What nonsense: a British Conservative Mansplains Why Women Composers Aren’t As Good as Men

What a crock–another white male (British, this time) telling us why men are so much better than women. GRRRR. This is supposed to be the 21st century, not the 19th.

The Spectator (or is it Expectorator?)

There’s a good reason why there are no great female composers, by Damian Thompson

“Last week a 17-year-old girl forced the Edexcel exam board to change its A-level music syllabus to include the work of women composers. Jessy McCabe, a sixth former at Twyford Church of England High School in London, started a petition after studying gender inequality. Good for her, you might think. But is it good for A-level students?

A delicate question lies at the heart of the subject of female composers, and it’s not ‘Why are they so criminally underrepresented in the classical canon?’ It’s ‘How good is their music compared with that of male composers?’”

Read more….

German composers Robert Alexander Schumann (1810 - 1856) and wife Clara Schumann (1819 - 1896) who is playing the piano. Original Artwork: An engraving from a daguerreotype .   (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

German composers Robert Alexander Schumann (1810 – 1856) and wife Clara Schumann (1819 – 1896) who is playing the piano. Original Artwork: An engraving from a daguerreotype . (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

4 Responses to What nonsense: a British Conservative Mansplains Why Women Composers Aren’t As Good as Men

  1. kvennarad says:

    Nevertheless this raises significant questions in an enquiring mind, some of which are hinted at in the readers’ comments below the article.

    It is certainly true that if you look at composers that are considered ‘great’ – the likes of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven – there do not appear to be any female composers ‘in the same league’. I would suggest that we will not find one simple reason for this phenomenon (I call it ‘phenomenon’ rather than ‘fact’, because it seems to run like sand through my fingers rather than responding to my grip) but rather a complex matrix.

    By contrast, in my own field we have Aphra Behn, Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Bowen, Isabel Allende, and so many more. We even could cite JKR (as, to my mind, the equivalent of Salieri!). Take any other field of creative art, and we are represented shoulder-to-shoulder with the male geniuses. Even take music, and we provide as many great >interpreters< of musical genre. So why this apparent dearth in composition? I'm unlikely to draw the same conclusions as Damian Thompson does, but it is a puzzlement nonetheless.

    Apropos nothing at all, I'm going to leave you with a clip. I fell in love with the song and (inappropriately) with the composer, when I first heard it.. Laura Marling, seen here when she was still a teenager.

    Liked by 1 person

    • kurtnemes says:

      I think you found the answer–women were accepted as writers and musical performers in olden times. So that would have meant fewer opportunities to study musical composition, especially under a male composer. It’s probably just become part of the collective bias. Sure we believe women composers now have the same musical abilities as men, but do they not study it because they’re not good at it (inherently), or because no one encouraged them, or because there are few reasons to study it as it is a male dominated field–as is conducting? There are stories I’ve come across where a female composer had to go under a male pseudonym in order to have her works published. So there’s a bias. It’s also unfair to compare modern composers to the 3 big Bs. No modern female OR male composer has risen to those heights, partially because no one composes in the classical or romantic styles any longer. Though Aarvo Paart, Philip Glass and Steve Reich are famous, of the latter two, there is some unlistenable or insanely repetitive stuff. And Cage gave us 4 minutes and 23 seconds of silence. Thank you for the Laura Marling. I’d never heard her. There a bit of Dylan and Joni Mitchell in her. Must devote some quality time to listening to her. Happy New Year! Thanks for being such a constant reader and I always enjoy reading and discussing your insightful, witty, and poetic comments.


      • kvennarad says:

        I don’t think that was precisely the point I wanted to make. The history of female writers is such that for at least two centuries, for a period roughly coincidental with the period of ‘great composers’, we have had and continue to have outstanding women writers. That’s why I started a list with Aphra Behn, and continued to Isabel Allende. I could have continued to a more contemporary writer than Allende, perhaps, but she is hardly ‘olden times’. Many went under male pseudonyms (Ellis Bell, Currer Bell, Acton Bell, George Elliot, A M Barnard [a writer I can’t actually stand], Georges Sand, and… okay, if we must… Robert Galbraith) but they all emerged and were recognised as being writers of eminent talent. Other areas of artistic endeavour recognise women, having been similarly at one time areas of male preeminence, only musical composition is the exception, and it’s a startling exception. The arguments you make are just as true for all the other areas of artistic endeavour, yet women emerged. That’s what makes their lack of visibility in musical composition all the more startling. Are there some other factors at work that we’re not seeing?

        And no, I don’t think it’s unfair to compare classical and (comparatively) modern composers. For a start, there are hundreds of (deservedly) lesser-well-known composers from, say, Beethoven’s day, whom we hardly consider, even if we have heard their names. Stravinsky and Shostakovitch to my mind are good enough to mention in the same breath as the Classical/Romantic ‘greats’. Ligety rocks my world. Also I can listen all day to Glass – I think Bach would understand him perfectly – and consider Boulez to have been a genius. Even in the case of Cage’s 4’23” someone HAD to do that – okay it was a simple dodge, but no one had done it before, no one had made a piece of music that was at the same time completely identical and totally different each time it was performed, inasmuch as it made the ambient sound of each performance and venue integral to the piece. What an amazingly brilliant idea! I don’t think the ‘classical or romantic style’ argument should be allowed to colour our attitude to musical composition – after all, it does not in other fields of artistic expression. No one paints like David any more, no one writes like Thackeray or Fielding any more, yet we don’t subject them to golden-ageism. Great though Beethoven was, that period of musical composition does not, and should not be regarded as, some sort of apotheosis.

        IMHO 🙂


  2. Musicophile says:

    I really think women never got the opportunity, society just didn’t let them. I have several beautiful works from Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann. Fanny was clearly discouraged from pursuing her composition, some of her works were apparently even published under Felix’ name. And Clara was way to busy earning money as a star pianist. There really is no rational explanation why women should be worse composers than men, especially given they have done well writing music in many other genres, from Jazz via Folk to Pop.

    Liked by 1 person

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