Vienna’s music university gives degrees in gender studies

Vienna’s music university gives degrees in gender studies


norman lebrecht

September 10, 2021

End of the world news:

The University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna (MDW) is granting an honorary doctorate to Evelyn Torton Beck, ‘a pioneer in women’s and gender studies’ who lives in Washington DC. MDW, a world-leader music and theatre conservatoire, now has a Gender Studies institute. Why does a conservatory need such a faculty? Has ideology triumphed over music and musicology?

The Rector, Ulrike Sych, has devised a programme called ’50/50 in 2030′ to achieve 50-50 male-female equal numbers in student enrolment. To launch the programme she invited Marin Alsop to give a masterclass only for female students of the Institute für Musikleitung. The Rektorin is a gender activist. Music, in these circumstances, must take second place.



  • FrauGeigerin says:

    I wonder if Rektorin Ulrike Sych cares about the equal enrolment in specialities that have more women than men (concert specialities such as violin, flute and harp or elementary music pedagogy) or it is just a thing with composition and conducting.
    And I wonder if it isn’t unnecessary to have a Gender Studies Centre (actually it is the Institut für Kulturmanagement und Gender Studies IKM) in a music university and it is outside MDW’s mission to grant honorary degrees to people who are not part of the music world.

  • John Borstlap says:

    When such a thing happens in the place where until recently classical music took priority over everything else, i.e. the symbolic heart of the art form, it’s not the canary in the coal mine but the ostrich in the salon.

    Music as an instrument of social justice is the result of not knowing what the art form is. It shows a looking down upon the art form as something which cannot have a value in itself but has to be connected to something useful and something that can be understood by even the most dumb individual.

    • Mecky Messer says:

      Sorry to break it to you, but if money talks, then as nice as the scores are, as enlightened you may feel about it, the actual value of the entirety of classical music is probably the amount of money Amazon spends per year on Toilet Paper for its offices.

      Take out the subsidies and grants from our taxes and all but 5 orchestras remain. It cannot stand on its two legs and has been kept alive with an oxygen machine from our taxes.

      This in turn creates complacency, lack of innovation, and nepotistic corruption in all of the classical music clique. When the money dries up, they can always cry wolfe, “art is dying” and some politician or rich person saves the day. No pressure to innovate, no competitiveness. The results are evident.

      Or what “value” you refer to? Sentimental? cultural? If you can’t quantify it it does not produce value in today’s society.

      Hence the Dudamels and now all the african-origin musicians…and there will be more…..

      • Peter San Diego says:

        The situation you describe does not apply in the U.S. (for better or worse), where the arts in general receive a vanishingly small fraction of tax dollars, and classical music receives a tiny fraction of the arts total. Yet it survives…

      • John Borstlap says:

        Sorry to correct you, but it is exactly these kinds of description which undermine the art form. Namely, classical music is not a means to generate money, but a subject to invest money into it. Namely, it is a value in itself, a common good. Nobody complains about money being wasted on the legal system, the police, the army (well…), the engineering projects of infrastructure, etc. – they ‘don’t generate financial profit’. But because often a ‘common good’ is only understood as such if it is material or so basic to be even understood by the intelligence-challenged, something like classical music is misused for other purposes – money making or social justice or entertainment for the happy few.

        The reason that there is a classical music repertoire AT ALL is because in former times, elites in power never doubted the inherent value of art and especially, serious music. You enjoy your Beethoven CD’s ONLY because a group of shadowy elitists thought it were a good idea to support a composer who created stunning works that got under their skin, and even if they not quite understood them, they knew it was a value in itself and thus, wanted to invest into it.

        Shame on those people who look down upon one of the greatest achievements of the human species, because of their deep abyss of ignorance and contempt for something they don’t understand.

      • Nick says:

        How right you are, Mecky Messer!!!

  • Annak says:

    How can an equality program be launched with something, a masterclass only for women, that promotes inequality?

    Obviously whoever devised this is not interested in equality, but in the preference of women over men.

    • Ellen W. says:

      This encapsulates the mindless ethos of Democrats and the “Left” perfectly which predictably explains the demise of everything they touch.

      The focus with her is on gender, not musical quality. This woman does not want ‘equality’. She’s interested only in QUANTITY! This is what always openly dilutes institutions (governments, schools, offices, art forms..) resulting in their imminent failures. The consequence is always loss of interest and the repulsion of paying members of society. Simply look at the self-induced misery and exodus of Blue states. Beck couldn’t get a real job outside of academia with her laughable ‘degree’ so she’s forever stuck in ‘the system’ she was trying to escape in order to be her own woman. She’s just a sheep now.

