Female Composers' Language

On the occasion of the International Women's Day, we remember the article by Vesna Rožić from the catalog of the 24th MBZ, which we bring in its entirety.
One of the heroes of recent music history, Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951), said: “We should never forget that what we learn about history in school is true only insofar as it does not conflict with political, philosophical, moral or other beliefs of those in whose interest the facts are told, colored, and arranged. The same goes for the history of music and one who sincerely believes in everything he is told - whether a layman or a professional - is helpless and must ‘accept’ it, accept it as they give it to him. Of course, we know that their guesses are no better than ours. ”(Arnold Schönberg, 1941)
Schönberg's thought is convenient and indicative for several reasons. Namely, it implies skepticism towards the universality, objectivity and truthfulness of historical narrative, which will later be considered by thinkers such as J. F. Lyotard or M. Foucault, and which will again be embraced by feminist theories, including (feminist) musicology. So is there any truth in the story of the music? Who writes the truth, who constructs it? Who is the author of the history of music, and in whose name is the story of the music told? Which and whose (aesthetic) ideology at a given historical moment has the power to write history? And if "we know that their conjectures are not better than ours", does this allow the possibility of writing or telling other or different historical stories?
One answer could be that the male patriarchal subject writes the truth, tells the story, and the patriarchal system of power or patriarchal ideology writes history and thus the history of music. Revealing the patriarchal reality, in this case in the field of music as a phenomenon and musical practices, and musicology as a science, thus assumptions of male experience and knowledge as universal, normative and certified, feminist musicological thought in its research of the last decades of the 20th century to discern female subjects (performers, composers, teachers, patrons, conductors…) who in various ways participated in the tradition of Western art than critically considered and questioned the historical paradigm of the canon (eg CITRON: 1993), the idea or ideology of music autonomy and aesthetic evaluation (e.g. CUSICK: 1999), music education (e.g. GREEN: 1997), etc., pointing to their gender constructivity. It also tried to offer different, alternative readings of music and its meanings while bypassing formalist-positivist methods. (eg McCLARY: 1991) In the history of music, as we know it and as we are taught throughout the education system, and which we must "accept as they give us", there are no big female names. However, the non-existence of a female subject in the (great) general history of music does not necessarily mean that a woman as a kind of subject did not exist in the historical musical reality. She did. However, women are never geniuses, they are not the bearers or founders of styles, they have not influenced the creation of their colleagues. By no means are they female Mozarts. Schönberg quite rightly doubts the ideological background of constructing a historical narrative. But would Schönberg, in view of the above, agree to the "falseness" or "doubtfulness" of the construct of historical narrative if the central question were the absence of a female subject from the historical story? Namely, according to Karl Kraus (1874-1936), who in 1916 showed him "Verwandlung" by Dora Pejačević (1885 - 1923), "of course he thinks that a woman cannot be a music creator."
J. J. Rousseau (1712 - 1778), one of the bearers of the Enlightenment idea (of freedom and equality), said similarly and is a paradigmatic example: "Women in general have no artistic sensibility... or spirit. They can acquire knowledge… or anything else with hard work. But the heavenly zeal that lifts and ignites the soul, the inspiration that burns and that is consumed and swallowed…, these magnificent ecstasies that dwell in the depths of the heart are always missing in women's writing (composing). These works are as cold and charming as women; they have an abundance of spirit but they lack souls (feelings); they are a hundred times more resonant (thought) than passionate. "
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) says of his sister Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847), who was also a composer: “Fanny, as far as I know, has neither the inclination nor the call to authorship. She is too much of a woman for that, as befits, she takes care of the house and thinks neither of the public nor of the music world, except that the primary obligation is fulfilled. Publishing would only interfere with her duties, and I cannot accept that."
And Clara Schumann (1819-1896), who enjoyed the support of both her husband and father, writes in her diary: “I once thought I had creative talent, but I gave up on the idea; a woman must not crave composing - no one is capable of it, and why should I be an exception? It would be arrogance, even though my father made me do it in the earlier days.” Clara's thoughts on her composition, Piano Trio in G minor, Op.17: "Of course, it's meerley a woman's work, which always lacks strength, and inventions, here and there."
Exposing the binary system of thought of the Western world, feminist theorists pointed to publicity and privacy as realities in which subjects are allowed to act in a patriarchal reality. The public domain as the male, the private one as the female sphere. Other binary oppositions are at work: culture, mind, action, creativity as a man; nature, emotion, passivity and reproduction (and thus cultural) as a female sphere. From this it is quite easy to conclude why women are not inscribed in the history of music. The history of music is, in fact, a public story. The public is burdened with negative meanings for women. Entering the public meant inappropriate behavior. And in order to enter the public of the music world, the work had to be printed and performed. Let us not forget that women were denied the right to public vocational education practically until the end of the 19th century, when they finally entered conservatories, but not even then. Composition, at least in the beginning, was not an object that women could learn. Women therefore wrote their history, their story and their lives in privacy and in the shadows. Their history is a micro-story.
But even today, when a lot of things have been deconstructed, and when women have won at least a declarative right to publicity, there are very few female subjects on the performing repertoire, and in the pedagogical lines, there are almost none. Although the composers have sporadically been present at previous MBZ programs, this year's MBZ consciously emerges from its male shell for the first time and opens the door to women's story by taking "Women's Composer's Language" as one of the themes.
