Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Louise Farrenc: Symphony No. 3 in G minor (1847)

Tom Service makes a surprising choice this week. It seems he is trying for maximum diversity and again has come up with a composer I have never heard of before (another was the Russian Myaskovsky)! This one is Louise Farrenc, a French woman composer from the 19th century. Feminist musicologists have been beating the bushes for neglected woman composers for a while now and I suppose the only surprising thing is that they have not turned up more. The ones I am already familiar with from the 19th century include Cécile Chaminade (who lived well into the 20th century) and Fanny Mendelssohn, sister of Felix. But of these three, it seems that Louise Farrenc was the only one to really venture far outside the salon repertoire of songs and piano pieces. She was particularly renowned during her life for her chamber music, but also wrote three symphonies. Ironically, it seems that this itself was the main obstacle to her continued recognition as a composer. Not so much because she was a woman, but because no French composer in the 19th century achieved much recognition unless they had written an opera. Even César Franck wrote opera and secular cantatas.

Tom asserts that "Farrenc’s symphony is as impressively energetic and structurally satisfying as any of Mendelssohn’s or Schumann’s symphonies." Well, perhaps, but in my book that still puts it into the second rank as neither Mendelssohn nor Schumann wrote symphonies that quite match up to their immediate predecessors Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, nor their successors Brahms and Bruckner. But never mind, it was a pleasure to listen to a composer I had previously been completely unfamiliar with. Let's listen to Louis Farrenc's Symphony No. 3:

Oddly, YouTube refuses to find the clip of the whole work that Tom embeds in his article, so I suggest you go there and listen to the whole piece. But here is the link in any case:

In trying to hit the correct feminist points, Tom gets rather more incoherent than usual:
the performance of gender in the symphony in the 19th century is much more complicated and contingent than those labels might make you think. The symphony as transgender interzone of gender representation. 
Would anyone care to translate that into some form of English?

Farrenc's Symphony No. 3 seems quite a decent piece to me. I'm not sure if it directly reminds me of anyone. Perhaps, as Tom suggests, the scherzo is rather Mendelssohnesque. In terms of quality I would put this alongside one of the earlier Schubert symphonies. If there is a problem with the piece it might be something that Tom briefly glances at:
What this piece is not is an heir to Berlioz’s 1829 Symphonie Fantastique– music that was heard, for better and for worse, as a crazed aberration, the insane musings of a drug-addled weirdo (but more of that in a later instalment of this series!). Instead, Farrenc’s musical gods are those of symphonic seriousness and self-referential musical integrity.
The 19th century in music was in part a battle between the conservatives and the progressives, between Brahms on the one hand and Liszt and Wagner on the other. In France, a lot of Berlioz' fame rests on his innovations, such as in the Symphonie fantastique. Brahms was able, through truly heroic efforts, to reestablish the symphony in its most classical form against the burgeoning "tone poems" and other loose forms. But this was an exceptional achievement and he made it work through reimagining the texture in a much denser way. Composers like Farrenc and many others did not quite manage this so their works are neglected because they are simply conservative. At least that is a theory you could argue for!

Let's listen to the Symphony No. 1 by Brahms to see if it gives any support to the theory. This was premiered in 1876 but Brahms had written and thrown away several previous attempts.


Rickard Dahl said...

Interesting points. It's a nice symphony but as you say it's not on the same level as Mozart, Haydn etc. or Bruckner & Brahms. The whole feminist point Tom makes is a bit redundant. No, of course there is no major difference between how a man or woman writes a symphony by the fact of their gender. If the "lack" of female composers in the past depended on bias or not as much interest in the part of the females is something that can be argued about. I don't know how the divide between male and female composers looks today but if there are more male than female composers I don't think it depends on any kind of bias despite what feminists say (they see bias everywhere no matter how well everything is adjusted to their demands). It is probably more about less females choosing to become composers. Then of course there is the question of talent and I have no idea whether or not there is a bigger number of talented male composers compared to female composers. Anyways, we should let the music speak for itself.

By the way, I have yet to hear of a good living female composer. Most of the output in general (both male and female) is anyways extreme-modernism or postmodernist sillyness though. So, if you have examples of good (i.e. not extreme-modernist) living female composers it would be appreciated.

Bryan Townsend said...

Feminism is a movement that came out of some very legitimate goals to eliminate certain biases against women. I think much of that has been accomplished and now it seems as if there is a certain amount of over-reach going on. But that being said, I don't think we should be over-reacting and recreating any biases. As you say, let the music speak for itself!

