The first thing to take into account is that, just as with The Narrative regarding all the other designated victim groups: poor people, black people, native people such as North, Central and South American Indians, Australian aborigines, people from the Middle East (except Jews) and all other visible minorities (except Japanese, Chinese and Koreans), the source of this political strategy is Karl Marx via the Frankfurt School and people like Antonio Gramsci. While the error of this has long been clear, it remains so useful to anyone seeking political power that it simply refuses to die and, along with the nonsensical economic theories of these same people, continues to plague modern societies. Every ambitious politician finds that every time he stands up and tells people that they are being treated unjustly and that he can fix it, he wins increased support. Whether it is true or not is simply irrelevant. Sadly, one of the many problems with democracy is that we allow even massively deluded people to vote...
So, bearing all that in mind, let's have a look at an article in The Spectator that commentator Marc drew to my attention: "There's a good reason why there are no great female composers." The author of that essay is Damian Thompson and it is likely that as soon as it is discovered there will rise up a tsunami of tweets savaging him for daring to say the unsayable:
A delicate question lies at the heart of the subject of female composers, and it’s not ‘Why are they so criminally underrepresented in the classical canon?’ It’s ‘How good is their music compared with that of male composers?’Yes, I'm afraid that is the question. He goes on:
Let's have a listen to both of these pieces. First Clara Schumann:[Clara Schumann's] G minor Piano Sonata ... isn’t a success. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it ‘repugnant’ (Clara’s verdict on Tristan) or ‘horrible’ (her description of Bruckner’s Seventh), but it’s embarrassingly banal.Fanny Mendelssohn, sister of Felix [also] wrote a G minor Piano Sonata and it’s bloody awful. Whether it’s worse than Clara’s sonata I can’t say, because that would mean listening to them again. But we can be pretty sure that neither of them would have been recorded if they had been composed by a man.
That sounds great, doesn't it? Well, only if you don't compare it to an actually great piano sonata. Melodically, rhythmically and harmonically it is banal and routine. Accomplished without being imaginative or charming. Now Fanny Mendelssohn's sonata:
That sounds like very, very bad Liszt (and I'm not too fond of him either). Loud diminished chords are a cliché of 19th century virtuoso piano music, not a virtue.
Mr. Thompson goes through a long list of female composers and concludes that there are no great composers among them. His list includes Judith Weir:
Judith Weir (born 1954) is a minor figure whose ‘stark’ scores sound as if crucial instrumental parts have gone missing. Her opera Miss Fortune received such a savaging at Covent Garden in 2012 that the Santa Fe Opera dropped its plans to stage it. Last year she was appointed Master of the Queen’s Music.He mentions a recent discovery of mine, Elizabeth Maconchy:
The 13 string quartets of Elizabeth Maconchy (1907–1994), for example, are distinctively knotty — but when they turn spiky you think of Bartok and her bleaker moments sound like Shostakovich. Again, the phrase ‘well-crafted’ comes to mind...Yes, that was my impression as well, though I also thought of Alban Berg. I quite liked her quartets, but perhaps they are not on the same level as Berg, Bartók or Shostakovich.
Here are a couple of observations: while it may seem admirable that female composers receive more recognition, is it a good thing? Mr. Thompson's essay begins with what started this:
If we are concerned about justice then we have to ask, is it fair to either the composer or to students that a significant male composer be pushed aside so that a lesser female composer can be acknowledged? If we believe that there are as many great female composers as male ones--probably a cardinal assumption of The Narrative--then yes. But if we listen to the two composers, we are likely to say no.Last week a 17-year-old girl forced the Edexcel exam board to change its A-level music syllabus to include the work of women composers. Jessy McCabe, a sixth former at Twyford Church of England High School in London, started a petition after studying gender inequality. Good for her, you might think. But is it good for A-level students?
One last point, a recurring problem in the mass media, even the Spectator, is that the headlines are chosen, not by the author, but by an editor. What this essay plainly does not do is tell us "why there are no great female composers." So I put the question to my readers. First of all, do you think that there are female composers who are as great as the male composers we categorize as great? You might take the list in the New York Times of the ten greatest composers as your guideline. Second, if you do think so, could you give examples and explain why? If you don't think so, then could you offer an explanation as to why? There really seems no obvious reason why there are not as many great female composers as male ones.
Just to clear your palate, here is a truly great piano sonata by, of course, Ludwig van Beethoven, who identifies as male:
UPDATE: I should add this clarification. The fundamental error in the approach of the Marxist-inspired theories about justice relates to the "is-ought" problem that has been discussed here previously. You can't get from an "is" to an "ought" as David Hume observed. All affirmative action and disparate impact policies in the US are founded on this error. IF a workplace has fewer women or blacks or hispanics than are present in the general population THEN this is grounds for legal action because of fundamental injustice. Let's take an extreme case to show the illogic here. Let's suppose that we are looking for instances of economic injustice, groups of people earning or possessing fewer assets than are the norm (however you determine that!). Suppose we run across a Franciscan monastery where all the residents have taken a vow of poverty. Should we be forcing them to all have a median income or something? Obviously not. But the same logic applies to forcing Marine combat groups to admit or include a certain proportion of women because they are women. Or making cities hire a certain proportion of women firefighters. Or any other rule based on a determination that any variance from the proportions in the population as a whole is some form of injustice. If this were truly a universal rule, which it is not, then we would be looking to solve the problem that 96% of workplace fatalities are suffered by men by insisting that an equal proportion of women be killed to even it out. It is hard to believe that this insane logic has been, not only accepted, but become so ingrained that pointing out its error can result in being fired from a job in government or academia, as Larry Summers discovered. Justice has nothing to do with membership in an identifiable group such as women or visible racial groups. Justice means being treated according to your individual merits and nothing else.
We now return to our regularly scheduled music programing.