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


July 18, birthday of Roger Reynolds

Fascinating guy, this Roger Reynolds (b. 1934). Studied piano, gave it up to become an engineer, became a military policeman, and then went back to school for music. There he met a composer, who whipped him into shape and his career took off. He studied and hung out with Milton Babbit, John Cage, Nadia Boulanger, and Harry Partch. Then he moved overseas for a while and had a fellowship  at the French Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM) in Paris for 20 years, invented software for solving problems in being able to produce some of his compositions.  The second piece below, Archipelago (1982–83), is one of the pieces he created in collaboration with a software assistant.

Cello Concerto “Thoughts, Places, Dreams…”


Archipelago (1982–83)<P>

July 17, birthday of Peter Schickele

This is a repost from August 2013.  In addition to writing paradoies of baroque music, he also composed music for Joan Baez, the musical Oh! Calcutta! the first all nude broadway musical.

I mentioned before that my friend Kerry Wade had been a fan of Peter Schickele, who’d parodied baroque music under the nom de plume of P.D.Q Bach. Around the time of Switched-On Bach, Schickele released a comedy album, whose premise was a small classical public radio station (W.O.O.F.) at the “University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople.”

Between farm commodity reports, the announcer ran a contest called “What’s My Melodic Line?” Listeners were invited to send in the name of a piece by a baroque composer, which a panel of experts musicians then had to try to play off the top of their head. Should the listener succeed, they would be entered in a yearly competition. The grand prize was the complete works of Antonio Vivaldi recorded on “convenient 45 rpm records,” which would be sent to the winner one a week “over the next 35 years.” The composer of the day was described as ” the prolific and least known of all the prolific and little known composers of the baroque period.”

One of my favorite types of humor has always been parody, so Schickele’s poking fun at baroque music really resonated with me. Serious musicians, however, tended to look down their nose at Schickele. I’m not sure why. That someone told jokes about music didn’t stop me from listening to music.

Maybe Schickele was actually making fun of serious musicians and composers of his own day. Only a fraction of Vivaldi’s music, I recently heard, has ever been recorded. And he was prolific. Perhaps Schickele was saying, “how come today, there aren’t any composers around like that?” Or perhaps, he was criticizing how people just keep going back and recording over and over again the same old familiar stuff. Every time I turn on the radio and hear Barber’s Adiagio for Strings or Pachelbel’s Canon for the umpteenth time, I want to throw something at it.

Finally, maybe he was making fun of the bubbly baroque style. Sometimes it is just too upbeat and gets on your nerves. Also, because of its conventions, it seems too “happy” to convey serious themes. For example, Handel wrote an oratorio called Israel in Egypt. In one chorus, the text recounts how Moses called down the plagues on Egypt. It goes something like:

“He spake the work and all manner of flies and lice descended.”

I still laugh whenever I think of that line. Schickele clearly had Handel in mind when he wrote : “Cantata, Iphegenia In Brooklyn.” Here is the complete text:

“ARIA: As Hyperion across the flaming sky his chariot did ride, Iphegenia herself in Brooklyn found.

RECITATIVE: And lo, she found herself within a market, and all around her fish were dying; and yet their stench did live on.

GROUND: Dying, and yet in death alive.

RECITATIVE: And in a vision Iphegenia saw her brother Orestes, who was being chased by the Amenities; and he cried out in anguish: “Oh ye gods, who knows what it is to be running? Only he who is running knows.”

ARIA: Running knows.”

Schickele scored the piece for double reeds. Normally that means oboes and English horns, but he had the musician just use the reeds, not the instruments. The result was a kind of musical Bronx cheer. In addition, the lead voice is a counter tenor, a part that requires a man with a bass voice to sing in falsetto, which imitates the castratto or male soprano which was popular back then. See what I mean by the conventions being kind of incongruous with the subject?

Obviously, the baroque era produced sublime works as well. Eventually, I will get around to discussing them. But, I want to reiterate that Schickele and the other popularization of the classics that took place in the 60s (such as “Switched-On Bach”) probably did more to help the cause of classical music than it did harm. And I will love to the day I die that horrible pun of that last aria in the Cantata, Iphegenia In Brooklyn.

July 16, birthday of James MacMillan: Symphony No.4 (2014-15)

I had to choose James McMillan (b. 1959), in honor of my fellow blogger, Marie Marshall, who also hails from Scotland.  It’s kind of shocking that we haven’t heard of him much on this side of the pond.

James Macmillan – Symphony No.4 (2014-15)

The first piece that brought him to great reknown was The Confession of Isobel Gowdie which premiered at the Proms in 1990, and is an of apology to one of the women executed for witchcraft in the 17th Century.  Here’s that piece as well.

The Confession of Isobel Gowdie

I’ll let Marie comment on McMillan if she cares to.

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