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Camilla Hambro

Gender and Canonisity in Norwegian Music History. The Hermeneutics of Feminism and Canon-Transformations of Men’s and Women’s Music at the Dawn of the "Women’s Century".


Gender roles were on the top of the agenda of public debate at the dawn of the 20th century, which the Norwegian feminist pioneer Ragna Nielsen in 1896 predicted would be “The Women’s Century”. Increasing numbers of Scandinavian women composers published and had their music performed between 1890 and 1920, but to music historiography most of them might as well have used invisible ink. Could dialogic views emphasizing intertwined and interdependent men and women in music life contribute to renewed theoretical reflection on the traditional mainstream music herstories and music histories? Not only are these women left out of the canon(s), constantly gendered and belittled; their male colleagues get gendered in very unconscious ways. At a point in history when feminism caused major crisis in male identity and mascilinities music historio­graphy lets male music critics–mainly male composers, conductors and musicians–form the premises for what they present as true, valid and relevant, and let them define “reality” in 19th century (public) concerts.

 

 


Presenting everything from apparently fair and balanced descriptions to reviews that openly state common negative attitudes towards women’s abilities, they tried to make it appear as if women posed no real threat or challenge to male establishment. What male critics made sound highly conventional, was in fact propaganda based on their own gender-loaded esthetics. Still, most of them account for enthusiastic crowds of women applauding women’s executive skills and compositions. It seems that if gifted women chose to develop in other directions than men, they didn’t get renown, and if they followed in men’s footsteps, they were accused of not being original. Therefore their originality couldn’t be accepted or receive public renown. Revealing needs for something “true”, “a safe haven” and a “real alternative” in an aesthetically “chaotic time”, women critics in women’s magazines tell herstories with other preferences.

 

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Cecilie Ore