Citron Gendered Canons

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Gender, Professionalism and the Musical Canon Author(s): Marcia J. Citron Source: The Journal of Musicology, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Winter, 1990), pp. 102-117 Published by: University of California Press Stable URL: Accessed: 12/08/2010 21:06Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

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Gender, Professionalism and the Musical Canon*MARCIA J. CITRON


n the field of literature the concept of the canon functions as a basic tool in defining the scope of the discipline. Works admitted to this prestigious group command deep respect and form the literary core perpetuated in English curricula. They become source material for critical discourse and set exclusionary standards for works whose quality and thematic content do not meet certain disciplinary criteria. As evidenced by the session "Musicology and Its Canons" at the 1987 annual meeting of the American Musicological Society, our discipline has recently appropriated the term as a useful construct for self-analysis. For us "canon" is more or less equivalent with "standard repertoire." We can think of it as a loosely codified organism, broadly accepted, with some degree of flexibility on small exchanges or new members. It does, however, exhibit recalcitrant behavior on wholesale changes, for these reflect major shifts in aesthetic viewpoint that tend to evolve over a period of time. As in our correlate discipline the power wielded by the canon is enormous: its members are presumed best and thus most deserving of reiteration in performance, in scholarship, and in teaching. But even a cursory glance at these musical activities reveals that works by women are absent from the canon. One is hard-pressed to find them in concert programs and in the standard music histories and anthologies. With regard to anthologies, for example, the new edition of The Norton Anthologyof WesternMusic, issued in 1988, includes only one piece by a woman, a monophonic "canso" by the Countess of Dia, in its two-volume compendium of 163 works. In addition to the extremely low percentage, one is surprised to find noVolume VIII * Number i * Winter 1990 The Journal of Musicology ? 1990 by the Regents of the University of California * This article is an expanded version of a paper presented in the session "Cultural and Aesthetic Issues" at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society, November 1988, Baltimore.





representation among recent periods of music, where women have been more visible. Another anthology, Leon Plantinga's RomanticMusic, from 1984, excludes any representation by women, although the accompanying textbook cites Corona Schroter as composer of the first setting of "Der Erlkonig," and later provides a brief discussion of Fanny Hensel and Clara Schumann. Both the third and fourth editions of The Norton Scores (1977, 1984), edited by Roger Kamien,

include one work by a woman, a movement from Ruth Crawford Seeger's String Quartet of 1931. Although one is glad to see some representation by women in most of these collections, still the very lowpercentage is disappointing.'

Women's exclusion has played a role in creating what feminist literary critic Lillian Robinson has dubbed a "counter canon:" an alternative repertoire made up entirely of works by women.2 This is epitomized most directly in the recent Historical Anthologyof Music by Women, edited by James Briscoe.3 The first of its kind, this genderuniform collection owes its genesis and raison d'etre largely to the theory of compensatory history and the related notion of the "exception woman" and her accomplishments. Such a presentation functions as an important and necessary first stage in a discipline's serious exploration of its forgotten female figures. Musicology, in this regard, is still in its infancy compared to the field of literature, and to a lesser extent, the field of history.41 See also James Briscoe, "Integrating Music by Women into the Music History Sequence," College Music SymposiumXXV (1985), 21-27; and Diane Jezic and David Binder, "A Survey of College Music Textbooks: Benign Neglect of Women Composers," The Musical Woman, volume 2, ed. Judith Lang Zaimont, Catherine Overhauser, and Jane Gottlieb (Westport, Ct., 1987), 445-69. 2 "Treason Our Text: Feminist Challenges to the Literary Canon," Tulsa Studiesin LiteratureII (1983), 83-98. For an earlier essay on women's role in the literary Women's canon see Elaine Showalter, "Women and the Literary Curriculum," College English XXXII (1970-71), 855-62. 3 Published in 1987 by Indiana University Press; accompanying tapes are forthcoming. A companion volume, the first comprehensive history, is the forthcoming Womenand Music: A History,cooperatively written, and edited by Karin Pendle. Another resource is Diane Jezic's biographical overview of twenty-five composers, WomenComposers: The Lost TraditionFound (New York, 1988), with accompanying tapes. 4 One fundamental difference between the Briscoe anthology and traditional anthologies is the former's assumption of gender as a necessary condition for inclusion and as an essential analytic category for the prose introductions to each work. In traditional collections gender is not a stated necessary condition for inclusion nor a category for analysis, although the de facto result is the near or total exclusion of women. Gender thus functions as a non-issue. Such categorical non-existence generally occurs when the norms and values of the dominant culture, in this case male society, are assumed for all of society. A similar pattern pertains to the categories of class and race. See Joan W. Scott, "Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis," AmericanHistorical Review XCI/5 (December 1986), 1053-75. Regarding compensatory history see Gerda Lerner, "Placing Women in History: A 1975 Perspective," in LiberatingWomen's




Yet the ultimate goal is not separatism but integration into the mainstream of Western musical history. But at this juncture we have to wonder about the reasons for women's absence from the tradition as represented by the canon, an absence that denies validity, voice, and authority. This article will attempt to provide some answers by examining the complex web of factors involved in canon formation, and by demonstrating how certain gender-specific factors have worked to the detriment of women with regard to that process. Composers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries will serve as examples. The study will also pose challenges towards the adoption of works by women into the canon. I First let us hone in more precisely on what we mean by canon. For there are several different canons, for example the canon of early music, of avant-garde music, of ethnomusicology. I am focusing mainly on the mainstream of Western art music as embodied in the teaching of music history. By and large, especially after 1725, this coincides with the canon of professional performing organizations. Canon formation is complex and embraces a wide swathe of factors that rest on a dual chronological base: conditions and attitudes prevalent at the time of composition and those in force at present. Let us trace briefly the etiquette on the early end. A composition first has to be written, then it has to be published in order to be circulated, at least after ca. 1780. It has to reach public consciousness by a first performance and then remain there through some regularity of performance. This is less likely to happen without some critical attention in print and a positive assessment at least sometime near the work's debut. Although these steps seem the most basic stages on the road to permanency and potential canonization, they actually take place well into the process. As we back up a few notches we confront gender-linked conditions and conventions that thwart women's chances for professional status, a requisite for potential canonic inclusion.History, ed. Berenice A. Carroll (Urbana, 1976), 357-67. Another seminal study is Hilda Smith, "Feminism and the Methodology of Women's History," in the same collection, 368-84. The historical model of the "exception woman" is that only few women-the exceptions-have been able to escape the more typical path expected of women and overcome male-imposed obstacles and achieve success. These issues serve as backdrop to Ruth Solie's discussion of biography and gender in her review of Nancy Reich's Clara Schumann: The Artist and the Woman(Ithaca, 1985), in 19th-Century Music X/i (Summer 1986), 74-80.





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