      People of ALL races and backgrounds deserve opportunity, not only ‘women’ and ‘blacks’ leaving everyone else OUT! My former Democrat party are segregationalists which is why I did not vote for Obama in term 2 or for that witch Hillary merely because we shared the same plumbing.

      It’s too bad people like her, Biden, Harris, Pelosi, Obama, Clinton are only interested in constant division. However it’s telling that they only have the stones to pull antics like this in the states. They didn’t have the courage or money to leave when Trump was in office. It was all violence, anger and hate. Today they recoil from their responsibilities to everyone they propose to ‘include’ sewing us v. them antagonism driven by mental illness. The left is too busy mindlessly tearing down anything decent and stable the right has created to benefit everyone. But that’s what the left represents, HATE!

      • Amy says:

        Obama-BIDEN let us down by his second term.

        Then the DNC wanted to insert Hillary; a vengeful female brimming with entitlement. She couldn’t even loose gracefully allowing hateful riots as she let a MAN (her campaign manager) speak for her..neutered as he is instead of acting like a woman.

        Glad Hillary pushed me to join the Republicans and move from her state. It’s gone straight downhill as Cuomo’s ego and mass exodus proves. Poor NYC!!

        As a classical liberal who remembers Biden’s hand in forming credit and student loan bankruptcy laws, I doubted the party then. Yet my job was still good-paying and could afford my mortgage, taxes and basics very comfortably. There’s no hope with Biden-Harris as they run the country like a vicious monarchy hurling hate at anyone who refuses their warped will. Before the pandemic, liberals panicked that we could no longer afford our once upscale, cosmopolitan, virtuous neighborhoods. Our Democrat leaders exacerbated our financial woes when our jobs got downsized or simply left. Our neighborhoods becoming crime ridden, dirty and dangerous drove my lovely neighbors out then my family as the tax assessments came in ever higher. The last straw was bringing in the homeless to the hotels for my remaining friends. So disgusting!! We all abandoned the city by the time COVID sealed our city and gripped the world. Beloved shops and restaurants are mostly gone for good leaving holes in our hearts. My former company moved overseas leaving no NY jobs. Even if my income would make me comfortable, I just couldn’t logically move back and endure what the new liberals have done.

      • Will Wilkin says:

        Ellen I couldn’t help but notice the irony of you accusing others of “sowing us-vs.-them antagonisms” and the overall lack of love in your message with the most uncharitable caricatures of some public servants.

    • John Borstlap says:

      But that’s clear – some people are more equal than others.

  • PeterB says:

    Your comment is exactly why musicology needs gender studies.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Not only musicology needs gender studies, also science needs it, since it has been developed by white males for ages. So it is a product of white supremacy, and deeply discriminating.

    • True North says:

      Exactly. The commenters on this site show us every day that racism, sexism, anti-semitism, etc., are alive and well in classical music.

  • Rachelle Goldberg says:

    I was faintly amused by reading the article. When I studied there in the 70s a couple of the male Professors ignored me. One in particular conducted the String Orchestra. This Professor was actually playing the Vienna Phil. At the first rehearsal of the Autumn Term I discovered I was the only female attending. The Professor insisted on calling the students Men including myself. Each of the violinists in the Ist and 2nd sections had to play a solo passage one after the other and I was asked to play first. I did not return for the next rehearsal.

    • Bone says:

      Sounds like your life has been ruined by toxic masculinity; if the man in question is white, you could also claim to have been oppressed by his privilege. Heck, go for the woke trifecta and mention the “men” reference as sexual harassment!

  • Luke says:

    In other news: Journalist who frequently posts articles focusing on the attire of female concert pianists feels affronted by educational institutions seeking to explore and address sexism and prejudice in the classical music industry.

  • This is a positive development on more than one level. Evelyn Torton Beck is also a specialist in Jewish studies. The honorific title given her is part of a larger effort in Austria and Germany to reintegrate Jewish people and Jewish thought back into their societies.

    By giving the honor to a person who has also specialized in women’s studies, the school touches on two areas where it has faced social problems for decades. Fortunately, the University of Music in Vienna has a good foundation for its gender studies courses. It is one of the few music schools in the world that has long had a department of music sociology. One of the department’s professors, Elena Ostleitner, was a courageous pioneer in bringing women into the Vienna Philharmonic.

    • Twelve down thumbs (so far) for a post that speaks about efforts to reintegrate Jewish people and culture back into Germany and Austrian society. A little reminder of where things stand.

