Review of Laurel Parsons and Brenda Ravenscroft, eds., Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers: Concert Music, 1960–2000, Oxford University Press, 2016

Rachel Lumsden

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It does not seem that woman will ever originate music in its fullest and grandest harmonic forms. She will always be the recipient and interpreter, but there is little hope she will be the creator.

(Upton 1880, 28)

A woman’s composing is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all.

(Gray 1924, 246)

Even if they’ve hardly ended up household names, the women in this alternative history of composing are, quite frankly, anomalies.

(Gregory 2016)

It’s no secret that women composers have faced an uphill battle. The three quotes above—from authors on two different continents whose writings span more than 130 years—reflect a range of opinions on this issue, yet each presents a constant and familiar mantra regarding the scarcity of women composers. Even feminist thinkers have echoed these ideas. As Virginia Woolf pithily summarized the situation, “The woman composer stands where the actress stood in the time of Shakespeare” (Woolf 2007 [1929], 59). In Female Pipings in Eden, Ethel Smyth depicts herself as a lonely beacon in a desolate tundra of female compositional activity and describes how the inspiration for her scorching manifesto was “perpetually being asked” about the lack of professional women composers.1 Like the Sumatran rhinoceros, the woman composer is frequently characterized as a rare, solitary, and elusive entity. She is often said to be naturally reclusive, but sightings tend to occur more frequently in March (especially around March 8) and during special concerts, conference sessions, or other events organized specifically for her kind.

Nevertheless, she persisted. Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers: Concert Music, 1960–2000, edited by Laurel Parsons and Brenda Ravenscroft, is the first publication of its kind for music theory. There is a dire need for this project. Aside from helping to raise awareness about the women composers discussed in the volume, the book offers detailed analyses of their actual music, a vital contribution to music theory scholarship. (In their introduction, the editors present a number of alarming statistics about the lack of theoretical journal articles and conference presentations on music by women composers, which typically account for less than 3% of the research produced in these areas.2) Fortunately, this groundbreaking achievement has not gone unnoticed: in 2017, the book won the Society for Music Theory’s publication award for outstanding multi-author collection.

Each of the essays in the volume examines a single work or movement by one of eight different composers, some familiar (Libby Larsen, Joan Tower), some less well known (Norma Beecroft). Many of the featured composers have achieved “firsts” of their own. To list just two: Tower was the first woman to win the Grawemeyer Award; Larsen was the first female composer to be named composer-in-residence for a major American orchestra, the Minnesota Orchestra. This particular volume is one of four planned installments in the series: the other volumes include Secular and Sacred Music to 1900; Concert Music, 1900–1960; and Electroacoustic, Multimedia, and Experimental Music, 1950–2015. (Full disclosure: I am one of the authors for volume 2, Concert Music, 1900–1960, but this volume is still in the early stages of the publication process.)

Because of my own involvement with this project, inthis review I will focus less on the analytic particulars of the individual essays, and more on providing a broader context for the volume. My review is divided into three sections. The first part of the review offers an overview of the volume and briefly discusses each of the essays. Next, I examine some of the practical aspects of the book, including the benefits and drawbacks of using it in a pedagogical context. At the end of this essay, I explore some of the wider implications of the project and how it intersects with contemporaneous perspectives in feminism and gender studies.

1. Overview of the Volume

Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers is organized in three parts. “Part 1: Order, Freedom, and Design” focuses on serial and octatonic structures in works by Ursula Mamlok, Norma Beecroft, and Joan Tower. Joseph Straus’s chapter on the third movement of Mamlok’s piano trio Panta Rhei (1981) describes how her distinctive approach to serial composition “refute[s] many of the myths that have accreted to twelve-tone music” (28). (Straus previously analyzed the fourth movement of Panta Rhei in his 2009 monograph, Twelve-Tone Music in America.) Rather than slavishly adhering to the serial structures that undergird the piece, Mamlok approaches the movement with a spirit of openness and possibility, using a hexatonic framework full of repetition and triadic references, and a duration series whose rhythmic construction unfolds “in an entirely free and possibly random way” (25). Straus also adapts Richard Cohn’s “Northern” and “Southern” hexatonic systems to show how Mamlok creates progressions of (037) and (014) trichords within hexatonic collections, illustrating how these harmonies gradually “bleed into each other” by retaining two common tones (the hexachords of the twelve-tone series for this movement are also ordered as RI-chains) (21).3

