Saturday, June 2, 2012

Review: Musicology and Difference

Published in 1993, Musicology and Difference: Gender and Sexuality in Music Scholarship, a collection of articles edited by Ruth Solie, is a direct response to Susan McClary’s Feminine Endings (1991) and the growing push to include feminist theory and gender scholarship in musicological research.  The book contains fifteen essays by authors ranging from then-graduate students to such famous scholars as Leo Treitler, Philip Brett, and, of course, Susan McClary on a wide variety of topics.  Not all authors are historical musicologists; the list includes ethnomusicologists and scholars of comparative literature, and there is a strong anthropology thread throughout.  Some articles are purely philosophical studies on the centrality of gender and other dualities in cultural discourse; some use music as a metaphor to guide historical study of gender constructions (both individual biographies and essays larger in scope); others use gender construction to guide musical analyses of specific pieces.

I enjoyed two articles most: Nancy B. Reich’s “Women as Musicians: A Question of Class” and Suzanne G. Cusick’s “Of Women, Music, and Power: A Model from Seicento Florence.”  The former is a survey of women musicians of the 19th century, investigating their social and financial situations in order to understand the circumstances of their compositions.  It single-handedly sparked my interest in women composers after the 17th century (up until now, my research has tended to remain in the 15th-17th-century range).  The latter is a close examination of an opera by Francesca Caccini, looking at gendered power discourses within the music as a reflection of musical and political culture in 17th-century Florence – an approach similar to my own research on Barbara Strozzi.  It served as a great model for close analysis of early tonal music, a tool I am admittedly underutilizing.

Quality, usefulness, and specific focus vary widely, but all share the common goal of investigating the applicability of feminist thought (and other theoretical discourses involving the construction of the Other, including queer theory and postcolonial theory) to conversation about music and musical works.  Most identify an explicit opposition to the hegemonic practice of musical formalism, which must have been standard at the time.  This collection as a whole would be useful for anyone investigating the history of feminist (and queer) musicology, and the diversity of subjects means that individual essays could be highly interesting for a wide range of musicological or anthropological topics.

Things I’m reading:
The Awakening, Kate Chopin
Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
A Journal of Theomusicology (Black Sacred Music, Vol. 8, No. 1), Jon Michael Spencer, ed.

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