Join me in this live, ninety-minute class and discover the five things I’ve learned about the women whose important work provides new ways to understand and enjoy the pleasures of classical music.
Think of classical music, and you think of great masterworks written by men: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and the list goes on. The conventional wisdom is that women, for various historical and cultural reasons, were largely prevented from getting onto the playing field during classical music’s heyday, and now, in the 21st century, we’re working to make up for lost time.
The real picture, however, is more nuanced than that. Yes, there have been and continue to be a lot of obstacles to women’s advancement in classical music — witness how long it’s taken for female conductors to become a significant force. (And now, they are!) But the more you start digging, the more you learn that there have always been a lot of women active in this field, as composers and performers, producing important work. To me, at least, these figures make the whole field seem richer and more colorful — a vibrant territory still ripe for exploration and discovery.
This session is for anyone interested in classical music, whether you’re brand-new to the field or have been subscribing to an orchestra for 40 years. My aim is to give you some new perspectives and new entry points. If you don’t know much about Beethoven, what better way to get to know him than through the eyes of the woman who built his pianos? And you may know all about Mendelssohn, but do you know about his contemporary Emilie Mayer, who ran the opera academy in Berlin, wrote eight symphonies, and was highly praised by critics? My plan is to interweave discussion of some of the main issues that women have faced in this field (like the travails of the female conductor) with brief introductions to a quintet of composers from throughout music history who I’m sure will fascinate you as much as they do me – and who, unlike Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn and some of the female composers whose work has gotten better known, remain largely neglected.
I have a personal stake in this subject: I spent a couple of decades as a classical music critic for major papers — in 2001, I became the first woman to review classical music regularly for the New York Times — and I felt for many years that I needed to prove myself by running with the boys. It took a long time for me to realize that women played a far greater role in this field than I’d ever thought, and that classical music as a whole becomes a lot more exciting and human when women are restored to their proper place in it. Ultimately, I stepped down from my job as chief classical music critic of the Washington Post to work on a long-planned book: A historical novel about Nannette Streicher, the above mentioned piano-builder – a narrative that seeks to put women back in a picture from which posterity has largely removed them. I’m having tremendous fun with this entire topic, and I hope you’ll join me to learn more about a few of the things that have reanimated my love of this thrilling art form.