Christoph Neidhöfer’s essay on Beecroft’s Improvvisazioni Concertanti No. 1 (1961) reveals how Beecroft used serial structures to create “the impression of a spontaneous, improvisatory discourse” between solo flute and orchestra (34). Although the piece does not include moments of chance, indeterminacy, or actual improvisation—all the music is written out—Neidhöfer carefully traces how the work’s serial structures generate a remarkable feeling of improvisation, its gestures functioning as “simulated improvisations” (André Hodeir’s term). Neidhöfer skillfully incorporates a number of fascinating primary source documents in his analysis, such as Beecroft’s compositional sketches and her notes on a 1960 lecture by Bruno Maderna. Yet one wishes he had included a bit more information about how Beecroft’s own experience as an accomplished flutist (she studied with famed contemporary flutist Severino Gazzelloni) may have also informed the piece, especially since the essays in this volume are intended for performers as well as theorists.4

In the third essay in Part 1, Jonathan Bernard examines octatonicism in Tower’s Silver Ladders (1986). Octatonicism is a pervasive and frequently discussed feature of Tower’s works, but Bernard’s essay goes well beyond mere identification, revealing important insights into Tower’s compositional style. Bernard outlines six categories of octatonicism: Category 1 (single scales) and Category 2 (scales doubled at the minor third or major sixth) are more traditional, straightforward classifications, but some of Bernard’s other categories incorporate processes of transformation (for example, Category 5 involves shifts from one octatonic collection to another; Category 6 involves moves between octatonic and chromatic collections). Most notable are his Categories 3 and 4, which he describes as “composite formations” that sound different octatonic collections simultaneously (72–73). Recognizing that these categories conflict with typical definitions of octatonicism, in which scholars tend to focus on identifying the (single) octatonic collection(s) used in a work or passage, Bernard unravels how Tower’s creative (perhaps even freewheeling) use of these structures reveals how her music is not organized around the “unrelenting exactitude” of specific, fixed pitch collections or scales (94). (Bernard notes that Tower has never used the term “octatonic” in discussions of her music.) Instead, Tower seems more concerned with specific intervallic structures; as Bernard argues, “while Tower may not be much interested in pitches or pitch classes per se, she remains vitally interested in the intervals they form” (95). Bernard’s work offers new analytic perspectives on Silver Ladders and on Tower’s music more generally, but his ideas will also be useful for scholars interested in octatonicism in other contexts.

“Part 2: Gesture, Identity, and Culture” includes essays on Sofia Gubaidulina and Chen Yi. Judy Lochhead’s essay on Gubaidulina’s one-movement String Quartet No. 2 (1987) draws on Gilles Deleuze’s work to examine how the quartet “musically thinks difference” and how “its various forms of repetition engage differing” (106). Lochhead does not assert a simplistic, one-to-one mapping of “difference” in her analysis (i.e., she does not claim that Gubaidulina attempts to directly render her own various personal differences—as a Russian woman, or an avant-garde composer—in the quartet), but instead, explores how the complex relationship between gesture, difference, and repetition shapes the fabric of the music itself. For Lochhead, repetition in the piece “not only shows the essential uniqueness of events … but also is a generative and creative force” (104). Readers familiar with Lochhead’s work will enjoy her tables, charts, and figures (which are as beautifully and clearly constructed here as they are in her other publications) and will recognize portions of this essay from her excellent recent monograph, Reconceiving Structure in Contemporary Music (2016).

Figure 5.3 from Parsons and Ravenscroft, Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers, 1960–2000.

