Dutch musicologist says too many women not good for music

The Dutch musicologist Kees Vlaardingerbroek has written a provocative article arguing that preferential treatment for female and minority composers is alienating audiences and writing the white male out of musical history.

He writes: The dangers of this assault on heritage should not be underestimated. The Amsterdam Concertgebouw does not have a future without Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. A forced replacement of the great masters by female contemporaries or composers with non-European roots will irrevocably lead to destruction of public interest, to empty concert halls and eventually even their closure. And Amsterdam without the Concertgebouw is just as unthinkable as Paris without Notre Dame. It is a mistake to think that ‘our’ past must be rewritten or destroyed because it has an unmistakable dark side. That dark side must not and cannot be denied, instead, it has to be discussed even-handedly. At the same time, it is cynical and destructive to deny that Western musical history has brought forth incredible wealth. Let us enjoy that wealth fully and without feelings of guilt.

Read the full article here.

 

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  • Unfortunately searching for great women composers before 20th century is a waste of time. There are plenty of great novelists and poets, but hardly any truly great composers. I am sure the reason for this was lack of opportunities for women. Today there are plenty of gifted women composers and they do get performed to the extent modern compositions get performed. The music composed by modern composers should be programmed more often, whether they are written by men, women or those from minority groups. History will decide which composers are worthy to survive for posterity.

    • Not a waste of time although women obviously had a hard time of it. Nanerl Mozart, Amadeus’s older sister, whom Wolfgang adored, composed but nothing has survived. Her works were highly praised by Wolfgang and her talent may have been .
      in his league.

      Perhaps the major female composer of the 19th century was Clara Schumann, who I also suspect helped along her husband, Robert, and never has gotten the credit she deserved. She was a top pianist.

      Amy Beach was another and her husband required her to give up composing and music for him (a sign of the times). There are others but the gatekeepers on classical radio and symphony programmers, with a few exceptions, don’t like to talk about them.

      • While I enjoy pieces by both Clara Schumann and Amy Beach. I think we can both agree that they produced comparably little music compared to those considered part of the “standard repertoire”. Even if we played all their music every season we would not fill much of a typical concert series. While we can all agree that this is deplorable, there really isn’t much anyone can do about it.

  • As usual with articles of this type, the author sees it as a zero-sum game: more female/ minority composers must mean less Bach, Beethoven & Brahms.

    Has anybody actually noticed a decrease in performances of Bach, Beethoven & Brahms?

      • As a matter of fact, an increase in music I would not like to hear even if paid for. Unfortunately I did not know it before listening to it once.

    • That was not the point at all of the article. The author described a tendency to look at music in a politicized way, as a tool of social engeneering. He is right to see this as a threat. Politically-correct programming is popping-up everywhere and you can see the ideological background from which it is nourished: the wave of enthusiastic liberation from oldfashioned, restricted traditions, the revolutionary spirit which looks at social structures rather than the contents and meaning of the art form itself.

      http://subterraneanreview.blogspot.com/2018/12/warming-up-nonsense.html

        • Where ideology is seen as more important than the art from, it is a threat for the art form indeed.

          A little bit of reading history should make that quite clear.

          • Was Sally too busy to reply?

            ‘Threat’? I expected something better from you. But you disappoint, as always.

          • That’s my feeling also often. All this fear mongering about the classics… as if we don’t have enough of them. And about woman composers I’ve a LOT to say but I’m not allowed. For instance I think that it was Boulez’ sister who wrote most of his music. I know this from my aunt who lives in Paris, but I’ve to stop because I hear footsteps.

            Sally

  • We ALL (not only Concertgebouw!!) do NOT have a future without Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Schumann, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, ad infinitum. It is clear that the world is on its way to self-destruction! This is not to say, that a woman cannot be an excellent composer (Fanny Mendelssohn!), but politicizing identity is self-destructive, and that is what the world is doing.

  • Slippery slope. I would have written it this way:

    The Amsterdam Concertgebouw does not have a future without Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. A forced replacement of the great masters by contemporary composers of no consequence will irrevocably lead to destruction of public interest, to empty concert halls and eventually even their closure.

