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The Gender of Music

Guido Zeccola

translation: Cambrian Language Service
original text (Swedish)

 

Have we ever really asked ourselves why there are so many male composers and so few female ones? Apart from some "female" composers in Scandinavia, such as Cecilie Ore (Norway) and Kaija Saariaho (Finland), the only female exponents of "New Music" are in the USA: Pauline Oliveros, Joan LaBarbara, Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson to name but a few with the exeption of Sofia Gubaidulina, of course. Otherwise, it is "virtuosos" of both greater and lesser significance who tend to be women (mainly with Bel Canto voices) and there are many of these. However, these artists are only interpreters of music written by men, they are not composers themselves. There are of course female composers who write good music, but those women who write music without necessarily following male musical and ethical structures and thoughts are extremely few.

 

SOME EXCEPTIONS

With a few exceptions, this has always been the case. While women have played a considerably greater role for other forms of art (literature, theatre, cinema, visual art) since the 19th century, the musical language of women is conspicuous by its absence in the world of "art music". By creating a musical language that is male (we often speak about male and female themes, the powerful male initial theme and the female vocal theme, female cadences that are weak, etc.), men have either sublimated or displaced the real core of the reality being expressed. "Classical" music is essentially a limited type of language because it is an artistic and cultural form of expression of one gender : the male gender. A language created by men and that is therefore an expression of power, a power that does not only encompass music but art in general.

 

EQUIVALENCE

Considering this background, to speak about "equivalence" between women and men is merely a way of deceiving oneself and ending up in a vicious circle of legal terms that do not shed any light on the naked truth. And social equivalence does not solve the problem, but it is instead a new way of enabling men to legitimize their power or their leading role to an even greater extent by granting reforms which do not really influence the system. This is particularly applicable to art and culture. It is here more that anywhere else that language creates the values which are then used by the social and political apparatus against women. Is it possible for a woman to become a composer? Does she have a musical artistic language of her own or does she just use the "male" musical language? Men or "the patriarchy" have committed countless cruel crimes against women. Not only have men and the social system created by men (capitalist and socialist alike) excluded women from their place in history for three centuries, but they have also succeeded in killing women's own language and linguistic expression. The language we speak is based on gender rules, even the grammar is a result of the consistent murder of cultural identity, in which the victims are women. Even though women during the 20th century have begun to take their place as a historical subject in some societies, this process has not yet completely taken place within the linguistic and artistic spheres.

 

LANGUAGE OF THEIR OWN

Women have an artistic language of their own which distinguishes itself from that of men, their powers of expression are different. If we disregard our little region called Sweden, we find that art and musical language (the powers of expression, NOT what I say but how I say it) on the continent is something with a neo-romantic flavour, something sacred, something similar to a DNA structure, a form of reason that has to be protected against all contamination and madness. Womenís language is mad, because it tells us about something else, about a form of ìothernessî that men are afraid of. This "otherness" is something that has to flee way into exile from reason. Reason is structure, reason is male, reason in art just as in life - is the cause of all barbarism. "What fine teeth!" said Buddha when he saw a dog in an advanced stage of decomposition. A few days before his death my fatherís body was already unrecognizable, but his hands were perfect and white...if Buddha had been there, he would almost certainly have said: "What beautiful hands!"

 

NARCISSUS AND THE GREAT MOTHER

It is taboos and it is sacred impatience that defend what men (the world) call art (nature); not a "good" upbringing, neither is it the law. If a tree is sacred for a god, no one will touch it; if an animal is sacred, no one will eat it. But the sacred (holy) prohibitions that protected the Great Mother are gone and a monotheism that has become more and more of a man-theism has destroyed all cults and cultures, all the sacred (holy) horrors of nature.... So art has become the mirror of this fear.... The mirror that accentuates physical beauty is also the symbol of vanity, an involvement with one's own image of self that men ñ right up until our times ñ have not been able to show in the same way. Men do, women are. (When men in popular films of today, for example, look at themselves in the mirror, they are either in a psychological crisis or have something wrong with their masculinity.)... The only man that it is customary to show looking at his reflection is Narcissus. The world or the woman can be destroyed because it no longer speaks! (According to Plato and Spinoza). The most plundered of all sciences has suddenly emerged in a vacuum without any taboo attached to it.

 

THE LAW

Each different thought, each new word is threatened by the law. The male law. The law and sound judgement (which is also common sense) and...morals. The law takes form within an innocent being that meticulously destroys every inner organ. It is like a type of cancer. The French "female" philosopher Luce Irigaray claims that the only female language that historically has been solely female is the language of mysticism. The language that nuns formulated in their diaries and prayer books (for example Teresa from Avila, Angela from Foligno and Marie Guyon) and also women from the East and Middle East was religious, of course, but their language was also a metaphor - if not a parody - of something different which otherwise would never have been accepted by the patriarchy. This means that if women do not also rediscover their own language, their "otherness" in art, they will always remain "the black continent", to which Freud and Lacan banished them, the other part of heaven, which, however, does speak the language of Adam.

 

Guido Zeccola is a music critic and journalist. He is currently the chief editor of STOCKHOLM FRIA

 

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