Nancy Yunhwa Rao’s essay on Chen Yi’s Symphony No. 2 (1993) considers gesture and identity in a different context, examining how Chen Yi uses traditional patterns from Chinese opera to evoke two primary gestures in the piece: the “gesture of agony” and “gesture of epiphany” (135, 137). Chen Yi is well known for fusing “Eastern” and “Western” cultural references and techniques in her works; Rao emphasizes how her music “moves between cultures” and how her “transnational position means communicating both across cultural borders and from interstitial spaces” (131). Rao insightfully explains how individual patterns such as ji-ji-feng, sibian yiluo, leng chui, and chongtou help to create narrative and emotional impact in the work, which was written in honor of Chen Yi’s recently deceased father.5 For example, at the conclusion of the symphony Chen Yi uses gong and woodblock rhythms based on the Chinese opera percussion pattern chongtou, which typically evokes “the image of a dignified statesmanlike figure gravely exiting the stage and stepping into the future” (147). In this essay Rao also raises important questions involving embodiment and meaning, particularly regarding the difficulties Western listeners may face when hearing references to musical styles and gestures that may be unfamiliar to them.

The three essays in “Part 3: Music, Words, and Voices” explore issues of voice and text in music by Kaija Saariaho, Libby Larsen, and Elisabeth Lutyens (“voice” is used as a broad category of inquiry in these three essays, encompassing actual singing voices as well as questions of authorial voice and gender). John Roeder examines the third song from Saariaho’s From the Grammar of Dreams (1988), a five-movement cycle of duets for soprano and mezzo- soprano based on Sylvia Plath’s poem “Paralytic.” Roeder analyzes how register, pitch, and meter help to create a more “collaborative” relationship between the two voices in the movement, which features a subtle, restrained texture that contrasts with the “pyrotechnics” of the other songs (157). Throughout the essay, Roeder draws insightful connections between the movement’s many ambiguities and Plath’s text, which addresses issues of time and existence as experienced by its narrator, a male polio victim in an iron lung. (Saariaho uses the final lines of the poem for this movement: “The claw / Of the magnolia / Drunk on its own scents / Asks nothing of life.”) In the final paragraph, Roeder briefly discusses possible feminist implications for the analysis, and makes a fleeting reference to the well-known concept of “double-voiced discourse,” but one wishes these themes had been explored in more specific detail throughout the chapter, especially given the sharply gendered features of the text. Ellie Hisama’s (2001) work on the third movement of Ruth Crawford’s String Quartet 1931 is a useful model for how to incorporate ideas of double-voiced discourse into an analytic context.

Brenda Ravenscroft’s chapter on the first two songs from Larsen’s Chanting to Paradise (1997), set to texts by Emily Dickinson, explains how Larsen’s careful attention to details of text setting serves as a kind of compositional prism, which presents an opportunity to explore issues of female voice (the actual voice of the singer, as well as Dickinson’s and Larsen’s perspectives on artistic creation and female experience) and themes of “power, control, confinement, and escape” (192). In “Bind me—I still can sing” Ravenscroft shows how Larsen’s choice of motives based on ic 1 and ic 2 reflect a cyclical (and ultimately unresolved) opposition between oppression and liberation. In the second song, “In this short Life,” Ravenscroft explores how Larsen dwells on the inherent opposition between the words “how much” and “how little” found in Dickinson’s text. Larsen uses textual repetition to expand Dickinson’s original two-line poem into three full stanzas, as well as carefully chosen pitch repetition and subtle changes of interval, contour, and rhythm to create contrasting settings of the phrases “how much” and “how little,” ultimately revealing how “the conflict between how much or how little of life lies within our power can never be resolved” (191).

Example 8.10 from Parsons and Ravenscroft, Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers, 1960–2000.