    • Amen. As a female, I can’t imagine the feeling I would have if I suspected that my creation was being performed, read, or exhibited because of my gender, and not because of an intrinsic value. We have been down this path quite a lot recently and I have personally witnessed situations where a review committee was told that they should choose a new staff member only of a certain _______________ (fill in the blank: ‘gender’, ‘race’, ‘religious background’ or other criteria). Never was it mentioned that the new person also be the best candidate for the position…… We need to be blind to everything except quality, if we expect to progress as human beings.

    • While we are at it, the Concertgebouw wouldn’t have a future without Bruckner and Mahler, the composers they have performed and recorded most often. They can hardly sell out the Diepenbrocks, Andriessens, Pijpers, Wagenaars etc by their own means, without adding a “safety-first” piece in the program…
      With all the financial crises hitting various
      orchestras, the abominable political correctness will be the doom of culture and civilisation.

  • Vlaardingerbroek is right.

    But: it is anyway absurd to project contemporary ideas about social and cultural justice into the past when such ideas were either entirely absent or only beginning to appear, as in the Enlightenment at the end of the 18th century.

    And then, also white male European composers had to work within the conditions, cultural and social, they found themselves in, and for which they did not have any responsibility.

    Apart from criticizing identity politics in music, it would also be an improvement if Vlaardingerbroek, as programmer of the Saturday Matinée with the marvellous Dutch Radio Orchestra, would stop presenting new music which is as bad or as mediocre as bad or mediocre identity-correct composers. Clearly, identity politics have nothing to do with artistic quality.

  • Tired: Ugh, everyone is doing a Beethoven cycle this year. Every orchestra programs the same thing. So boring! We want original programming.
    Wired: Classical music will literally cease to exist if we don’t get our yearly Beethoven cycle in every tiny city.

  • I am sorry, but we are doing all this wrong. This, forcing more and more women (just because it is now the fasionable thing) into conducting careers very often they are not ready/good enough for, is not the way. Equal opportunities is the way.

    Right now the average level of women conductors and male conductors is not the same, but we see that a very large number of orchestra directorships, assistantps, and agency signings are women’s. Why the level is not the same for women and men in conducting? For one simple reason: not enough women study conducting. When more and more women go into professional conducting training the level of the women on the podium will raise, as those who are more talented will reach the top positions for their own merits, not because of some fashionable ridiculous positive discrimination.

    I am a woman playing violin in a top orchestra. I earned my position through study, hard work, and being better than other men and women who auditioned for the same position. There was no positive discrimination.

    I am sick and tired of having to go through rehearsals with these young assistants and conductors who are there JUST becase they are women, because the ‘novelty’ of a woman on the podium is ‘cool’ and because agencies find them – right now- a good business. I am sick of media counting how many women are there in an orchestra, I am sick of playing ‘all female’ composers concerts. I want to play the best music and be conducted by the best conductors regardless of their sex. I (as a woman who played since age 4 and by 13 practiced 5 hours a day) find offensive that this young ladies are being given these opportunities JUST because of their sex. This is not the way. Fairness in auditions, competitions etc. IS the way.

    • If we were to make list of all the mediocre conductors in the world, the vast majority would be men, so I don’t really understand the point you are trying to make.

      • Thank you – I wanted to make that point. To me, many of the most interesting conductors today ARE women. And it’s not because I like looking at skirt, either.

    • “Why the level is not the same for women and men in conducting? For one simple reason: not enough women study conducting.”

      Why would any talented female musicians (pianists / violinists) in the past even *consider* wasting their time studying conducting when it was clear that the profession did not welcome them? Think of the personal choices they faced. Why would they jeopardize their chances of a solo career or an orchestral position by wasting time on studying conducting when the time could be spent practicing their instruments in preparation for an actually viable career instead?

      But don’t worry. Now that it becomes clear women conductors can and indeed do get top positions, soon you can expect to see a lot more mediocre female instrumentalists who could never make it as soloists start to consider conducting instead, just like their male counterparts have been doing in the past decades.

