Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Clara Schumann versus Robert Schumann

Reader Mathias Broucek has added the comment below to my post Classical musicians hunt in tribes. On An Overgrown Path made the case for women composers long before it became social media click bait. But I believe recent uncritical advocacy is seriously devaluing the overwhelming argument for gender equality. Which is why I am featuring Mathias' thoughtful and refreshingly politically incorrect observation as a separate post.
I'm all for finding good music of the past that was/is repressed for bad reasons (i.e. "wrong" politics, "wrong" skin colour, "wrong" gender, "wrong" (non-second Viennese) school etc.).

But it needs to be *good* music. Did the status of women in earlier years lead to potential world-class composers not having the encouragement they needed? Almost certainly. Was Clara as good a composer as Robert? Not on the evidence of the works I've heard.

I weep when I hear Bach, Beethoven and Brahms written-off as "dead white men". We need to encourage TODAY's female composers and if someone can find a world-beating female composer from the past (Hildegard aside) then I'd love to hear her music. But digging out the second rate to tick a box is unlikely to inspire anyone.
That photo of a store window display was taken by me in the Dutch town of Horn. Read into it any relevance to women composers or Clara versus Robert Schumann that you want. New Overgrown Path posts are available via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).


JMW said...

Mathias is correct. I have struggled with uneasy feelings generated by the rush of the crowd offering praise for work I found estimable yet flawed and lacking in professional execution. Such praise quickly becomes fulsome in the extreme and a corrective is in order. I suspect that such corrective will manifest in future performances that slow in frequency to the point that they will be relegated to a special day or time of year, which is perfect for those insisting upon tribal divisions in the arts.

Unknown said...

The cult of diversity, along with identity politics, is, in my opinion, the downward path to mediocrity and tokenism. We need music which is excellent, regardless of the gender or colour of those who wrote it.

Pliable said...

We must, however, also beware of a destructive backlash which could jeopardise much-needed reforms in gender equality and elsewhere. More diversity is unquestionably needed. But it must be reached via a middle way that avoids both uncritical advocacy and reactionary obstruction. Unfortunately uncritical advocacy - eg Clara Schumann as the greatest composer of all time - if unchecked may trigger such a backlash.

mathias broucek said...

I agree, Pliable. Lots of scope to encourage today's female performers and composers (I really enjoyed a work by Dobrinka Tabakova at the Proms last year) but I'm not wildly hopeful of discovering much truly world-class music by female composers from before the mid-late 20th Century. Although Lily Boulanger's early works suggest a great talent may have been lost..