In the final chapter of the book, Laurel Parsons considers the second movement of Lutyens’s Essence of Our Happinesses (1968), for tenor, chorus, and orchestra. Lutyens based this movement on text from John Donne’s “Devotion 14,” in which he describes time as an “imaginary halfe nothing,” and Parsons explains how this piece—like many of Lutyens’s other works from this era, such as The Numbered (1967), Time Off? Not a Ghost of a Chance! (1968), and The Tides of Time (1969)—demonstrates the composer’s “obsessive concern” with “the problem of time’s relentless passing—and our attempts to reverse, escape, or transcend it” (198). Parsons examines how the movement depicts two different human experiences of time: chronological, measurable, “clock time” and non-linear, subjective, “psychological” time—the time that one “feels and lives” (215). These themes appear even in the second part of the movement, for orchestra alone. Drawing on work by Roeder, Parsons describes how dyads in the marimba and harp function as a “neutral, mechanical” pulse stream, which sounds against a much less predictable event stream of ten different motives (213). The conflict between these two streams illustrates the inherent tensions between measurable and unmeasurable time and provides a wordless rendering of the “conflicted response to the problem of time and human mortality” in Donne’s text (211).

2. Practical and Pedagogical Considerations

The content and design of this volume make it a great resource for the classroom, and it has been a wonderful addition to several of my own classes on women composers and atonal music. Although scholarship on women in music has steadily increased over the last thirty years, even in the twenty-first century numerous barriers exist that make it challenging to feature works by women composers in the theory classroom on a regular basis. A “canon” of teaching pieces by women composers is still very much in the process of being formed. Many theory instructors are unfamiliar with works by women composers because they were not exposed to them during their own studies. Scores by women composers—especially pieces written before 1950—are often difficult to obtain, as many compositions by women are available only in manuscript or in archives. Most anthologies for advanced theory classes contain only a few works by women, even recent publications written for atonal theory courses.6A few anthologies and publishing companies focus exclusively on music by women composers (Briscoe 2004, Glickman and Schleifer (1996), Furore Verlag, and Hildegard Publishing Company), but most of the compositions that appear in these anthologies and catalogues are small-scale solo and chamber works without substantive analytic commentary. (In addition, with the exception of Briscoe’s anthology, often the compositions in these volumes have not been professionally recorded.) Straus’s (1993) Music by Women for Study and Analysis presents short, streamlined examples for undergraduate core theory courses, not entire pieces, and it is currently out of print. Web resources such as IMSLP, Music Theory Examples by Women, and the Composer Diversity Database have helped to raise awareness about women composers and to provide better access to their music. Still, these catalogues are often surprisingly incomplete and lack in-depth analytic discussions.7

Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers thus offers a much-needed resource to theory teachers and creates a number of exciting possibilities for the theory classroom. On the whole, this volume is well-organized and reader friendly; the tone and structure of the volume make it particularly approachable for students (even advanced undergraduates). Each essay begins with a short biographical introduction, a prudent addition to the volume that is especially useful in classes where students may be unfamiliar with many of the composers. Best of all, scores and recordings are readily available for all of the works discussed in the volume, a welcome relief for those of us who have spent years teaching pieces by women composers from manuscript sources or without recordings. At the same time, issues of reception and marginalization are immediately brought into sharp relief when perusing recordings of these pieces on YouTube, as many of the featured compositions have an astonishingly low number of views, even for the works by the more well-known composers. (At the time of writing this review, the YouTube video of Chen Yi’s Symphony No. 2 had 492 views, the third movement of Mamlok’s Panta Rhei had 96 views, and Beecroft’s Improvvisazioni Concertanti No. 1 had only 39 views.) These figures illuminate one of the central themes of the project: the need to raise awareness about music by women composers. They also provide a firsthand illustration of this issue for twenty- first-century students who initially may be skeptical about the lack of representation of women composers in our era. The pieces analyzed in the volume also immediately refute the lingering stereotype that women composers (if they managed to compose at all) worked solely in small- scale genres. Indeed, much existing theoretical scholarship on women composers has focused on small chamber works or songs (for example, Hisama 2001, Krebs and Krebs 2007 , Straus 1995). Certainly, many composers, both women and men, decide to write music for smaller ensembles, but the balance of analytical attention on music by women tips disproportionally toward these smaller- scale works, leaving many large-scale works unexplored. In earlier eras, women composers faced additional difficulties—such as sexist stereotypes about women’s inherent mental and physical “weakness,” and lack of access to advanced music education (especially university courses in form, orchestration, and counterpoint)—that made it challenging for them to compose any kind of music, much less large-scale works.8 Yet many women composers still chose to write large-scale works, even those composing well before the decades covered in this volume (a few examples: Amy Beach, Fanny Hensel, Florence Price, Clara Schumann, and Ethel Smyth). Thus, one of the volume’s greatest strengths is its straightforward, matter-of-fact presentation of analyses of large-scale compositions by women; half of the essays in the volume focus on large-scale works. Showcasing large-scale works by Beecroft, Lutyens, Tower, and Chen Yi helps to draw attention to these individual pieces, as well as broader problems of canon formation. These issues are especially important for readers who work outside music theory and musicology (performers, conductors, arts administrators), since they have a direct opportunity to expand the canon through their own programming decisions.