  • Such nonsense.

    I guess he’s never heard of Marin Alsop nor seen how popular or how good she is as a conductor and a leader? Hilary Hahn? Rachel Pines Barton (and a host of others)?

    This thinking is from the 1920’s: “The Amsterdam Concertgebouw does not have a future without Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.”

    More accurately, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw does not have a future with Kees Vlaardingerbroek and his way of thinking.

    • Alsop Good?? She’s neither appealing to the ears nor the eyes, just like that Young, the Hamburg Opera luckily got rid of!…
      Good grief! Vertical traffic signalling, as if the orchestra was on the other side of the lake!! ‘Call that conducting?!

      • Both Alsop and Young are usually considered good conductors just short of the very best. That is still a very impressive standard.

        Of course all conductors have better and worse concerts; and have orchestras with whom they gel, and others which they don’t.

  • In the article, he proposes to eliminate bias by judging submissions in blind tests; this seems like a reasonable proposal to me, and one that might very well reduce any remaining gender bias in composition.

    • In composition, there are many more biasses than gender bias. In fact, most of the territory is made-up of biasses.

    • Blind tests: I suspect that most judges, if they are any good, could probably tell who composed which piece without having the name of the composer written on the piece. (At least for the most prominent contemporary composers).

  • [[ the Amsterdam Concertgebouw does not have a future without Bach, Beethoven and Brahms ]]

    But it got along just fine for centuries without an army of ‘musicologists’. Their absence would pose no threat to ‘Western musical culture’, or to civilisation overall.

    The fatuous Notre-Dame bandwagoning in the posting is particularly risible, and an indication of the inellectual shallows of musicology on the Amstel.

  • In addition to my previous post: not only the Roman Catholic Church has its Inquisition (now called Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith), but, among many other religious and non-religious groups, the identity-movement, too. When- end wherever doctrine takes over and dominates all else, one is in the devil’s kitchen – the hell the gates of which are held firmly closed from within.

    Kees Vlaardingerbroek makes a very valid point. One which will soon be condemned as heresy by the various Inquisitions on the left and right.

    • Yes, the Catholic Church is guilty of many sins but – to my knowledge – it has not thrown homosexuals off clips or advocated their murder for, oh, at least 100 years or so.

      • The Church isn’t guilty of any sins. It is holy and without blemish. It is the body and spouse of Christ and the household of God. That is why the apostles’ creed professes belief in it.

      • Sir Roger Screwloose? Good riddance to him.

        Another of the class of English landed gentry who believe themselves entitled to government positions – by dint of their ‘x’ and ‘y’ chromosomes alone.

        You do your argument a disservice by dragging his name in.

        [He’s also a ‘composer’ – did you know? Clueless dreck it is, too. ]

        • It was the mentality comparable to the one emanating from this comment, which has now been shown-up as totalitarian ‘thought policing’, dressed-up as leftwing ‘humanism’, like Russian politbureau members who knew everything about how to create a paradise on earth, as we know. Scruton has never occupied a government position, but since his many books and his impressive BBC documentary about beauty demonstrated his expertise in aesthetics, a non-paid advisory job would have dome a lot of good among the nitwits of the UK government who did not take the trouble to find-out the truth of the interview affair.

          Another embarrassing sign of ignorance in this comment: only recently was Scruton knighted, because of his impressive life work, so it is nonsensical to call him a member of the ‘landed gentry’.

  • Actually, the point I take from Vlaardingerbroek’s article is that we should not allow identity politics to get in the way of judgements of quality.

    In particular, I agree with his proposal that “one could select on quality alone, from a number of anonymous compositions”. Anonymity is one of the best cures for all manner of prejudices (this is evident from the effects of blind auditioning in the recruitment of orchestral players). Of course, when it comes to commissioning, this raises an issue, in that one cannot know in advance what a composer will do (and it would be undesirable to legislate too closely what a composer should do); consequently, one tends to rely on a composer’s existing /oeuvre/ as a proxy. Such a proxy is not perfect, but it is far better than looking at CVs or demographic information (in my view a panel charged with selecting repertoire or choosing whom to commission should have the competence and confidence to evaluate the artistic quality of the contenders without relying on contextual information).

