Where are all of the women composers.

Firs off, when I say “composer” I don’t mean “songwriter” but writers of what we consider classical music (a stupid term but I never know what else to call it).
I know there are some jazz composers (IMO some jazz can be considered a form of American classical music, and would be included) who are women: Mary Lou Williams, Carla Bley. And there is Dana Suese (sp?) who is almost forgoten but was known as the female Gershwin in her day (similar but not nearly as great).
But go to your local Tower records to the classical dept. and look at the names. They are just about all male. There have been and are famous female performers, didn’t they ever get the urge to pick up a pen and write some of thier own ideas down or is it just that nobody paid attention.
Why is this, I always figured it’s a social issue but curious what everybody else thinks.

Here is a link through AltaVista that came up when I typed in female composers.

I remember hearing the name Lily Boulanger on Public Radio. She wrote some lovely works, and died in the nineteenth century (if I remember correctly) in her early twenties.

Clara Schuman may have been a little more famous.

Women were not encouraged as were their male counterparts, and it is amazing to me that as many women in previous centuries overcame odds and composed.

I can only assume the reason Mozart or Beethoven had no female contemporaries was that back then women just weren’t educated enough or encouraged to develop their talents or share their ideas. Women kept house and made babies and it was considered unseemly for them to try to do anything else.

Granted, Gershwin is a little more recent, but it was still tough for a woman to get a fair shake in the first half of the last century (and maybe in the second half, too :p). In this day and age, does anyone still compose “classical” music (movie scores excepted)?

One thought I forgot to mention in the OP is that there are women who excelled in arts other than music. I should have worded it: If there are famous and brilliant women writers and painters why aren’t there famous and brilliant woman composers?

I click on Spiderwoman’s link and found quite a few pages on female composers. This link right here goes to a page with a drop-down menu that lists several female composers. They’re out there, evidentally people just don’t look for them.

Does Wendy Carlos count?

My impression is that in the old days women were more often than men to be trained at the piano. The purpose was to provide in house entertainment prior to the invention of the phonogragh. This would dovetail with the caregiver role that women are ascribed to. My mother played piano, but none of her 5 brothers did. The few men who by virtue of extaordinary talent were compelled to mature in the field of music as opposed to more traditional male pursuits, no doubt gravitated to the ultimate gratification of preeminence in competition by virtue of the very creation of music as a means of making a living.

We find the same thing in the world of cooking. Women cook,and men are gourmet chefs.

Ok. I’ve been learning a little bit about classical music and composers in music theory. I found out that all the musicians and composers were very restricted in what they could play and write. There is a movie out about the life of Bach and his struggle to be able to compose (although I can’t remember the name). And my teacher told me about one of the less famous composers of classical music who’s sister supposedly wrote the music and he put his name on it because women weren’t intelligent enough to compose. In those days, women were just thought of as mothers and housewives, they weren’t really supposed to work. So it was just about forbidden to do it. I’m not saying that some women didn’t succeed and get to write and publish their own music, but most women didn’t. Thats why all those classical composers are guys. :slight_smile:

Not a bad list I suppose. I have not heard of any of these women (off the top of my head, that is,) with the exception of Fanny Mendelssohn. There are several women who have been left off, some of whom are far more important composers. Here’s a list (incomplete I’m sure) of some other composers:

Hildegard von Bingen - an important 12th century composer.
Clara Wieck Schumann - She was the best piano player in Europe, as well as a good composer.
Joan Tower - Born 1938, and still alive, well, and teaching. http://www.schirmer.com/composers/tower_essay.html
Ruth Crawford Seeger - 1901-1953
Amy March Cheney Beach - 1867-1944 http://www.americancomposers.org/beach_article.htm

All these and more, at http://w3.rz-berlin.mpg.de/cmp/comp_women.html

The biggest reason for the lack of women is what South333 said - women were the housemates, and maybe the instrumentalists. They received no money or encouragement. Fanny Mehdelssohn definitely had some of her works published (or published for her) under her brother Felix’s name. My understanding is that Nannerel Mozart also had some works published under her brother’s name. Her brother of course being Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. This is the tragedy of sexism. We know the greatness of W.A.M. Who knows what else Nannerel could have produced, if she had been given the chance?

To pick up on what Iolanthe said, I remember hearing in my music history class (lo those many years ago) that there is speculation that Nannerel Mozart had as much, if not more, talent and ability as her brother Wolfgang. Nannerel and Wolfgang performed together as small children, but as they grew up, Nannerel was basically kept home to learn the art and craft of womanhood while Wolfgang continued to tour, perform and compose.

I did a quick search on Google to try and find a relevant citation, but no luck. If true, imagine what the music world lost. . .

If you are interested in contemporary composers, I wholeheartedly recommend the Bang on a Can recordings. Despite its name, Bang on a Can is very serious musical thang. I say “thang” because it’s a number of phenomena: a group of composers, a group of musicians, and the shows they play.

Anyway, they have played works by a number of women, including Lois Vierk and Julia Wolfe. So women’s music is being performed, albeit sort of “anonymously”.

Good list – it certainly includes all the ones I could think of, and many more.

Judith Weir, whose works I’ve sung, seems to get a lot of play in the UK, but not in the US. She’s still cranking out music (with varying degrees of critical success). And Ethel Smyth was the subject of one of those scholarly papers that occasionally emerge at musicological conferences in which the author purports to have divined startling new evidence on the composer’s sexual orientation from close analysis of their works, a paper which resulted in the phrase "Ethel Smyth and the Lesbian Fugues would be a great band name’ entering general usage amongst me and my musical friends.

