July 16-22. Female Composers born this week: Eve Beglarian, Pauline Viardot, Elisabeth Meyer, Marie de France, Marianna Auenbrugger.

It’s funny, I was talking to a friend today, telling her about how I’ve been featuring female composers, and she said, well there’s Pauline Viardot, who’s birthday is today.” The biography of Pauline Viardot (18 July 1821 – 18 May 1910) reads like a who’s who of 19th century composers and writers. She wanted to become a concert pianist, but her mother forced her to become a singer. Her looks and voice caught the attention of many writers and composers, many of whom fell in love with her or created works of art based on her life or to feature her voice. For example, George Sand’s, based her novel,
Consuelo, on Viardot. Gounod wrote wrote his opera Sapho, to feature her, as did Meyerbeer and Saint-Saëns

Here, Cecilia Bartoli sings Viardot’s Hai luli

Another nice piece is her Romance for Violin

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July 19, birthday of Marianna Auenbrugger (1759 – 1782)

Since I published this, I found this website dedicated to female composers:  Association of Swedish Women Composers (KVAST).

Finally! After a couple of months searching for the names of composers in each day’s Wikipedia entry, I found my first female composer.  What is it with the classical music world?  Even in many European countries, gender parity and equal pay for musicians lag far behind that of men.  This brings me to some research I learned of that’s looked into the causes and solutions to the imbalance.

Recently, I started teaching a workshop entitles “Everyday Bias,” created by Howard Ross.  One of the examples of bias that Ross gives is how many orchestras have adopted a technique to reduce gender bias against women in orchestras when selected based on live audition.  I decided to look up the study on the web, and found some related background ones as well.

For example, in 1996 a paper was published revealeding that:

“In a cross-national study, the gender researchers Allmendinger and Hackman have established percentages for the representation of women in orchestras in four countries: 36% for the USA; 30% for the United Kingdom, and 16% for both East and West Germany. They also found that women were concentrated in lower paid orchestras, and that they are notably less present in major orchestras.  Far from leading the way, gender integration in orchestras is lagging behind the progress being made in the rest of society.”  (Osborne, William, “Art Is Just an Excuse: Gender Bias in International Orchestras. October 1996 issue of the IAWM Journal, pp. 6-14.)

Osborne culled through many studies and other data on the topic.  He cites the factors which have contributed to, or–in many cases– have allowed men to continue this practice:

“We could summarize these conservative tendencies of international orchestras with the following five factors. 1) They believe that music has qualities defined by gender and ethnicity, and that the uniformity of these factors produces aesthetic superiority.  2) Traditional values about the sexuality of subjugation and women disturb the uniform dynamic of authority in the orchestra´s hierarchical atmosphere.  3)  The gender bias is constellated with chauvinistic overtones of national and ethnic superiority.  4)  The attitudes toward women are affected by the cross-national interaction of the conductors and musicians.  5) Patrons expect a masculine and ethnic character to orchestral music.” (ibid.)

The statistics for American orchestras are much better because of “blind” auditions practices that were adopted during the 1970s and 80s.  In a blind audition, the judges sit behind a screen and cannot observe who is playing.  Some orchestras also cover the audition stage with a carpet so judges cannot hear the footsteps, which differ greatly between men and women.  The results, according to Dr. Cecilia Rouse of Princeton, a labor economist who studies the effects of  gender bias, were striking:

“we find that the screen increases—by 50 percent—the probability that a woman will be advanced from certain preliminary rounds and increases by severalfold the likelihood that a woman will be selected in the final round. By the use of the roster data, the switch to blind auditions can explain 30 percent of the increase in the proportion female among new hires and possibly 25 percent of the increase in the percentage female in the orchestras from 1970 to 1996.”  (Goldin, Claudia and Cecilia Rouse. 2000. “Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of “Blind” Auditions on Female Musicians.” American Economic Review, 90(4): 715-741.)

It is very hard for people to deny their biases when the data is provided.  Based on similar studies on the biases against name, physical attribute, or ethnic origin, some employers remove the names and pictures from CVs submitted so those can not be used unconsciously by the staff involved in the recruitment.

At least for female musical performers, employability in orchestras has somewhat improved in some places, however, I wonder if anyone has studied why there are so few female composers.  Actually, according to Wikipedia, there appear to be hundreds.

So why do we hear so little about them?

According to Wikipedia, Marianna Auenbrugger (1759 – 1782) studied with Hayden and Salieri in Vienna, the latter publishing a one of her works at his own expense after her death. Whoop-dee-doo!

Below is the only Youtube video I could find of Marianna, and it’s only the Rondo from her Sonata in E-flat.

Sonata in E flat Major Rondo

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