    Inevitably, many of the seminal composers have **in some respect** led a relatively privileged existence (I hasten to add that I do not think there is any singular objective measure of “privilege”; indeed, some “privileges” arise out of disadvantage/adversity — among the foremost centres for children’s music education in Vivaldi’s time and place were the orphanages!), and there may be others who might have done just as well had they enjoyed similar privileges. But life is unfair, and positive discrimination does not solve the problem. Ultimately, the beneficiaries of positive discrimination or affirmative action tend to themselves be just as privileged (e.g.: studying with the “right” professor at the “right” institution at the “right” time). There is no escaping the fact that to become a great composer requires exceptional motivation, élite education (which can take various forms, including being taught by a suitably qualified family member — for example, the Renaissance female composer Francesca Caccini was able to access a serious musical education because she was the daughter of a male composer), and a lot of time.

    At the same time, I think there is a genuine problem with the musical canon being too small. This is why we should be seeking out great music from all eras without regard to demographic categories. That is, we must seek out neglected male composers with no less zeal than we seek out neglected female composers. To include a composer out of tokenism to fulfil a quota is an insult to that composer, because it impugns his/her artistic merit. When selecting repertoire or deciding whom to commission, let us do it for the right reasons, so that the composers selected have every confidence to treasure our esteem as genuine and to believe in their capacity to make a meaningful contribution to the advancement of the western classical-music tradition.

    • I submit that privilege attains to be an absolutely superbly gifted composer. Talent isn’t politically correct. It is colour and gender blind. Put the talent before any of these things and you’ll start to win over the public. Right now, quotas drive people nuts.

      • Huh? How bizarre. There is abundant evidence that women were not really allowed to be composers in the 19th century, being heavily discriminated against.

        The issue is that we are where we are. We can’t change what happened in that era, and we have this great repertoire which is written almost entirely by white European men.

  • History will ultimately just write off these crappy female composers to a mere cultural “mistake”. What is more worrying is so many women in orchestras bringing down the level and beauty of the music they attempt to play.

  • Sensible chap. We have a similar situation with plays at our local theatres: they’re all on politically correct themes, miscast to appeal to the intersectional cult, or given a “reinterpretation” to the point of destruction. The net result is that audiences stay away and refuse to part with their hard earned cash. Get woke, go broke.

  • Of course, his views will be taken as politically incorrect because we can no longer have intelligent dialogue about sensitive subjects without being easily triggered. I subscribe to a few Google alerts, and one is set to ‘composers’ so every day I get a listing of news items pertinent to composers in my email. These are links to websites like this one. On the average, around 80% of the time the articles are about composers who are female or ‘people of color.’ I’m not at all adverse to learning about either, but things are out definitely out of balance. I realize that there’s this sense of ‘catching up’ that’s going on, but male composers are effectively eliminated from these events which appears to be very deliberate.

  • obviously he is insecure about his own abilities and has mommie issues that he never addressed. get over yourself. p.s. beethoven was a minority. bach’s wife most likely wrote the suites.

    • Worse: a research team at the Texas Institute for Technology has recently discovered that the Credo and Agnus Dei in Bach’s Hohe Messe were written by the wife of Bach’s neighbour with whom he had a short but intense illegitimate affair in 1746. ‘The rather bland sadness of the Agnus Dei can be understood as reflecting her disappointment about Bach as a loving companion’, the leader of the team from TIT said in an interview.

  • Any artistic endeavor which promotes gender, sexual preference, or race as an important factor in determining merit is not actually promoting art.

    • Have a look at https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liste_von_Komponistinnen I am reasonably sure that there are more than a few works of these composers worth listening to. Personally, I’d love to hear some music by Louise Farrenc, Sofia Gubaidulina, Johanna Kinkel, Emilie Mayer, Fanny Mendelssohn, Dora Pejacevic – to name just a few of my favorite female composers. Other than Gubaidulina I have not heard ANY of them ever in a concert, in decades as a music enthusiast.