Another appealing feature of the volume is the companion website hosted by Oxford University Press, which contains online versions of all of the examples, tables, and figures in the volume that may be viewed, downloaded, or printed from the website. Given the book’s small trim size (and a few other difficulties with the design of the text, to be discussed below), I found it quite helpful to view the examples through the companion website while reading the text. The companion website also presents other resources that could not be incorporated into the printed volume. Previously, the only existing recording of Lutyens’s Essence of Our Happinesses was a BBC broadcast held in Britain’s National Sound Archive, so the editors arranged to have a new recording of the piece made especially for the companion website, making the work accessible to listeners for the first time. The companion website also includes full-color examples and figures, such as the striking watercolor image and meticulously constructed examples in Lochhead’s essay. One minor complaint about the companion website is that each of the music examples is listed separately, and for most of the chapters that have multipart examples each example is a separate file, so it is not as easy to make side- by-side comparisons online as in the printed volume.

Overall this volume has been a successful addition to my own courses, but students have found a few features of the design of the volume cumbersome, especially when viewing scans of essays online in a course management system. Many examples and figures are printed in landscape format (i.e., requiring the book to be rotated sideways), which is fine if you have access to a hard copy of the book, but this creates aggravation for online readers who have to incessantly click “rotate view” while reading.9 The placement of examples is always a daunting challenge of the publication process, but the location of examples and figures in the volume is sometimes puzzling; some examples appear well after they have been discussed in the text. Again, this presents obvious difficulties if reading a scan of an essay because it forces lots of scrolling up and down on a computer screen and is especially irksome if footnotes are involved (footnotes occur at the end of each chapter), or if an example is printed on a page that is unnumbered (full- page examples and figures appear on unnumbered pages, following Oxford’s house style).10

But these are minor quibbles of formatting, not content; on the whole this volume is constructed thoughtfully and has been extremely useful in a classroom context. In the introduction, the editors describe how they aimed to make the volume approachable for performers and conductors, in order to help encourage more performances of these and other works by women composers (5, 9). Indeed, I have assigned essays from the volume in courses with a mix of students specializing in different musical fields, and the clarity and organization of the writing has made the content accessible even to students without a thorough background in post-tonal theory. (The book even has a glossary of terms.) Many instructors want to include more works by women in their courses, but avoid doing so because tracking down scores, manuscripts, and recordings can be frustrating and time consuming. On the whole, the thoughtful construction of this volume gives instructors an easy, effective way to incorporate works by women composers into their advanced theory classes, especially those with discussions based on readings.

