer is not an artist?)
    • Supposedly Renoir’s conceptions of a woman artist softened somewhat towards 1900

Masculine Discourse in Music Theory

  • Maus asks, in 1993, how (and if) music theory and gender studies are related.
    • Rather than being solely “about the music,” theory “is a set of texts written by men, about music by men”
    • “two ways that the writing of a male music theorist might display his gender: positive claims of a theorist might reflect the writer's masculinity, or aspiration to masculinity. Or the omissions that delimit a theoretical or analytical approach, the things that are not said or not permitted to be said, might result from a writer's desire to present a masculine image.
  • Maus seeks to move away from Babbitt-inspired positivism and the need for theory writing to be masculine.
  • Mainstream theorists have tended to “neglect metatheoretical speculation.”
    • However, there is a collection of alternative approaches on the edges of the mainstream.
  • Maus notes a tendency in theory (particularly a few decades ago – see Rahn’s "Aspects of Musical Explanation" in Perspective of New Music, 1979) to view systems in terms of binary opposites.
  • This naturally leads to certain systems being classed as masculine-feminine, and Maus examines some implications with regards to Rahn.
  • Discourse, whether about music or in general, may be taken literally or figuratively (that is, a writing may have an unintended, unconsciously-transmitted message).
  • Idea that the need for listening and passive, receptive behaviour, so important is music, is one reason why music has traditionally been considered less masculine.
    • Even more threatening is the emotion (sexualized/erotic listening) innate to music.
  • The “prestige of hard science” might be tied up with the “prestige of masculinity” (275).
  • Mainstream musicology & theory have adopted different methods of avoiding sensitive accounts of listening (276).
  • As theory accepts feminism, it’ll likely become more complicated, and less about either the music itself or a purely subjective account.
  • “Feminism is, centrally, a political movement concerned with the social role of women” (277).
  • Men cannot really become women, but they can be less rigidly masculine in their writing.
  • Afterword
    • Music theory should not have a center and margins.
      • Why is there a separation anyway, with certain authors pushed to the margin?
    • “Listening to music is somewhat like listening to someone talking, and it is also like being the passive partner in a sex act.” (280).
      • McClary brings up the good point that what men say are “loving acts” (fucking, screwing, sucking) have interestingly entered the language as terms of abuse
    • Maddren’s idea that score reading is like masturbation, compared to listening to a piece (281).
      • “Active listening,” while valid, must always be more passive than actually performing the piece.

Kramer's View on Liszt and Gender

Kramer in his chapter, "Liszt, Goethe, Gender" looks at the Faust Symphony and specifically the implications of the "Gretchen" movement.

How Kramer approaches this:
*Standard representations of the masculine and feminine in music.
*The Faust themes are always accompanied by masculine ending and the Gretchen themes feminine
*Gretchen themes also fall into the category of the "feminine" second theme of sonata form

*He puts the Faust and Gretchen movements in direct juxtaposition with one another
*Faust has three themes, Gretchen has two
*Faust has dynamic harmonic language while Gretchen is tonally static
*Both of Gretchen's themes are also have the same phrase structure (static)
*Faust appears in the Gretchen movement (but they both appear in the Mephistopheles movement)

*Characteristics of Gretchen's theme
*Traces placid diatonic pattern
*Transparent articulation of the Ab major triad
*All descending phrases
* “Droop sweetly”
*Unbroken conjunct motion
*"Limply homophonic”
*Fixed pitches
*EXCEPTION: slight transposition from ii to vi in the Mephistopheles movement

*Characteristics of Gretchen/Women of the Nineteenth Century
*sexual purity
*erotic passivity
*the ability to gazed at (Kramer singles this out as most important)

Kramer equates the static nature of Gretchen's movement with the concept of "immobility" in regards to women in the nineteenth century

Women represent the ideal, they were to be gazed at, they held spirituality, they were separate from sexual desire. By painting Gretchen in a static form and stationary key keeps Gretchen the focus of a gaze, a woman in the context of a man, separate from hermeneutics and in the context the of feminine ideal.

The only departure from this is in the Mephistopheles movement where the Gretchen motto reappears in a different key and appears to be far more dynamic than within her own movement.

As the chorus ends the symphony there are lines of Gretchen's sung by a tenor. This complication seems to keep the feminine ideal restrained to the perspective of the male gazer.

Rebuttal to Kramer

Eine Faust-Symphonie and Lawrence Kramer’s reading [appropriation?] of the “Gretchen” Movement
by Ilias Chrissochoidis
-Liszt has been long misunderstood by musicologists
-Claims Liszt to be neglected in his own time and calls his Faust symphonie his most representative work
-Claims that Liszt was preoccupied with Geothe’s Faust for most of his life but disagreed with some of Goethe’s version (bourgeois rather than romantic)
Three hermeneutic interpretations:
1. Vernon Harrison: psychoanalytical reading
2. Paul Merrick: View of Christian love in the symphony
3. Lawrence Kramer: feminist approach that proposes that the idealization of Woman in the 19th Century legitimized women’s social marginalization
Chrissocoidus writes off Kramer as liberal but not liberating
Kramer is merely using music as a form of cultural practices and depreciates music as an art form.
“If a symphonic work or a piano sonata can so easily encode cultural practices, one wonders why so many in the 19th century saw music as the manifestation of the ineffable and the sublime.” (11)
-He argues that the Gretchen theme is not stationary but has moments of instability as well as a faux bourdon like accompaniment
“Can there be one to one correspondences of music and gender, as Kramer proposes? I think not, otherwise music would long have been a depressingly narrow field of artistic expression.”
Chrissocoidus attacks Kramer’s claim that the Gretchen’s music is actually Faust’s. He says then that the gendering should not matter.
He argues that the Kramer is being essentialist
The gaze argument is destroyed if you consider other meanings to Gretchen’s musical actions, anything that reflects any depth destroys the gaze argument.
Chrissocoidus concedes that Kramer’s argument is interesting but only finds it to serve Kramer’s own purpose to prove his argument that the nineteenth century was dealing with sexual differentiation.
By looking at the cultural context Kramer is cutting Liszt’s music off from the musical tradition
“Kramer’s contextualization forces Liszt’s symphony into an alignment with a set of ideas that are foreign to its claims: it is about Faust, not Gretchen; is about character transmutation, not militant gendering. Interdisciplinary study presupposes a dialogue between disciplines, not domination of one over the others. And this dialogue I fail to register in Kramer’s reading of A Faust Symphony. “ (14)


