The Role of Women in the Musical Life of the 19th Century.

Topics: Felix Mendelssohn, Piano, 19th century Pages: 5 (1788 words) Published: May 27, 2013
Chayamon Sanmueang 2750922
The Romantic Imagination (2103 QCM)
Semester 2, 2012
Convenor – Mr.Stephen Emmerson
The role of women in the musical life of the 19th century.
Due: 4 October 2012

The 19th century was an era of change. There were lots of progression in technology, science, and philosophy that gradually turned European society away from the past centuries. Women’s status in the 19th century Europe also changed. Many of the 19th century women were able to have a profession as they received higher and wider education, and also allowed to have more participation in society. In the musical life of 19th century Europe, numbers of women were able to perform and compose as good and men. However, their opportunities were still limited by tradition. Therefore, the role of the 19th century women as performers and composers was not equal to men, as can be seen in the case of Fanny Hansel, a sibling of the well known composer Felix Mendelssohn.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the numbers of female amateur musicians rose due to the increasingly prosperity of the middle classes. According to Reich (1991), most women from well-to-do families had an opportunity to learn to play the piano or sing in order to improve their marriage opportunities as well as to provide entertainment. However, the influence of the Enlightenment philosophy from the past century indicated that women should only be educated to become a wife and a mother, preventing the early 19th century women from taking music as a profession (Halstead, 1997). In the same way, Fanny Mendelssohn, the eldest child of a wealthy converted Jewish family in 19th century Germany was given piano lessons from a young age by her mother, then continued to study with several famous pianists until she became an excellent pianist. At the age of thirteen she demonstrated her amazing musical memory by playing all preludes from the first book of Bach’s Well -Tempered Clavier by heart (Tillard, 1996). Fanny was given musical composition lessons by Carl Friedrich Zelter in 1818 along with her brother, Felix. The two siblings learned to write songs with piano accompaniment, fugues, and chamber music. Even though their parents were proud of their progress in musical composition, only Felix was encouraged to take music as a profession. Fanny’s father stated in a letter which he wrote in 1820 that she must perform and compose only for leisure. Therefore, Fanny and Felix started to concentrate on different forms of music. The table from The Mendelssohns (Cooper & Prandi, 2002, p.242) shows that from 1820 Felix started to pay more attention to instrumental works, as he composed four piano sonatas, two piano quartets, and two violin sonatas during 1820 to 1823. On the other hand, Fanny concentrated on Lied, a German art song which was popular in the 19th century (Orrey & Warrack). From 1821 to 1823 she composed only two piano sonatas, one piano quartet and a movement of a violin sonata.

During the 19th century, women were not allowed to compose some forms of music. Music form was divided into feminine genre and masculine genre. Sophisticated and large scale compositions such as sonatas and symphonies belong to the masculine genre and were not considered suitable for women. The acceptable genres of music for women were music for domestic entertainment such as a short piano piece, a vocal pieces with piano accompaniment, and chamber music (Martin, 2004). In addition, the music composed by women was considered a part of leisure activity. Therefore, they were rarely published and performed in the public. Like other women of her time, Fanny composed only feminine genre music. Among 500 of her compositions, around 300 of them are Lied, over 100 are piano pieces, 30 choral works, 6 chamber music, 4 cantatas, and 1 oratorio (Sirota, 1981). Her only instrumental work is the overture in C major which she composed in 1830....
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