So, with that in mind, I think you have given me my post for today: find a good living woman composer.

Rickard Dahl said...

Well, the actual equal rights such as equal pay etc. were achieved over 50 years ago in most Western countries. Much of the modern feminist movement (the one that started in the 60s and 70s) fought for privilegies and indeed they got many so far.

Nathaniel Garbutt said...

50 years ago? Really? Wow! Why then is there a gender pay gap of around 15% in the OECD?

Which "privileges" did the feminists of the 60's and 70's fight for? The criminalisation of marital rape? In large parts of the western world this didn't happen until the 1990s

I think the comments above are pretty indicative that there is no "overreach" and also indicate plenty more work needs to be done. Just because you choose to ignore and dismiss the issues does not mean they don't exist.

These comments are lazy and need to be challenged.

Rickard Dahl said...

1. There is a myth that there is a pay gap because of misinformation and lack of understanding for how the job market works within a capitalistic society when it comes to pay/salary. The pay gap has been disproved many many times. The truth is that they take all the earnt money during a year (I think it is a year, could be wrong) men and all the earnt money during a year for women and compare. And so there is a gap but what isn't taken into account are the professions, positions, amount of hours worked, work effort (i.e. if you do a great job rather than just moderate it can lead to better pay), salary negotiation willingness/skills, willingness to work at inconvinient hours, willingness to travel at work, willingness to take greater risk and so on and so on. Basically, all things that matter when it comes to giving an individual a proper salary/pay. Here is one explanation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpQsLxUwXcY

Here is another:


If you want a solid refutation here you go:


And if you want to hear the truth from a honest feminist (honesty is rarely a trait of feminists), you can see it here:



2. Ok, maybe you're right, maybe feminists have done some good things since the 60s. However, most of the things they've done are bad and today there is no need for feminism. One example is how feminists screwed over the whole domestic violence issue by deaming it as a gender issue. Firstly, men and women are pretty much equally affected by domestic violence. In fact, some studies show that women are even MORE violent in domestic situations. Secondly, the issue is much smaller than feminists portray when they say things like one in four women are affected by domestic violence etc. etc. Thirdly, it's a big matter of funding, the more the issue is overblown, the more money they receive. In fact, men don't receieve help from domestic violence shelters not only because of bias (and I guess misinformation) on the part of the shelter staff but also beacuse it would mean that more funding goes to help men. Anyways, here are some sources and analyses if you don't believe me:










So, as you might have seen in the sources, not only do male victims of domestic violence not receieve proper help at domestic violence shelters but there is legislation such as VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) that can get police to legally arrest the male victim. Police also show bias towards male victims and often don't believe them.

Rickard Dahl said...

Another example is rape shield laws. The purpose of such laws are to not reveal the identity of the rape victim. Sure, it sounds like a good thing but the reality is that it leads to abuse. Not all rape claims are true, in fact a certain amount of rape accusations are false. That is of course a problem but the bigger problem is that the false accusers often get away with. They should obvuiously be punished, just like any other person that lies in court. Not only do these false accusers get away with it but they also potentially ruin the lives of the accused. Also, many feminists would like the legal system to work on the principle of guilty until proven innocent in the case of rape rather than innocent until proven guilty. Funny how that works.







Oh, speaking of justice, how about men being given more severe sentences than women on the basis of their gender?




I'm just digging on the surface here. There are many more issues that affect men much more than women. All of this isn't because of feminism, some of it is much older, such as male circumcision, males sacrificing their life in wars or for the sake of females ("women and children first" etc.). But here is some more just so you know:


Speaking of privilegies, here you go (once again, some of these are much older than feminism and a few might even be justifiable):


3. "I think the comments above are pretty indicative that there is no "overreach" and also indicate plenty more work needs to be done. Just because you choose to ignore and dismiss the issues does not mean they don't exist.

These comments are lazy and need to be challenged."

Yes, it is overreach. Funny how feminists complain that there is so much discrimination then the opposite is true (that society in general discriminates men much more). Plenty of work needs to be done to bring back scientific honesty regarding those issues rather than dogmatic lies, myths and legends. No, I don't ignore the "issue", I just know the truth and it is an inconvenient truth. I did my research and it's time for you do to do your research. And no, there are several differences between males and females, not only in body shape etc. but also in strength, endurance etc. and even mentally. Our brains are different (and thus we have different psychology amongst other things) whether we want to admit it or not. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiJVJ5QRRUE

Please don't tell me this comment was lazy. I took me over one hour and I could go on all day but I rather do other more interesting things. Your comment needed to be challenged though and so here you have it.

