Or: The Undoing Of Female Genius
In my most recent video (posted below) I use one of Clara Schumann‘s wonderful songs – Die Stille Lotosblume. She was one of the foremost pianists of the 19th century and made herself quite a remarkable career.
She is primarily known as a performer, not a composer. And as the wife of indisputable genius Robert Schumann.
Thus was the role of a talented women. To put her own desires and callings aside. To denie them and ignore them. To stifle herself and remain in the shadows.
To be a wife and a mother first and foremost.
A Genius Was By Nature A Man!
The concept of being a genius was born during the Romantic era and excluded women. She could learn, yes, but not too much! Learning was against her essential nature. It would make her unattractive if she surpassed what was instinctively natural for her intellect. Not only that. She should also keep away from deep, philosophical matters and… She was not capable to appreciate art!
Now, that makes the next line of thought clear logic. A woman can reproduce someone else’s art, but not create her own. Therefore Clara Schumann could become a hailed pianist by performing the works of male genius, but not create her own masterpieces!
In this video I present a few pillars of The Cult Of Domesticity.
Arguments Against Clara Schumann
The arguments to keep women away from delving deep into anything outside of home ranged from one extrem to another. Frequently contradicting each other in this manner: Women are too emotional or not emotional enough.
One of Clara’s father’s students, Hans von Bülow, was to become the first “modern” conductor. An important man of great fame and reputation. He had this to say about women as creators.
“Reproductive genius can be admitted to the pretty sex, as productive genius unconditionally cannot. . . . There will never be a woman composer, at best a misprinting copyist. . . . I do not believe in the feminine form of the word “creator.”
What did societal programming like that do to a musician of Clara’s magnitude? When those who were her colleagues and supposedly peers looked down upon her artistic capacities in that manner?
The Sexual Aesthetics
In this universe of sexual aesthetics anything a woman did was measured against her gender and Clara Schumann was no exception. Whatever she did as a mother, wife or musician was a virtue or defect related to her sex.
A womans music was to be restricted. She should stay within the smaller realms of song and graceful little piano pieces. Melody and sweetness was allowed. Bombasm and roughness was not.
“I once thought I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose–not one has been able to do it, and why should I expect to? It would be arrogance, though indeed, my father led me into it in earlier days”
On the other side of the spectrum we find masculine expressions of music. It was powerful, intellectuall and full of intriguing counterpoint. This included large-scaled works such as symphonies and operas.
When women started to scale up their musical expression they moved beyond “proper”, “decent” and “modest”. She might just as well have exposed too much cleavage… Whatever that is. But such was the hight of indecency writing the wrong kind of music. Or, for heavens sake, going into conducting.
Hmm, how could you even raise your arms in that corset? Hence women did not conduct. Simply.
Our Inherited Womanhood
Naturally all of this affected every woman’s self-confidence. The patriarchal structures had crippling psychological effects not to be underestimated. These rules imprisoned women’s talents and forced any artistic grandeur into submission. It effectively prevented them from participating fully in any creative community, be it music, painting, writing, architecture or other.
But have things really changed that much? Yes, today western women do have the right to vote, to pursue a career, to remain unmarried, refrain from children and even become the head of state.
But in general? In general it’s still the same old crap!
Get a man, become a mother, handle a household and make sure your shade of lipstick matches your nail polish and your shoes. And please don’t cause embarrassment by outshining him in any way whatsoever!
Are you under the impression things must have moved on since v. Bulow? Read this quote from legendary conductor Jorma Panula on female conductors (2014).
“It’s not a problem – if they choose the right pieces. If they take more feminine music. Bruckner or Stravinsky will not do, but Debussy is OK. This is a purely biological question.”
This is the reality of the Clara Schumann’s of today!
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