I mentioned recently that I made a long soapboxy post and then didn’t post it due to a flaw in the thinking I was doing while standing on the soapbox. Leaving argument aside, I’ve recently been reminded — three times — that there are still people out there who don’t acknowledge that women can be great. At just about anything, except perhaps pole dancing.
And I’m afraid that while we call this a post-feminist age, it is no more post-feminist than it is post-racist, even in the West. One facet of it not being quite post-feminist yet, daaaaarlings, is that we still don’t remember women of genius the way we remember men. Female composers get perhaps the shortest shrift of all. It occurred to me that I have never, as far as I know, heard the music of a single female composer working before circa 1960.
Now comes my confession: with the exception of a few (often histrionic) pieces that I love, by and large I don’t appreciate classical music all that much. I just don’t connect with a lot of it. So for that reason, too, I haven’t gone out of my way to listen to classical and post-classical works by women.
But now I find myself really wanting to know the music that women wrote way back when. So I’ve started off with Clara Schumann (nee Clara Wieck; married to Robert Schumann), who seems to be the best-known woman composer of the 19th century. In her own time she was famous both as a virtuoso pianist and a composer. I randomly began with her Pianoconcerto in A minor, Op. 7.
Am I a music critic? I am not. All I can say is, I find this music complex, deeply nuanced, and inventive, with a magisterial power of communicating emotional tone. The first movement in particular changes feeling so often and so fluidly that listening to it is like being a secret ear in a ballroom full of people, picking up the vibes of different hearts and minds. Does it thrill me? In places, yes. But I’m trying not to judge this by the thrill factor, given that Motley Crue thrills me too — I’m trying to be objective. Maybe I’m not qualified to make such an assessment, but I can’t see how this music is inferior to that of the great male composers, or why it shouldn’t be as much studied and performed and lauded.
Various questions are swirling in my head and the soapbox beckons, but for now I think I’ll just keep poking around and discovering music by women.