3. The “F-word” and Other Concerns

In the decades following the “second-wave” feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, many feminist scholars observed a distinct reluctance—especially among younger people—to embrace the label “feminist.” Even though feminism had been a constant force in the United States for more than 150 years, many people hesitated to identify themselves as feminist, even if they acknowledged and supported the social changes that feminism helped make possible.11 But the elections of November 2016 have created a striking cultural shift: suddenly, feminism has become cool. Pink pussy hats and “nasty woman” t-shirts are donned by activists and hipsters alike as they flock to marches and protests. Merriam-Webster chose “feminism” as the word of the year for 2017. Movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up have served as a platform for millions of women to share their experiences of discrimination, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. In short, Donald Trump’s election has created a new sense of urgency to address longstanding issues of inequality, sexism, and racism in our lives and work. These changes are increasingly affecting music theory as well. In addition to years of feminist activity by the SMT’s Committee on the Status of Women, feminist music theory articles have appeared in two recent issues of Music Theory Online (Summer 2017 and Spring 2018), the History of Theory Interest Group held a panel discussion on women music theorists at the 2018 AMS/SMT conference, and Project Spectrum organized a symposium on diversity in music theory, musicology, and ethnomusicology that preceded the 2018 AMS/SMT conference, to list just a few recent developments.

How does this 2016 volume, completed and published before feminism became trendy again, reflect the feminist movement in the twenty-first century? Is this volume of Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers feminist? Careful readers may observe a degree of caution throughout the volume (and especially in the introduction) that encapsulates some of the tensions about feminism commonly found in the pre-Trump era. In the introduction, the editors diligently work to avoid any potential charges of the ever-dreaded “essentialism”; even the first page of the volume begins with a quote from Gubaidulina in which she emphasizes that women and men may have differences, but “it is not very important whether I am a woman or a man” (1). In a similar vein, throughout the volume there is a notable degree of equivocation about issues of “women’s voice,” which are largely left ambiguous and unresolved. Most authors in the volume avoid the issue entirely. The editors note that it is too early to determine if a distinctly “female compositional voice” exists “until we know more about the music women have created” (8–9). Another curious omission is the lack of feminist scholarship (especially from disciplines other than music) in the volume. By my count, only ten feminist scholars outside music are cited in the volume: half of these are briefly mentioned in footnotes;12 only five names appear in the main text (in a few short sentences on pp. 103–104 of Lochhead’s essay). Even the work of well-known feminist scholars in music is sometimes sidelined. For example, Suzanne Cusick and Susan McClary are not included in the index; Cusick’s name only appears in passing (p. 129 and in footnotes on p. 10 and p. 150); only a single 1994 article by McClary is briefly listed in one footnote in the introduction (fn. 5, p. 10); and surprisingly, McClary’s Feminine Endings is never mentioned (and is not listed in any of the chapter bibliographies). I am very intrigued to see if future volumes of the project will feature feminism and feminist scholarship more prominently. “Intersectionality” has become another buzzword in recent years, even though the term was first used three decades ago by feminist scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989) and has been discussed in great detail and with great nuance by feminist scholars for more than twenty-five years. Unfortunately, this volume is, to be blunt, pretty darn white and not very intersectional. The majority of the composers in the volume are heterosexual white women who were born in Europe or North America, or lived there for many years. Only one composer of color appears in the volume (Chen Yi), and the volume does not contain any discussions of sexuality or disability. Of course, this is not necessarily entirely the fault of the editors—and to their credit, in the introduction they are upfront about this issue, noting that there are “unfortunate gaps” in this collection, but they hope it will “stimulate research that will result in these gaps being filled” (12). Still, one wishes that more of an effort had been made to make the volume more inclusive. There are numerous women of color whose music deserves in-depth analytic attention: Margaret Bonds, Unsuk Chin, Gabriela Lena Frank, Tania León, Dorothy Rudd Moore, Undine Smith Moore, Gabriela Ortiz, Julia Perry, Florence Price, and Du Yun, to name just a few. Hopefully women composers of color (and issues of sexuality and disability) will be better represented in other forthcoming volumes.