    • I guess we won’t ever know the answer to that. But I’m thinking that Beethoven lived a life distinctly opposite to privilege and comfort, renting all his life and he was not considered good enough for the WOMEN he loved. I suspect females wouldn’t have accepted HIS way of life.

  • Social engineering is appalling, full stop. Let the cream rise to the top, if you please, instead of the hideous dilution and mediocrity we now must endure.

  • Medicine has an”unmistakable dark side to its history”.
    For obvious reasons I don’t hear anyone advocating its destruction.
    Mahler will outlive Sally Beamish.
    Music lovers will find other means of accessing his music. That’s all.
    The decline of the concert hall may not be a bad thing as there are far too many overrated and overpaid performers around as it is.
    Less is more.
    (It is worth restating the fact that the author blames both the left and the right for the current state of affairs).
    Long live the White Male Titans !!!!
    Their music will live forever.
    Their genius has enriched the lives of countless millions.

  • Let’s approach the argument from a different perspective .

    Do orchestras and conductor/music directors who program music that is not only Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms but that includes a mix of music from such “greats” (and how does the Concertgebau leave out Mozart and Wagner from this group?) but also females and new composers, do these groups prosper?

    The evidence argues yes. Look at the LA Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony, the Seattle Symphony, the Baltimore Symphony, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Tonhalle Orchestra of Zurich and or the careers of Gerard Schwarz, Marin Alsop, Dennis Russell Davies, Stokowski, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Robert Spano, Michael Gielen etc.

    Note too that many great conductors championed such music including Koussevitzky (maybe the most creative programmer of all time), Ormandy, Bernstein, Zinman, Rattle, Pierre Boulez etc.

    • Indeed. The point is the quality of the music. But that does not diminish the observation that there also is a tendency to create ideologies.

    • [[ how does the Concertgebau leave out Mozart and Wagner from this group? ]]

      They were Catholics. You may have missed that nuance, but our musicologist chum didn’t.

  • Is that all? I was hoping for a lot more. The male force, the creativity of it, the fertility, the beauty of a male, is a great thing, and particularly great when expressed in art. No women have ever created the great masterpieces we revere. They have done fine work, but nothing of that scale. Males have more vision, bigger dreams. Women prefer to shoot down the dreams of men. Women are more concerned with other things.

    • However, the male ’titans’ would not succeed in creating their masterpieces without women. I’m not sure your comment is serious, but you made a good point: that men and women can have different ambitions in life. I believe, in the old-fashioned way, that men and women complement each other.

      • Indeed. Without their wives, Handel, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, Tchaikovky, Ravel and Poulenc would not have been capable of writing their master pieces.

    • Huh? There are plenty of great female writers. In fact, one could arguably teach a sensible course on the 19th century English novel without including any male writers at all.

      Unfortunately, women have not made the same contribution to the 19th century symphony.

  • Wait a minute! Let’s look at the actual programming. But first, this taunt:

    “The Amsterdam Concertgebouw does not have a future without Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.”

    I’m looking at upcoming concerts at the Concertgebouw and see a very mixed and interesting concert schedule: Markus Stenz conducting Mahler; Dima Slobodeniouk (dirigent), conducting Tchaikovsky, Vaughan Williams, and Ravel; Violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja and pianist Polina Leschenko playing Ravel’s Tzigane, plus music by Fauré, Enescu and Bartók; a Dutch pianist, Joep Beving, playing an unannounced program; the orchestra playing Berlioz’s Grande Messe des Morts (Requiem); Albéniz’s complete Iberia on piano; The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra will present two Netherlands premieres: the Double Concerto by Michel van der Aa and Peter Eötvös’ Alle vittime senza nome, conducted by Eötvös himself. Also on the program: Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra;composer and pianist Hauschka presenting “A Different Forest”. And this is only up to the middle of May. Source: https://www.concertgebouw.nl/en/concerts-tickets/page=1

    Is there some Beethoven and Brahms in Amsterdam too? Yes, but no more so than anywhere else.