      • CBenowitz says:

        My thumb down comes from Bat Yam (Israel). Don’t even try to go that way, because it has nothing to with antisemitism.

        • To belabor the obvious, the efforts at reintegration I mention have to do with countering the effects of anti-Semitism.

          • Bone says:

            Since when have you ever been one to avoid belaboring anything?
            To the point, though: shifting the reason from gender DEI using your logic is quite a deductive stretch without evidence.

        • william osborne says:

          Interestingly, an event last May in Bat Yam illustrates why gestures of tolerance such as the
          one mentioned above are important. A rigth wing extremist mob in Bay Yam drug a man from a car they assumed was an Arab, severely beat him, and left him unconscious and bloody in the middle of the street for 15 minutes before the police and medics arrived. We should be happy that Austria works on these problems.

      • JTC says:

        Mine from Rhinebeck (NY, USA). There is always someone who accuses those who don’t agree with their views of misogyny/antisemitism/racism. A new and aggressive form of tyranny.

        • And even more commonly, cowardly commentators on SD using the cloak anonymity to vent their hatred and attack gestures of tolerance and integration.

          • FrauGeigerin says:

            Thank God there is always a USA commentator here to label everyone and everything (black/white/jewish/racist/…), and teach the world about tolerance and integration.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Does something like ‘Jewish thinking’ exist? Or ‘Indian thinking’, or ‘European thinking’? Or ‘Eskimo thinking’, ‘African thinking’ etc. etc….? By stamping labels on every human activity, people are dehumanized, pushed back into a group. What has this to do with integration?

      There are things that can be called ‘Jewish culture’, or ‘European culture’, or ‘Indian culture’, but as far as I have seen, thinking is the same in every human being. The differences are in the level of thinking and that is something quite different.

  • PeterB says:

    There seems to be a widespread misunderstanding in this blog about the nature and goals of science. Musicology (which is a science, not a form of glorified essayism) deals with the analysis, and as far as possible the explanation, of the phenomenon of music. For many decades now, it is widely accepted in the cultural sciences that this study includes the study of the context of the work. Gender is an aspect of that context, so yes, it is a valid viewpoint from which to study music. If those studies reveal or explain, among other things, gender discrimination, that is a valid result. Personally I don’t like it when scholars make one further step and become activists (I call those liberation scientists), but since nobody complains about engineers and doctors intervening in the field they study, there are certainly arguments pro as well.

    Another misunderstanding is that it should be the task of musicologists to determine the canon. To pontificate about which music is valid and which isn’t, which needs to be studied and which isn’t. Cultural sciences moved beyond this in the eighties. Yes, rap and Taylor Swift and completely forgotten mediocre 18th century court composers and the horrible André Rieu versions of Mozart are all valid study objects.

    And I’m terribly sorry but the definition of a branch of science and its tasks is done within that field of science itself. The opinion of the general public isn’t really considered relevant.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      A science? Where is the empirical proof? Musicology is less scientific than homeopathy.

      • PeterB says:

        I’m not sure I get your point.

        If you mean that only hard sciences deserve the label “science” I’d say we abandoned that restrictive definition of science somewhere in the seventies. It took cultural and behavioral sciences a while to develop their own criteria of scientificity but we’ve moved beyond that for quite some time too.

        If you claim that musicology was never intended as a scientific discipline, you’re factually wrong. Music as a form of mathematics was already part of the medieval quadrivium, together with arithmetic, geometry and astronomy. In modern times musicology became a science in the second half of the 19th century at the latest. One of its most influential foundational texts was Guido Adler’s Umfang, Metode und Ziel der
        Musikwissenschaft, published in 1885 in the Vierteljahrschrift für Musikwissenschaft.

        Yes, within the discipline the question of (the desirability of) its scientificity came up again and again. I’d say that’s typical of a discipline that unites scholars and practitioners. I spent some time in translation studies. Its development as a scientific discipline was delayed for decades by translators who insisted its only aim could be to teach people how to translate instead of studying how they actually translate.

        If you want to say that much of what is being done under the label musicology is not scientific, I can’t agree more. But constant moralizing and preaching doom isn’t going to remedy that.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Where gender studies as a subject of musicology inpinges upon the music itself, we are at a slippery slope, since music does not have a gender, as mathematics does’t have a gender and a lot of other subjects. It is the politization of musicology which is idiotic, not the research in neighbouring fields of music which is a form of sociology. There appears to be a lot of confusion about territories, as can easily be seen, for instance, by this Prof. Ewell with his crusade.

