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Feminist Theory in Music

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In 1970, numerous female historians acquired professional training in musicology in the United States of America and along with reviving feminism, produced a new discipline called “women’s studies” (Pendle, 2000). By 1980, ‘women in music’ courses started being taught at American universities and the demand for sound recordings and scores increased. Leonarda (founded by Marnie Hall, 1977) was one of the recording companies which started specializing in historical and contemporary work by women in the 1970s. Furore Verlag (founded in 1986) was the first publishing house to seriously print books about and music by women composers.

The comprehensive “New Grove Dictionary of Women Composers (1994)” contains over 900 entries (Hopper, 2006). Although women’s choruses played an important role in festivals and rituals of ancient Greece and Rome, music-making by women aroused a lot of commentary by Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle and they differentiated respectable women from female musicians and entertainers. This is notion is supported by Karin Pendle (2000). Authors such as Plato, Aristotle, Clement, Basil, and Boethius associated manly music with reason, restraint and order, whereas music associated with women or effeminacy was though to give rise to sensuality, excitement, passion, or madness.

Socrates warned that music in the Mixolydian and “intense Lydian” modes, which were associated with women and goddess worship, would give rise to drunkenness, softness, and sloth. He preferred a harmony that “would fittingly imitate the utterances and the accents of a brave man who is engaged in warfare or in any enforced business. (qtd in: Hopper 2006)” Aristotle claimed that professional musicians were vulgar, that performing music was unmanly, except when the performer was drunk or just having fun.

He stated that the Phrygian mode, associated with the great goddess Cybele, should not be allowed, “for the Phrygian harmony has the same effect among harmonies as the aulos among instruments – both are violently exciting and emotional. (qtd in: Rodintzky, 1999)” Some songs, which date back to before the feminist movement, carry out the same function as the feminist movement does nowadays, for example, warn young women against the dangers of deceptive men, getting involved with wrong partners before birth control was available, or getting married.

Such songs include “Omie Wise”, “Careless Love”, and “Beautiful, Beautiful Brown eyes”. “Omie Wise” is a song about an American murder victim.

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preview essay on Feminist Theory in Music
  • Pages: 10 (2500 words)
  • Document Type: Essay
  • Subject: Sociology
  • Level: Masters
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