In early 2017, Christine Lemke-Matwey vented her anger in Die Zeit about the choice of Pierre-Laurent Aimard as winner of the Ernst von Siemens Music Award, a prestigious international prize for musicians, composers, and music scholars (www.zeit.de/kultur/musik/2017-01/siemens-musikpreis-pierre-laurent-aimard-frauen-quote, accessed 27 Apr. 2017). Although a distinguished pianist and ambassador for contemporary music, he was a typical and conservative choice, she claimed, a choice that publicly and unnecessarily perpetuated male dominance in music. Naming several female performers, composers, and musicologists who would be equally deserving, Lemke-Matwey reminded her readers that in the forty-four [End Page 493] years since its foundation, only one woman had ever been awarded the main prize (violinist Anne Sophie Mutter in 2008). Although not wholly insensitive to the potential damage her article might do to other award holders, the awarding institution, and even those female musicians who had been nominated, the author held the two women on the jury responsible for not making their voices heard more effectively. The recent history of this prize, we might argue, is a powerful symbol of the continued significance of the glass ceiling in music.
Indeed, this little anecdote illustrates a pervasive question about women's work in music: how do we break the cycle of hermetic canons of 'great music' composed by 'great men', music which is then given credence by being performed by great men, and in turn gives authority to specific methods of analysis tailored to precisely this male repertory? Parsons and Ravenscroft suggest an answer in their edited collection, the first instalment of a series of four proposed volumes analysing a large and diverse variety of music by women composers. They propose we make up ground on the analytical side of the dilemma, in the hope that this will also increase the visibility of women composers and performances. Their ambitious series with Oxford University Press offers an analytical approach to the music of women composers in 'Secular and Sacred Music to 1900', 'Concert Music, 1900-1960', 'Electroacoustic, Multimedia, and Experimental Music, 1950–2015', and 'Concert Music, 1960–2000'. It targets the heart of those prestigious areas of the Western musical tradition where the air is thin, the competition fierce, and where the old duality of masculine/intellect vs. feminine/body still tends to hide beneath neutral statements, analyses, or awards. Composition, conducting, and musicology—and in particular analysis and theory—seem the main culprits in perpetuating the imbalance.
Of course, Parsons's and Ravenscroft's solution is controversial, as any must be. Midtwentieth-century women composers became deeply frustrated by being called 'woman composer'. Elizabeth Maconchy once pondered that 'it is a mistake to divide composers into men and women—as if the music they write is necessarily different. … Can any honest and intelligent listener who does not know already tell which is which?' ('A Short Symposium of Women Composers', Composer, 6 (Spring 1961), 20). Pulling together a broad collection of composers on the basis of their gender and a time-frame alone could be perceived as risky. Yet, compiling and promoting alternative canons is one powerful strategy to break the glass ceiling and, as the editors demonstrate in their detailed Introduction, the growing presence of women in all areas of musical work has not led to a noticeable surge within mainstream analytical, let alone theoretical, musicology—yet.
Parsons and Ravenscroft have set out a framework for their contributions: no composer will feature in more than one volume, and the analytical essays treat 'a single representative composition in the genres of song, chamber, and large-scale orchestral or choral music' (p. 1). Within these parameters, the aim is to offer analytical perspectives utilizing those methods which have become the standard for close-range examination of twentieth-century Western art music over the past few decades, from neo-Riemannian readings of serialism to cultural theory. This is an elegant feature of this...
Over the past 30 years, musicologists have produced a remarkable new body of research literature focusing on the lives and careers of women composers in their socio-historical contexts. But detailed analysis and discussion of the works created by these composers are still extremely rare. Thisis particularly true in the domain of music theory, where scholarly work continues to focus almost exclusively on male composers. Moreover, while the number of performances, broadcasts, and recordings of women's compositions has unquestionably grown, they remain significantly underrepresented incomparison to music by male composers. Addressing these deficits is not simply a matter of rectifying a scholarly gender imbalance: the lack of knowledge surrounding the music of women composers means that scholars, performers, and the general public remain unfamiliar with a large body of excitingrepertoire.Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers: Concert Music, 1960-2000 is the first to appear in an exciting a four volume series devoted to the work of women composers across Western art music history. Each chapter, many by leading music theorists, opens with a brief biographical sketch of thecomposer before presenting an in-depth critical-analytic exploration of a single representative composition, linking analytical observations with questions of meaning and sociohistorical context. Chapters are grouped thematically by analytical approach into three sections, each of which places theanalytical methods used in the essays that follow into the context of late twentieth-century ideas and trends. Featuring rich analyses and detailed study by the most reputed music theorists in the field, along with brief biographical sketches for each composer, this collection brings to the fore theessential repertoire of a range of important composers, many of whom otherwise stand outside the standard canon.