  • Pianistiohnegrenzen says:

    Ulrike Sych is using MDW and its resources to promote her ideology and gender agenda. Please Frau Sych: less gender conferences, less masterclasses for women, less gender-neutral restrooms (better restrooms yes, please), less women visibility measures, less budget for gender studies (there are no study programs in gender studies, just a couple of optional classes, so it is basically a think-tank), and better teaching resources, better communication with the students, more resources into students performances…

    Please fight your ideology on your own time and with your own resources. MDW is not your instrument or your tool.

    • Formerlehrerin says:

      Well, she did not do much as a singer (her artistic career is almost non-existing), and in the 6 years she has been Rektorin she hasn’t really done much. Some buildings have been renovated/built in the recent years, but the plans for all the buildings were devised before she took the position. I feel she needs to “make noise” with these gender/female things so it seems she is doing something.

      And yes, it seems to me too that she is using the Universität für Musik und darstellend Kunst Wien as a tool to spread or own views and ideology. Clearly she has not understood that she is there to ensure that the Universität runs smoothly, to be the most senior representative of the university, and to use that the budget to achieve MDW’s mission (to educate artists and teachers in the performing arts)…

      As a former employee of the university I can say that in my opinion she is probably the worst Rektor(in) it has ever had… and there have been some lousy ones in the last 200 years!

  • Emil says:

    Do you mean to pretend that gender exists everywhere, except in music? Seriously, to take the most basic example: there’s a bazillion studies on how Bach’s faith influenced his music, how Beethoven’s deafness shaped his music, how Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann’s German-ness shaped their compositions, how Wagner’s anti-Semitism is present in his music.
    So every aspect of composers’ identities is central to their compositions, except their gender? Give me a break.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That is very simplistic thinking. The influences of a composer’s personal life shape the music but in the same time, abstrahizes them, filters-out their sources, because music is not about the ‘what’ but about the ‘how’. THAT is the reason we can listen to music from periods and places, written by people entirely alien to us. In music, the personal is transformed into the universal and hence, made accessible to listeners in very different times and places.

      And, by the way, there is no antisemitism in Wagner’s music. There does not exist antisemitic music. Antisemitism cannot be musically expressed or represented. And even in the texts of W’s operas there isn’t any antisemitism. The word ‘Jew’ doesn’t appear anywhere, as for instance it does in Bach’s St Matthews Passion.

      Therefore, ‘gender’ in music does not exist. It can only exist in a sociological sense and never in a musical sense. And then, the different meanings of ‘gender’ in different contexts are still contested, the entire masculine/feminine discussion is infested with politics, false claims, resentment, inhumanity, intolerance, misconceptions.

  • christopher storey says:

    Take a break, Emil . It will be our pleasure

  • Frank says:

    Gender is not a straight-forward issue any more, as any man / woman / intergender / undecided individual knows.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That’s what I found-out last weekend on my recent date. I began to doubt whether I’m a woman at all. But on monday morning at work feeling suppressed again, I recovered my identity & sighed with relief.


  • William Evans says:

    An unfortunate award but hardly ‘end of the world’!

    • John Borstlap says:

      According to the Acocalypse of St John, one of the Four Riders announcing the End of the World is a PC Warrior, on a black horse:

      “6:5. And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying: Come and see. And behold a black horse. And he that sat on him had a pair of scales in his hand, and announced that final justice hath come to liberate darkness from its chains.”

      But recent research has shown that there was an extraordinary heath wave at Patmos at the time, so it is possible that St John had misunderstood the messages.

  • NoName says:

    The answer to your question is that you have to put on a performance of being offended just to keep this blog going. Nothing wrong with addressing inequality in the world in whatever form it takes.

    The nasty tone of your piece is just another demonstration of male fragility.

  • Alexander Graham Cracker says:

    Wait a sec–isn’t “gender” a “social construct”?

    • John Borstlap says:

      Indeed, so it does not really exist. Before the term was invented, gender has never existed. It is the result of individual freedom: not biological sex that you happen to be born with, but the sex with which you want to be identified socially, is the person. It is the theatre of representation disconnected from the body.

      While this can be functional for certain minority groups, it has spread as an instrument of social construction all over the place, far beyond its rationality. It offers the possibility to look at people in ways disconnected from their reality.

    • Tamino says:

      Gender is a social construct, very much like ‘nation’.
      If enough people believe it is something that unifies them, and divides them from others, then its construction is established.

  • Will Wilkin says:

    I agree with everyone here.