But no single book is perfect, and in my view this project is inherently feminist because it uses the tools of music theory to raise awareness of the many contributions by women to classical music. This is valuable and meaningful work. As the editors note in their introduction, “mainstream music theory … has not kept pace” (3) with scholarship on women’s music in musicology, ethnomusicology, and performance, even after groundbreaking research on gender and music—some of which was by music theorists—from the late 1980s and early 1990s.13 Suzanne Cusick has recently emphasized that in-depth analyses of women’s compositions are still rare, stressing that “we still have work to do” because “few compositions by women have become readily available for close analysis, despite decades of musicological feminism” (2013, 561). Even the biennial Feminist Theory and Music conference reflects these trends: typically only a small cluster of theorists attend, and an even smaller number of papers incorporate theory and analysis. As Smyth poignantly wrote in 1933, “To me one of the curious facts in life is how slowly things move” (19). Music theory moves slowly, too. So in the end, bickering about whether or not a single publication is sufficiently “feminist” is petty and small- sighted. What really matters is if the volume accomplishes the goals outlined by the editors in their introduction: to expand the canon to include these wonderful pieces of music, to increase scholarship on women composers, and to encourage performances of music by women composers (5). On these fronts, and many others, the volume is a resounding success, and its importance to the field of music theory cannot be overstated. Indeed, the volume directly demonstrates one of the most appealing possibilities of analysis: to be a force for positive change. In this case, the tools of music theory not only help to reveal an “unstoppable wave of women’s participation as musical creators” (9), but also illustrate precisely why their musical works are so compelling. In their introduction, the editors emphasize that they hope this research will “respond to old questions and generate new ones” (9). There is much work that remains to be done to expand and diversify our field, but this volume is a crucial and significant step forward. Let’s continue the journey.

Rachel Lumsden is Assistant Professor of Music Theory at Florida State University. She is co-editor of the Norton Guide to Teaching Music Theory (2018), and her articles have been published in American Music, Black Music Research Journal, Feminist Studies, Music Theory Online, Studies in American Humor, and Women and Music. She received a Ph.D. in music theory and a doctoral certificate in women’s studies from the CUNY Graduate Center, and previously taught at Brooklyn College and the University of Oklahoma.


Briscoe, James (ed.). 2004. New Historical Anthology of Music by Women. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Cohn, Richard. 1996. “Maximally Smooth Cycles, Hexatonic Systems, and the Analysis of Late-Romantic Triadic Progressions.” Music Analysis 15 (1): 9–40.

Crenshaw, Kimberlé. 1989. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1989 (1): 139–167.

Cusick, Suzanne. 2013. “Review of Susan McClary, Desire and Pleasure in Seventeenth-Century Music.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 66 (2): 556–561.

Davis, Angela Y. 1995. “Afterword.” In To Be Real: Telling the Truthand Changingthe Face of Feminism, edited by Rebecca Walker, 279–284. New York: Anchor Books.

Glickman, Sylvia and Martha Furman Schleifer (eds.). 1996. Women Composers—Music Through the Ages, vols. 1–8. New York: G.K. Hall.

Gray, Cecil. 1924. A Survey of Contemporary Music. London: Oxford University Press.

Gregory, Alice. 2016. “The History of Classical Music (The Women-Only Version).” New York Times, December 2. 2016.

Hisama, Ellie M. 2001. Gendering Musical Modernism: The Music of Ruth Crawford, Marion Bauer, and Miriam Gideon. New York: Cambridge.

hooks, bell. 2000. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

Krebs, Harald and Sharon Krebs. 2007. Josephine Lang: Her Life and Songs. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lanser, Susan and Evelyn Beck. 1979. “[Why] Are There No Great Women Critics? And What Difference Does it Make?” In The Prism of Sex: Essays in the Sociology of Knowledge, edited by Julia A. Sherman and Evelyn Torton Beck, 79–91. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Lochhead, Judy. 2016. Reconceiving Structure in Contemporary Music: New Tools in Music Theory and Analysis. New York: Routledge.

Neuls-Bates, Carol (ed.). 1996. Women in Music: An Anthology of Source Readings from the Middle Ages to the Present, Revised Edition. Boston: Northeastern University Press.