    So is this guy a put on? A tempest in a teacup?

    • Peter Eotvos alone is an example of a weak, incompetent male composer. No Beethoven or Mahler he! His opera ‘The Three Sisters’ was certainly the biggest pile of sh*t I’ve ever sat through.

  • Was there ever a forced replacement of great composers in Amsterdam? The author doesn’t back up his claim with any evidence or source.

    • Of course not – because the author is after sensationalist clickbait. He’s a ‘musicologist’ – someone who knows there must be an F# somewhere on the piano, but needs a map to find it.

      Unable to think of anything imaginative, he reaches out to his Protestant Holy Trinity of Beethoven, Brahms and Bach to fill up programs. In his sad little world, he feels his invincible masculinity threatened by women. He should consider emigrating to Al-Riyadh – only they don’t like music there.

      Last week, I was in the studio recording some background music for a film. The part persistently went off the bottom range of my instrument – sometimes by up to a fifth. The studio manager sugggested it must be my fault – or that I had tuned my instrument wrongly? “The arrangement was made by an eminent musicologist!”, came the reply 😉

  • Dutch musicologist says no such thing.
    Dutch musicologist says, that we should not prioritise gender over quality.
    Dutch musicologist also says we should not try to rewrite history.
    Dutch musicologist is right me thinks.

  • Fair comment except for the following:
    “…will irrevocably lead to destruction of public interest, to empty concert halls and eventually even their closure.”
    I doubt that very much. A maybe even complete change in who the audience is made up of, sure. If that’s for better or worse, time will tell in that eventuality. Personally, I’d not be interested in such a huge change (the apocalyptic vision he has described) so I might be one of the ones who’ll stop going but still, I never believe in ‘saving’ our Art form from anything. It’s survived centuries. It will or will not survive on its own. Not because we arrange Beatles for the Orchestra or keep performing film scores in the open, or that we let people have drinks or use phones or wear whatever or clap whenever and certainly not because we say ‘enough with the old great ones! How about this mediocrity gets some exposure, solely based on the fact that the patriarchy didn’t let it shine centuries ago!’

    This was nice of him to mention when saying controversial stuff as he did:
    “It is a mistake to think that ‘our’ past must be rewritten or destroyed because it has an unmistakable dark side. That dark side must not and cannot be denied, instead, it has to be discussed even-handedly.”

    and not a bad bit either:
    “it is cynical and destructive to deny that Western musical history has brought forth incredible wealth. Let us enjoy that wealth fully and without feelings of guilt”. Yes. Let’s.
    Mozart didn’t prosper because his sister was denied and neither did Mendelssohn. Stop blowing it out of proportion. Just as if in Mozart’s day there was someone who might have even been better, it’s the past now. It will not shine to us like it might have if Wolfie didn’t throw shade at it in its day. So, a woman artist from that past today should get exposure but not as some kind of centuries-late apology and to fix the damage, but for it’s worth. If mediocre, sure, give it a shot but let’s not lose ourselves in it. Call it for what it is and if it simply doesn’t resonate with us let’s not keep pushing it because of our modern day, ‘woke’ sensibilities. I’m all for promoting present day female composers and even in a ‘affirmative action’ kind of deal where we give it even more of a chance than a male composer today might get because yes, they’ve been done a great injustice for centuries and just like being late at a start of a race, they deserve an advantage. Honestly, the men who might suffer from this, were not going to shine either way and the ones that do come on top besides being held back a bit, were going to be noticed anyway.

  • Dear Mr Lebrecht, your headlines are not representative of what I actually write. The Matinee series in the Concertgebouw, which I have been serving as Artistic Director since 2006, is by far the most inclusive major concert series in The Netherlands and offers 18 works by female composers in this 18/19 season alone. Four of them were commissioned by me. What I do fight against is the agressive rewriting of music history along the lines of current day identity politics. Our European past certainly has dark sides, but this should not lead to the conclusion that our musical heritage is blemished too. So let’s be inclusive and let’s admire the great masters of the past as much as they desire. Evviva Saariaho! Evviva Bach!

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