Sad but true.

grienspace wrote:


In one episode of Ken Burns’ newly-released Jazz documentary series, one famous male Jazz musician (Louis Armstrong?) said that he shied away from the piano early on, because it was a “girly” instrument.

Yes. Lots of people. I have given the first performance of at least a dozen new works in my short career – and that’s just me, and just in my little neck of the woods. The last piece I did was by a female composer, BTW.

re the OP: There is a spin-off edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians that is entirely devoted to women. Check it out if you’re interested.

Okay, let me start by saying that I don’t really mean what I’m posting here, or to put it more acuratelly I’m not too sure of what I’m posting. So take it easy and if think it’s a stupid idea just say it.

You see, as a very broad generalization, I don’t think women give all that importance to music.

Sure there’s a dozen or so names cited on this thread and I’m sure one can find much more, but how many of them will be among the greats? How many men will there be for each woman? Sure that may be because they relatively unknown. How many of you have ever heard of Chiquinha Gonzaga (not much of an example, she wasn’t all that hot)? But how many of you have heard of Ernesto Nazareth, or Carlos Gomes or Villa-Lobos? I happen to know them because they were brazilian as I am, but so what, they deserve to be recognized.

Women usally distinguish themselves in music by singing, wich is really a gift you know, they were born with it (not that it doesn’t take a lot of effort to develop it). That is important of course but is the writimg of the music that really matters IMO.

I’m not saying that women can’t do well in music, but that are less interested in makeing music thus there are less composers and less great compositions (there is much more bad or mediocre music than good or excellent so it takes more women making music to have really great music done by females).

You can see that in pop music and at the record buying public as well (who do you think that buys more Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears records).

About the repression thing.
Well, I always tought women were incouraged to learn how to play.

I can’t provide a cite, but I was told once that this was because of women’s menstruation cicle. It apparently makes them more sensitive to taste or less thus incapacitating them to do the really complicated tastes with gourmet quality (weird ah?), whatever.

Is this posted in jest?

I don’t think that music junkies post was a joke. He did give a disclaimer at the beginning. I think he was just throwing out a theory to think about. I’m not saying I agree with it but it made me think for a moment. I would think if women seem to have less interest in composing music it would have more to do with outside influencs (i.e. society). It reminds me of a conversation I had once about guitar players and how there are very few truely great female players (this is a generalization, I know everyone here can name some).

Even now when people talk about great female perfomers, they talk more about the impact or style they had and very little about the music they made. This occured to me while watching the top 100 female artists on VH1 (I got mad more times watching this than any other show I can think of).

By SpiderWoman

Is this posted in jest?


Actually no.
I was afraid that was going to be the reaction to my post, so I tried to make it clear in the introduction it was just a little pet teory of mine and that I wouldn’t mind if you disagreed. I’m sure that my inabillity to write correctly in English passed the idea that I’m just an ignorant prick trying to put women down and I feel I must reply to that and state that:
[li]I was not beeing sexist, I noticed a fenomenom, namely that there are less female composers ( or instrumentists or music lovers like myself for that matter ) than male ones wich led to[/li][li]My trying to explain the fact and coming to the conclusion that it happens because women give less importance to music ( not that they do it worse ).[/li][li]That there must be a biological reason ( I must again insist that I don’t say their music is of inferior quality, but that there are less composers thus meaning there will be less music done by female ).[/li][/list=A]

I justified the points above with:
[li]By what I see it’s women ( girls actually ) that actually buy all these Britney Spears and assorted boy band albums. They like it for the looks and popularity of the “artist” or to dance to.[/li][li]IMO it can’t be a social fenomenom because women were always encouraged to take music lessons and play. Also there’s no big trouble in getting interested in music for it’s intrinsic value without having to know how to play ( I love music and can’t play anything ). That doesn’t happen to as much women as it does to men.[/li][list]

If you dissagree i understand perfectly and would like to know your point of view ( wich is the purpose of the board in my opinion, to learn different views ).
I know it’s not political correct of me to state this but I can’t stand PC ( I think it is racist ).
Finally I apologise for the spelling and coherence of the post but I find it very hard to type in English.

This part of your explanation in particular interests me.

While it could be that there is partially a biological reason, I would think first of more overt reasons why women did not become “great” in past eras, such as the patriarchal power structure and the fact that women (although the some of the women of the wealthier classes may have been encouraged to learn to perform instruments as part of their “womanly training”) were given an inferior education to their male counterparts or no education at all.
At this link you will find a discussion of one of Virginia Woolf’s essays about what would have happened if Shakespeare had had an equally talented sister, and what may have happened to her because of the societal structures at that time that were repressive to women.

It interests me that people look for biological explanations in differences in power groups, as in looking for genetic explanations for academic differences in race. I tend to look for an agenda in those who look for biological reasons to explain performance differences, and that agenda is this: biology is, at this time pretty final. If the performance of an ethnic, gender or minority group is attributed to biology rather than environmental or societal conditions, that gives the majority groups reason to believe themselves better by merit of birth rather than circumstance, and reason to discriminate against other groups.

SpiderWoman, get this, I’ll even write it in bold for you

Women had a musical education, moro so than man.

About the “great music” thing, it’s statistical, less woman composing = less great music composed by woman. It’s quite logical to me.

About the “biological”, would you prefer if I said “guy’s stuff” or “not women stuff”? There are differences beetwen male and female you know. And truth ( I don’t mean that I’m right about the OP, it’s a generalization ) should never be buried because it’s offensive.

I did not, repeat did not say there’s a difference in performance.