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Project 4: Staging Women Composers

Naemi Flemming, M.Ed.

The history of women composers has been adopted and creatively narrated in different forms of historiographical music theater for some time – increasingly since the 1980s, but in some cases notably earlier. Especially during the past few decades, women composers appear more often as main characters than before. These embodiments appear very diverse, performed by instrumentalists, puppeteers and actors as in Clara – Ein Spiel für Ragna Schirmer und Puppen (puppet theater with staged concert by Christoph Werner, Halle 2018), or dancers like those in Geliebte Clara (ballet by Jutta Ebnother, Nordhausen 2015). Women composers are also represented in operas, musicals and similar forms by singers as in Alma und das Genie (“One-Woman-Show for Diva and Pianist” by Tom van Hasselt, Berlin 2015), or even by groups such as a children’s choir in Fanny! – Wer will mir wehren zu singen? (music theater by Cordula Däuper and Johannes Müller, Berlin 2018). These diverse genres show a large stylistic and particularly a large musical scope, thus, the compositions of the depicted women composers may find their place within the musical language of the play, or not. Music as the focus of their agency and work plays at the same time a vital role in presenting the history of women composers in historiographical music theater.


Staging Women Composers: Music Theater on Musical Agency of Women

Once they enter the spot light of music theater, it seems like women composers such as Fanny Hensel (née Mendelssohn), Clara Schumann (née Wieck) or Alma Mahler (née Schindler) leave the shadows casted by the ‘great men’, indicated by their last names. Often using only their first names, the titles of those plays run the risk of making them appear ‘small’ on the one hand (even though they do not stand behind the ‘great composers’ anymore), but on the other hand they illustrate them as ‘independent’ (nevertheless they mostly appear in connection with them). The staging of a women composer often employs different roles: She does not only appear as a composer, but at the same time she is wife, widow, sister, daughter, mother, muse, femme fatale, star, student, teacher, performer etc. Does this reflect the change of perspective which musicological gender studies have called for (focusing on the cultural agency of women)? Or does music theater stand hereby in the tradition of a music historiography that clings to romantic idealization of the genius and its oeuvre? In what capacity do the works of the featured women composers appear in the musical language of the plays? And what purpose do the music and stories of the related men serve therein?

Applying methods from music theater- and performance research, musicological gender studies and music theory, the PhD-project analyzes music theater on women composers. The aim is to explore what solutions historiographical music theater finds, in order to write music history anew, and portray what woman composers had to say (particularly musically).

Daniel Samaga (Changed: 20 Jun 2024)  | 
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