It is almost impossible to speak of women's compositional writing in the same sense as women's writing in literature, as a kind of language of difference. If we understand women's writing in literature as a specific strategy of writing or reading a text, it is to be assumed that in the field of music this would assume a certain strategy of composing or receiving. If this assumption is of a certain type of content, then it would mean that it is necessary to find content in music that would be described as typical for women. In this sense, it is to be assumed that female music would be one that is gendered as female. This, in turn would mean that a woman a writes from the perspective of her body or from a position of different experience. This means entering the dangerous field of eternally problematic essentialism. Feminist musicological critics will say that such a claim is at least suspicious because of women's socialization in men's culture. Insisting on women’s compositional writing as a version of women’s writing really doesn’t make sense because music is not a language but needs verbalization as a possible way of mediation. And reading and interpreting, and thus declaring a piece of music feminine, or labeling it a "female composer's language", and then reading any gender codes in the music material (especially the difficulties with a fully instrumental medium should be borne in mind) ultimately depends on the strength and persuasiveness of a particular interpretation.
The problem is further complicated when we remember that the category of women is by no means universal, or when we begin to think about it outside the heterosexual matrix as the norm, ie. within other identities such as homosexuals. L. Treitler is right when he asks: does anyone listen to music as a social discourse? (TREITLER 1999: 369-370) How and when, if at all, does the receptor subject listen to music with the composer's gender in mind? Can the gender of a composer really say something about music and, conversely, can music say something about the gender of a composer?
The topic introduced by this year's MBZ is welcome, but also "provocative". Therefore, it may be necessary to read the intention in this direction: as opening public space to contemporary composers, on behalf of those who were not allowed to do so in the past. Therefore, the label female composer's language in this case should be understood only as a pejorative term, and not as a common denominator, eventual style, or type of new, different or of other sensibility. Insisting on difference then calls into question the rest of or the other music, which is not female. Does this mean that the remaining music at MBZ tacitly represents a male composer’s language? By insisting on the specifics of female composition, the female subject is again positioned as otherness. MUSIC belongs to a man, that is, a norm, a generality, a universal, to women a female composer's language. And does that mean that women do not know how to write MUSIC? Questions can still be woven futher.
Sofija Gubajdulina (1931), Mirela Ivičević (1980), Sanja Drakulić (1963), Brina Jež Brezavšček (1957), Isidora Žebeljan (1967) and other composers who will mark this year's MBZ, maybe it would be good to ask them personally. Will each of them agree to bring their music under the female composer's language and will they testify about composing from the position of their conscious otherness as women, ie. from the position of difference, from the body? Or will they insist on MUSIC immune to meaning and insist on its immediacy? The large representation of women at this year's MBZ is just proof that Schönberg was and thought wrong. Women can and know how to be composers. Virginia Woolf once said, “My interpretations and conclusions run through conviction - or is it instinct? - that good books are desirable and that good writers, although they show the full range of human depravity, are still good human beings. Therefore, I ask you to do what is for your good and for the good of the whole world. ”(WOOLF 2003: 110) What remains for us in scientific and other discourse is dialogue, but with full responsibility for our (interpretive) actions. In the end I will quote Rose Rosengard Subotnik, who says: "Every interpreter of human expression has a moral obligation to approach the act of interpretation in the spirit of scrupulous good intention." (SUBOTNIK 1991: 94) in fact a demand for ethics and equally a call for a critical, over and over again, opening of the story, and so is the story of music? Acting ethically would then give all the musicians a chance to tell their stories.
Vesna Rožić
1 Cit. according to GLIGO, 2002: 64, and from Schoenberg, A., Compositions with Twelve Tones In: Style and Idea. Selected Writings of Arnold Schoenberg (ed. By Leonard Stein), London: Faber & Faber, p. 214-245
2 Cit. according to KOS 1982: 30
3 «Women in general, possess no artistic sensibility… nor genius. They can acquire a knowledge anything of anything through hard work. But the celestial fire that emblazens and ignites the soul, the inspiration that consumes and devours…, these sublime ecstasies that reside in the depths of the heart are always lacking in women's writings. These creations are as cold and pretty as women; they have an abundance of spirit but luck soul; they are a hundred times more reasoned than impassioned. " Cit. according to CITRON 1986: 225
4 «Fanny, as I know her, possesses neither the inclination nor calling for authorship. She is too much woman for that, as is proper, and looks after her house and thinks neither about the public nor the musical world unless that primary occupation is accomplished. Publishing would only disturb her in these duties, and I cannot reconcile myself to it. » Cit. according to CITRON 1986: 231
5 «I once thought that i possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose –not one has been able to do it, and why should i expect it? It would be arrogance, though indeed, my father led me into it in earlier days. " Cit. according to NEUL-BATES: 154
6. «Of course, it is only a woman's work, which is allways lacking in force, and here and there in invention» cit. Prema NEUL-BATES 1996: 155
7 It would be good to keep in mind some other identity parameters such as race or religion. For example, do Western white women and blacks of the Muslim faith come from the same experiential starting points and the same bodies?