Nathaniel Garbutt said...

As courtesy to Bryan and everyone else who wants to read about music this will be my last reply to this topic.

The pay gap is not a myth and hasn't been disproved many times. It seems you only focus on sources that confirm your preconceptions.

You are wrong in how OECD calculates its wage data. It does yearly, weekly and hourly rate (in both the top 80th percentile of earnings and bottom 20%). The hourly data supports the average of 15%-17% less for women.

You sourcing the "Honest" feminist, Christina Hoff Sommers, is problematic. She works for the American Enterprise Institute which is a far right wing and socially conservative lobby group. They are paid to push an ideological agenda so trying to use them as a source for objective argument is, as I said, problematic.

Forgetting her job and Ideology, her argument is based on the consad report you linked to. The report attempts, as you say, to take into account certain compounding factors like motherhood etc.

"The purpose of this report is to identify the reasons that explain the wage gap in order to more fully inform policymakers and the public."

This is from the first page of the report and clearly shows that the report writers acknowledge there is a gap that needs explaining...so not a myth at all and supports my position that the term is ideological.

The report states that it calculates its raw salary figures based on yearly values and it finds:

"Statistical analysis that includes those variables has produced results that collectively
account for between 65.1 and 76.4 percent of a raw gender wage gap of 20.4 percent, and
thereby leave an adjusted gender wage gap that is between 4.8 and 7.1 percent."

Again there is clearly a wage gap and taking the report at face value it is still 5%-7%. Did you read the report? It doesn't support your opinion that the gap is a myth.

Now you should also be skeptical of taking the report at face value...using yearly calculations and there are also problems with the sampling methodology used in the report. It includes part-time workers, While standard calculations only use full-time workers to avoid creating a compounding variable. The report also finds that that more women work part-time (here is the problem) and then uses this to try and explain the gap (it still doesn't manage it even with all the other considerations) - Can you see an issue here? It is comparing a non homogeneous sample group and trying to adjust rather than just comparing a homogeneous sample group to begin with.

Your "Honest" feminist happily skips over these problems and ignores the short fall in her videos to claim the gap is a myth. In other words she is misrepresenting the data and the conclusions of the report in order to push her and her employers ideological viewpoint - Not very honest. I think you've been sold a bit of a lemon here.

Also the report cites other studies that demonstrate a clear 5% bias for men a year after graduation. page 69.

http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/30/2/193.abstract - Study for graduating doctors...Did you find this while you were researching? I found it in a few minutes so if you were genuinely researching for information you would have too rather than just trawling the usual "Men's Rights" sites for information.

The OECD studies are based on full-time workers with the much more granular sampling of wages down to the hourly rate. While there are still issues surrounding what actually constitutes full-time work outside the OECD countries, I think it is reasonable to say their data is more sound and their conclusions more reliable - that the wage gap varies from around %5 in Spain to 40% in Korea giving a 17% average across the OECD (and about the same for the U.S.)

The website has plenty of data for you to peruse.

A large part of the rest of your post is a complete non-sequitor - I'll leave it to you to work out why. (Hint. You can't conflate that because males also suffer domestic violence that feminism is irrelevant.)

Nathaniel Garbutt said...

The second post is pretty much you on a soap box providing some red herrings and even some fairly ridiculous material (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1gRNv561CE - Do you really expect me to take this seriously? Really?) as "proof" feminism is bad. It doesn't actually matter if you researched for 100 hours you're obviously just reading material that is simply reinforcing what seems to be a rather warped view of women...

"honesty is rarely a trait of feminists" - Really? How can you "honestly" state that? I can just as easily say that honesty is rarely a trait of masculinists and cherry pick examples to "prove" it to my hearts content...doesn't make it true.

"In fact, men don't receieve help from domestic violence shelters" - Yes they do and a quick google search demonstrates that. Your statement is pure hyperbole and it's lazy thinking to take specific cases and draw absolute conclusions and it's even more lazy to blame feminism for this.

"The purpose of such laws are to not reveal the identity of the rape victim. Sure, it sounds like a good thing but the reality is that it leads to abuse. Not all rape claims are true, in fact a certain amount of rape accusations are false" - What percentage of rape claims are false? What percentage of insurance claims are false?

" Not only do these false accusers get away with it but they also potentially ruin the lives of the accused" - How many rapists get off? how many people have had their lives ruined by being raped?

"There are many more issues that affect men much more than women. All of this isn't because of feminism, some of it is much older, such as male circumcision, males

sacrificing their life in wars or for the sake of females ("women and children first" etc.)."

