Masculinist Cultural Nationalism In European New Music
October 11, 2005
Mary Jane Leach
mentioned that the Ensemble Sospeso is very Eurocentric.
I noticed that too. In fact,
when I first stumbled across their website I had to double check to make sure it
was even an American ensemble. Their
programs look like the standard fare one gets here in
focus might be one reason Sospeso programs so few women.
Women composers are still somewhat less supported in
Perhaps I should
define the "international style" since some might not be familiar with
the term. Generally speaking, it is
usually a relatively atonal and coloristic music developed through theoretical
systems the composer creates specifically for the piece, such as set theory,
rhythmic formulas, and patterns for the development of timbre.
Works in the international style are often orchestral.
The best practitioner in
Even if the
international style seems almost generic in
From this patriarchal perspective, composers like Marco Stroppa, Wolfgang Rhim, Jurgen von Bose, Pascal Dusapin, and Magnus Lindberg are perceived and promoted as symbolic embodiments of the creative power of their countries -- as were the previous generation of composers such as Boulez, Berio, and Stockhausen. In an almost imperceptible way, it is expected that their music reflect a virility and masculine gravitas appropriate to their status as symbols of national identity. They are also often representatives of state owned and funded cultural institutions that are embued with an ethos of a cultural nationalism. The elitist, formal, modernist nature of the international style is well-suited to this patriarchal function.
(This image of masculine gravitas is also seen quite clearly in the expected demeanor of conductors, who must clearly embody the nationalistic and patrician rituals of classical music and the symphony orchestra.)
The few women who are allowed into these upper eschalons of classical music, such as Kaija Sariaho, must find their own way of appropriating and reflecting the modernist gravitas of cultural nationalism and patrician elitism. Kaija's press photos, for example, stress the chiseled features of an aristocratic and aloof woman -- even though she does not seem to be like that as a person.
As I mentioned,
from a purely stylistic perspective, the music of Augusta Ried Thomas would fit
perfectly among the festivals of
This European view
of the composer, and the modernist international style, stands in increasing
conflict with the low brow, hip, commercial, and increasingly feminist nature of
postmodern American music. While
European new music discretely reflects an ethos of cultural and national
superiority, American music increasingly questions classical music's
elitism and patriarchy as a self-serving ritual that reinforces a system of
class, gender, and nationalistic hegemony. Europeans,
who actually invented postmodern theory, often view much of
The masculinism of
the European new music ethos is clearly demonstrated by
It is also not that
Ensemble Modern has consciously excluded women.
Recording a woman has simply not occurred to them, because women are not
part of the discretely virile,
masculinist cultural nationalism that shapes the world view of continental