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Astrid Kvalbein

The female composer and modernity:
Pauline Hall (1890-1969) as controversial – and conventional?


Pauline Hall’s debut as a composer in 1917 and the ISCM Wold Music Days in Oslo in 1953, were significant events in her professional life. Can they reveal characteristic features of female composers’ position in Norway at the beginning and middle of the 20th century?

The programme at Hall’s debut concert and the reception in the press opens toward a discourse on women composers that to a great extent seems to be inherited from the 19th century. In my presentation I will discuss whether Hall was conceived of as a modern or even controversial figure in 1917.

At the ISCM Wold Music Days in 1953 neither Hall nor any other women composers are represented in the programme. She is nevertheless in charge, as chairman of the hosting Norwegian section of ISCM (Ny Musikk), a position she held from the founding of the organization in 1938 until 1961. At this time she is about to become a rather powerful figure at the music scene in Norway, particularly through her writings as music critic in the major newspaper Dagbladet.

 

 


As a composer, however, her interests have shifted: Hall now primarily writes music for theatre, film and radio. The Verlaine-suite, premiered in1929, was to become her last work in a large symphonic format, and her attitude towards musical modernism is ambiguous. Although a woman of power, Hall could be said to represent a generation of women composers who withdrew from the contemporary concert scene as modernism gained hegemony. What mechanisms may have led to this, and did Hall express ambitions to fight them, on behalf of herself or others?

The presentation will present some answers, and hopefully also inspire new questions.

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