(From Chapter 1 Women in Nineteeth-Century Europe), The French Revolution:
-the Enlightenment led to the questioning of traditional beliefs
-1789 French Revolution drew distinction between traditional and modern beliefs in all aspects of life
-economic changes in the early 19th century led to the rise of a large merchant class
-women, with considerable leisure time, become the predominant consumers of the age
-women who organized salons became leading symbols of intellectual modernism
-could influence politics and art indirectly

(From Chapter 6 Women in Nineteenth-Century Europe,) Culture and the Arts:
-19th century, women receive broader education
-musically, many middle class women are taught music, but expected to continue as amateurs their whole lives, and never pursue it as a career
-women were perceived as spectators or patrons of art, but not accepted as creators
-because of the large female audience, some artists began to work to appeal to the female market
-on the other hand, an increasing number of writers wrote female characters with inherent genetic flaws. These usually focused on women in poverty and prostitution
-the “bluestockings” were a group of French female intellectuals that collaborated and discussed art. They were regularly stereotyped and criticized.
-towards the end of the century, writing and painting became a more common career for women

WOMEN AS MUSES (From Chapter 6 Women in Nineteenth-Century Europe,)
-the female muse was a popular concept among artists during the Romantic era
-it was sometimes assumed necessary for a creation of great art
-art increasingly focused on the feminine, yet women were separated from the creation act
-ex. There was an ever-increasing number of female painters, but women were still barred from studying anatomy. Among male painters, the female nude became an increasingly important subject
-female models were socially one half-step up from prostitutes
-ex. Male novelists wrote books with female heroines to appeal to their female audience, yet women writing novels, and evoking an emotional response for money was considered akin to prostitution

IMAGE (from chapter 2, The Image and Reality of Womanhood, French Feminism in the 19th Century)
- women were idealized in romantic literature , depicted as gentle, delightful, consoling angels
-MARIE D’AGOULT’s novel Nelida, she can apparently be quoted as saying “[The male artist,] His genius or his madness come from you [the woman], it’s you who is responsible for him before god”

THE FRENCH LAW (French Feminism in the 19th century, still chap 2)
-in 1816, divorce was prohibited, unless the husband charged the wife with adultery, or the wife could prove that her husband’s mistress was living in their home
-in which case, either the husband was fined, or the wife imprisioned
-married women were not allowed to legally change in any way jointly held properties of a marriage
-women were not allowed to begin a business without their husband’s legal consent
-if a wife left home, she could be legally force dto pay an indemnity
-father held legal authority over family, able to legally imprision children under 16, and withhold marriage rights to any of his offspring

-Liszt was a follower of Saint simonism, and I believe it was in the 30s. I will triple check that later
-Saint-Simonians were among the first French socialist groups to propagandize the emancipation of women
-they believed they could create a peaceful utopia with sexual equality
-Saint-Simonians felt that women embodied all of the peaceful characteristics that heralded a superior way of life
-group preached for a "couple pope" comprised of a man and woman
-believed that love was the most important social tool available

“‘Angels of the Hearth?’ Leisured ladies and the limits of domesticity” Chapter 4 in France and Women

James F. McMillan

  • France after 1814 didn’t really lose its Revolutionary ideas; the bourgeoisie grew in power, and bourgeois values predominated
    • Headed by the father, the family was seen as the heart of the social order.
    • Women should be wives and mothers (the “guardian angels of the domestic shrine”), and also ladies of leisure.
    • Women should at least appear docile and submissive (even if the men in their lives were idiots).
    • Maintenance of the earlier idea that men and women were to be educated on different subjects.
      • Most girls were educated at home or in low-quality nuns’ schools.
      • In the North, as long as textiles production centered around the home was strong (<1850), women occasionally took up the same business jobs as their husbands.
  • Marriage was primarily designed to enhance familial material interests (“love came later”).
  • Motherhood and domesticity was viewed as much more noble than it was in later years (particularly because mothers were teachers of the youth).
    • Motherhood was seen as the best (only?) road to virtue, education, etc.
  • However… “Through charity, good works, and involvement in organized religion, women of the bourgeoisie and upper classes had the opportunity to expand the boundaries of domesticity, sometimes to the point where they effectively subverted the original domestic ideal.” (52)
  • Women who worked charitably both helped others/served their communities AND developed administrative and negotiative skills.
  • Religion (Catholicism) was increasingly targeted to women, with the result that it became “feminized” (one e.g. the focus moved from more fear-based to love-based).
  • In addition to charity, upper class women still hosted salons (soirées and matinées) which also acted as emotional outlets.
    • Emphasis in the salons was on refinement and elegance.
    • Many salons were political in nature, and surprisingly some women were active (if less visible) political movers in France.
  • Unlike the “opportunities” (as they were) for married women, single women were treated with scorn and prejudice.
  • A more common way of crossing the domestic sphere was through cultural production (e.g. writing, singing).
  • Despite all of these possibilities, most women were still constrained by domesticity.