Rao, Nancy Yunhwa. 2007. “The Tradition of Luogu Dianzi (Percussion Classics) and Its Signification in Contemporary Music.” Contemporary Music Review 5 (6): 511–527.

Roig-Francolí, Miguel. 2008. Anthology of Post-Tonal Music for Use with Understanding Post-Tonal Music. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

Showalter, Elaine. 1981. “Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness.” Critical Inquiry 8 (2): 179–205.

Smyth, Ethel. 1933. Female Pipings in Eden. London: Peter Davies Limited.

Straus, Joseph N. 1993. Music by Women for Study and Analysis. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

——— . 1995. The Music of Ruth Crawford Seeger. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

——— . 2009. Twelve-Tone Music in America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Upton, George P. 1880. Woman in Music. Boston: J.R. Osgood.


  1. Smyth (1933, 4). While outlining the broader social conditions that have traditionally inhibited women’s work as composers, Smyth writes, “Imagine then our feelings when people whip out their binoculars, sweep the landscape, and announce that so far, strange to say, no advancing army of eminent women composers is to be descried on the horizon” (12). Christopher Wiley discusses the surprising contradictions found in Smyth’s Female Pipings in Eden, noting that in the book Smyth “chose to ignore the many women composers [his emphasis] with whom she was contemporary” (2004, 407).
  2. According to data compiled by Parsons and Ravenscroft, from 1994 to 2013 only 23 of 1,524 published articles (1.51%) in eight leading theory and analysis journals concentrated on music by a woman composer (3). Since 1994, only 34 of 1,372 (2.47%) SMT conference presentations focused on compositions by women (4). Parsons and Ravenscroft note that 18 of these 34 conference papers occurred in special sessions organized by the SMT’s Committee on the Status of Women (4).
  3. These hexatonic systems are discussed in Cohn (1996).
  4. The editors emphasize that they hope the volume will be helpful for performers multiple times in their introduction (5, 9). I will return to this point in more detail in the next section of this review.
  5. Some of the content in this essay previously appeared in Rao (2007).
  6. For example, Roig-Francoli’s Anthology of Post-Tonal Music (2008) includes 41 pieces, but only three written by women composers (Ruth Crawford Seeger, Augusta Read Thomas, and Saariaho).
  7. For example, at the time of writing this review, the IMSLP page for Fanny (Mendelssohn) Hensel listed only 17 of her more than 450 compositions.
  8. For an excellent introduction to these issues, see the essays by Upton, Clarke, Meadows-White, Fay, Daniels, Smyth, and Seashore in Neuls-Bates (1996, 206–227 and 278–302), as well as Smyth (1933,7–35).
  9. In addition, it is not always clear why some examples appear in landscape format. For example, Example 4.13 (89), a short reduction of a chain of perfect and augmented fourths, contains only eight notes and minimal annotations, yet is oriented sideways and takes up an entire page.
  10. To give one particularly troublesome example: in chapter 3, the text on p. 49 refers to Example 3.17, which doesn’t appear until seven pages later (p. 56). After skipping ahead to view that example, the reader must then flip further ahead to p. 64 to read footnote 17, and then turn backward to p. 52 (which isn’t numbered!) to refer to the example (3.13) that is cited for comparison in the footnote, all before returning to the text on p. 49 to continue reading.
  11. As Angela Y. Davis wrote in 1995, “Many young people today would never openly associate themselves with the label ‘feminist,’ even though they live and understand their lives in ways others would not hesitate to call feminist” (282). For a good introduction to this issue, see hooks (2000) and Walker (1995).
  12. Sometime these footnotes provide misleading information about the feminist scholarship listed. For example, in fn. 16, p. 175, “double-voicedness” is incorrectly attributed to Elaine Showalter (1981). The idea first appeared in Lanser and Beck (1979, 86).
  13. Important work by Brett, Citron, Cusick, Kielian-Gilbert, Maus, McClary, Solie, Tick, Wood, and many others helped to bring issues of gender and sexuality into music scholarship.