This is just weird...men sacrifice their lives in wars for women and children first? Really? Not because they are ordered to? or because they swallow their governments

propaganda? or for their "Brothers in arms"? Honour would be the category "woman and children would fall under but its a broad category and guess which gender invented it?

"And no, there are several differences between males and females, not only in body shape etc. but also in strength, endurance etc. and even mentally. Our brains are different" - I'd also be VERY careful in trying to talk about differences between men and women...there is a large overlap and there are plenty of women who are bigger, stronger and have more endurance than plenty of men.

I stand by my comment that the above comments are lazy. Even your last two. The only material you posted that was actually interesting was the consad report and it seems you didn't actually read it.

To bring it back on topic - Do you think it is fair to compare Louise Farrenc's Symphony to her male colleagues (especially Brahms who was only 10 when it was written)?

Considering at the time conservatory classes for composers were almost exclusively for men? Did she have the same opportunities to excel? Perhaps you are right and she just wasn't as good as the composers in the list you provide but how many men was she more skilled than?

Also, I'm not entirely convinced your stance on "extreme modernist music" is all that sound either. Are you sure you have the experience with it to dismiss it the way you do? Are you sure you have really taken all there is from it? Or have you just sampled it and then become ideologically opposed? Pierre Boulez isn't actually a bad composer. Even if you don't personally like his music it is difficult not to see that Boulez it is actually a very good orchestrator for very heterogeneous groups of instruments and he has a tremendous ear for timbral balance so be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Rickard Dahl said...

So, you didn't really disprove the wage gap. There are many factors that matter and blaming it on bias or some kind of mystical inequality is irresponsible.

No the video isn't proof by itself, it just states like it is.

Feminists are often dishonest because they falsify statistics, i.e. wage gap, domestic violence statistics, rape statistics etc. And so on.

If you would research more carefully you would see that most domestic violence shelters are for women rather than for everyone.

No, you're missing my point, the war issue and the women and children first issue are slightly separate. Both are older issues which have nothing to do with feminism but are factors driven by biology. Men are biologically programmed to protect women even at the cost of their own lives. Sure, it might have been good for survival in the past when living in tribes but has no use nowadays. And yes, men overinflate the value of women by seeing them as angelic creatures when women are actually capable of being as evil or more evil than men. War is ofc an issue of more powerful people sending less powerful people off to die but that doesn't mean it isn't an issue. Let women also fight in wars and die for their country. But, I'm of course against wars in general.

Yes, there is plenty of overlap. There is even plenty of overlap between us and Chimps yet humans are capable of much more. The differences between men and women are on the whole very miniscule because most of the things are in common. There are some differences as I said: in strength, endurance, speed, how our brain functions regarding certain matters (two examples: females desire provision and protection while males compete with other men for the sake of attracting females etc.) And no, that doesn't mean that there aren't exceptions. Personally I'm quite weak as I don't exercise for building muscles so indeed there are probably plenty of women that are stronger. But if you would somehow measure the strength of all women and the strength of all men and compare you would see that men are on the whole stronger. When you think about it in evolutionary terms it makes much sense given that males did the hunting which was of course a risky thing and the weaker males probably had more difficulty to survive.

But alright, lets end this discussion here. We both have our standpoints and we both think we are right and from experience this sort of argument can go on forever and I don't have time to argue that much.

So, back to the music.

I have listened to plenty of extreme-modernist music and I have a certain curisoity regarding it. However, when you compare it with most older music it's clear at least to me that it doesn't sound good. What I seek are good melodies, themes, harmonies, rhythms, orchestrations/instrumentations etc. The first 4 (melodies, themes, harmonies, rhythms) are in almost all cases lacking. You can't really say that a serialist piece by Pierre Boulez has a good melody or rhythm for instance. Sure, the orchestrations/instrumentations might be good in the sense that it is skillfully done but if you base the music only on that and lack decent melodies, themes, harmonies and rhythms then it's pretty lacking musically and doesn't sound good to my ear at least.

Complexity doesn't guarantee good music and can often stand in the way of good music. Sure, serial music is complex but what matters is how it actually sounds.

Bryan Townsend said...

Well, that was interesting! And a reminder to me to be very cautious about venturing into any of the currently contested political debates. We will avoid any discussion of global warming and climate change!!! But at the same time, I am a great believer in discussion as much of the time thrashing out an issue like this clarifies both the issue and each person's position. But I think I would have preferred it if the discussion had centered on a different aspect of the post: the differences between Hector Berlioz' and Louise Farrenc's approach to the symphony, for example...