Another article, another stereotyped view of women from the 1890s. Once again, women are deemed capable of interpreting, but incapable of producing – seen as sub-par composers – and even accused of “retarding” the growth of musical understanding. And yet it is not a simple case of sexism, since women violinists are praised and men are insinuated to be unable to get in touch with their emotions. Understanding the role that gender has played in the history of music remains an elusive task…
This is from The Current Opinion, January 1895.
T.L. Krebs…The Sewanee Review
Since the days of Gobi, the Hindoo goddess, of Miriam, the Jewish maiden, and of the Sirens of ancient Greek mythology, a woman has figured conspicuously in the development of music. Although she has never been a great productive genius, although she has never created symphonies, operas and oratorios of lasting value, her influence has been such that, without it, we could hardly conceive our music off the present to be possible. In music we need all the faculties, all the characteristics, in a word, all the personality of the human being. Since the nature of woman is such as man does not possess; since the elements of male and female individualism combined make up what we know as human mind and soul, it is evident that, without the assistance of woman, without her influence, her emotions, her intuitions and her prejudices, a full development of music would be impossible. Since music is the language of the emotions and appeals directly to the heart, it must necessarily affect strongly a being so preeminently emotional, one who consults the heart much oftener than the head. As there exists a clearly defined masculine and feminine element in the nature and construction of music, it is evident that there must also be the same condition in its interpreters.
The instrument justly considered to be most pre-eminently suited to women, because of its lightness, its form, the natural grace required in its treatment, but, above all, because of the deep poetry of its tones, its emotional qualities and its sympathetic appeals – the violin – was for years neglected by female musicians, for reasons which, plausible though they may seem, are, nevertheless, utterly without justification. Every twenty years ago it was an odd sight, and one that rarely failed to elicit visible and audible comment, not always charitable, when a girl or young woman carried a violin case through the streets of a city. Now it is quite different, thanks to a few noble women, who, not heeding this criticism as adverse as it was prejudiced, devoted themselves to the queen of all musical instruments. The violin, in the hands of a skilled female performer, appeals to the emotions of the listener as it does but rarely when played upon by a man, although the greatest depth and grandeur of which the instrument is capable have not yet been elicited by women.
Prominent among women who have composed music is Clara Schumann, who has published many more or less acceptable pieces of vocal and instrumental music. Fanny Hensel, the sister of Felix Mendelssohn, composed a number of songs and pianoforte pieces in the style of her illustrious brother. Josephine Lang, a friend of the Mendelssohns, also composed some pleasing vocal music. Louis Ruget composed songs that were admired and sung, for the time being, throughout France and Belgium. Marie Malibran, the great vocalist, was also the author of several fine songs. A few years ago an opera composed by Ingeborg von Bronsart, the celebrated pianist, was performed at Weimar under the direction of the composer. This opera met with a favorable reception both from the public and from the musicians of that great art center. Among the few women who have gained fame as writers on musical subjects are Elisa Polka, Mrs. Raymond-Ritter and Anna March, who have written some excellent sketches and essays.
But why is it that woman, who has gained the height of fame not alone as executive musician, but also as painter, poet and novelist, who has even manipulated the chisel and modeling-clay with success, and has attained renown at the bar and in the dissecting-room, has not excelled as a productive musician? Though woman is highly qualified by nature to express ideas in music as if they were the workings of her own soul, though she is peculiarly fitted to reflect the poetical nature of the art on the background of her own individuality, she cannot create these poetic reflections in compositions original with herself. Her nature is opposed to the cold reasoning and the solution of profound musical problems, such as must be encountered by the successful composer. This perhaps explains why there is not a single composition by a female musician that bids fair to hold even the second or the third rank. As a teacher of music, except in the field of theory, woman has been eminently successful, though it is painfully obvious that some, by their incompetence and superficiality, have done much to retard a healthful growth of musical understanding. In this capacity women have a great and glorious future before them.