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Sovereign Feminine

Sovereign Feminine: Music and Gender in Eighteenth-Century Germany

Matthew Head
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 353
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  • Book Info
    Sovereign Feminine
    Book Description:

    In the German states in the late eighteenth century, women flourished as musical performers and composers, their achievements measuring the progress of culture and society from barbarism to civilization. Female excellence, and related feminocentric values, were celebrated by forward-looking critics who argued for music as a fine art, a component of modern, polite, and commercial culture, rather than a symbol of institutional power. In the eyes of such critics, femininity--a newly emerging and primarily bourgeois ideal--linked women and music under the valorized signs of refinement, sensibility, virtue, patriotism, luxury, and, above all, beauty. This moment in musical history was eclipsed in the first decades of the nineteenth century, and ultimately erased from the music-historical record, by now familiar developments: the formation of musical canons, a musical history based on technical progress, the idea of masterworks, authorial autonomy, the musical sublime, and aggressively essentializing ideas about the relationship between sex, gender and art. InSovereign Feminine, Matthew Head restores this earlier musical history and explores the role that women played in the development of classical music.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95476-2
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xxii)
  5. Introduction: Fictions of Female Ascendance
    (pp. 1-26)

    Beautiful, rich, and orphaned, Lady Sophia Sternheim, the eponymous musical heroine of Sophie von La Roche’s epistolary novel of 1771, was destined to be hunted by libertines and suffer the torments of stolen reputation. Packed off to court by her ambitious guardians, Count and Countess Löbau, who hope to make her a royal mistress, her pristine virtue is prematurely desecrated by a sham marriage to Lord Derby, a rake. Undone, fleeing her seducer, her conscience embraces death, and she hovers between heaven and earth. Unlike many of her type, however, she does not die: she struggles against the temptations of...

  6. 1 Europe’s Living Muses: Women, Music, and Modernity in Burney’s History and Tours
    (pp. 27-47)

    Burney’s women summon superlatives. In Naples Mrs. Hamilton is the best performer on the harpsichord; in Mannheim Maria Antonia Walpurgis, Dowager Electress of Saxony, brings about “a reconciliation between poetry and music” in her operas; in Munich “Signora Mingotti” holds forth on music “with as much intelligence as anymaestro di cappella.”¹ There is barely a negative comment about the fair sex inThe Present State of Music in France and Italy, The Present State of Music in Germany, the Netherlands, and United Provinces,orA General History of Music: From the Earliest Ages to the Present Period. Admittedly, Burney...

  7. 2 “If the pretty little hand won’t stretch”: Music for the Fair Sex
    (pp. 48-83)

    There is a moment in Emma Thompson’s brilliant free adaptation of Jane Austen’sSense and Sensibility(Columbia Pictures, 1995) that allows modern audiences to eavesdrop on music’s living muse in her original, and perhaps most important, habitat: the home. At once powerfully nostalgic for the manners and “look” of the period and historically accurate in its emphasis on female idealization and aestheticization, the scene takes place at the country home of Sir John and Lady Middleton. Marianne Dashwood, played by the youthful Kate Winslet, breaks protocol near the end of dinner with a bold request to play the fortepiano, an...

  8. 3 Charlotte (“Minna”) Brandes and the Beautiful Dead
    (pp. 84-122)

    The young lady’s domestic practice of music inspired gallant homage from composers and critics, but her death triggered more intense idealization. Occasionally even her corpse was subject to aestheticizing glances—historians have noted a fascination in the late eighteenth century with beautiful female cadavers—but the perfection afforded by permanent stillness was more often expressed via literary, visual, and musical representation. These consoling, hygienic representations sought to conserve beauty, forestall physical corruption, and achieve an illusion of eternal life. Ambivalently, they also celebrated death as the most complete expression of feminine passivity.¹

    An early literary example is met in Samuel...

  9. 4 An Evening in Tiefurt: Corona Schröter’s Die Fischerin and Vegetable Genius
    (pp. 123-157)

    Anna Amalia, Dowager Duchess of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, walked to the opera house that evening.¹ The premiere ofDie Fischerin (The Fisherwoman)took place deep in the rustic parkland that extended from her summer residence in the village of Tiefurt near Weimar to encompass the river Ilm, gently meandering in its meadow course and forming a natural boundary between ducal parkland and the neighboring countryside.² On this evening, after sunset, the banks of the Ilm formed a natural stage, illuminated with bonfires and torches, for the performance of the one-act singspiel. The duchess and her guests were housed in the Mooshütte (Moss...

  10. 5 Sophie Westenholz and the Eclipse of the Female Sign
    (pp. 158-189)

    The (ambivalent) idealization of the professional performers and composers Minna Brandes and Corona Schröter may come as a surprise to readers familiar with the difficulties and internal doubts experienced by female composers in the nineteenth century. Moving from the late eighteenth into the nineteenth century it can seem that history goes into reverse. Such an impression would be simplistic, of course; there was no abrupt reversal of fortunes. In 1782 Goethe praised Schröter as an ethereal muse of the Weimar theater, not as a strong author. In 1843, when Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel deprecated herself as “the most frightening creature imaginable” because...

  11. 6 Beethoven Heroine: A Female Allegory of Music and Authorship in Egmont
    (pp. 190-232)

    In 1810 Beethoven acquired Schiller’s playDie Jungfrau von Orleans (Joan of Arc), and though he never set the drama of France’s transvestite military heroine to music, she left a strong impression. “Without my banner I dare not go,” he wrote to Bettina Brentano in 1811, analogizing his musical sketchbook to the national banner carried into battle by Joan of Arc. In the same letter Beethoven referred to the frustration of his marriage plans through another reference to Schiller’s play: “ ‘Pity my fate,’ I cry with Johanna.”¹

    Beethoven’s (perhaps humorous and flirtatious) self-characterizations as Joan of Arc employed a...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 233-242)

    Friedrich Schiller, the Weimar colleague of Goethe and Corona Schröter, has earned a reputation as one of the more misogynistic figures in late eighteenth-century German literature. The ideal of universal brotherhood in the “Ode to Joy” of 1785, which Beethoven set in the finale of the Ninth Symphony, appears to many commentators exclusively and problematically male.¹ In the allegedly humorous 1789 poem “Die berühmte Frau” (The celebrated woman) Schiller portrayed a conversation between two husbands, the first, the luckier of the two, cuckolded by his wife, the other, more profoundly humiliated by his bride’s success as a published writer and...

  13. APPENDIX: Johann Friedrich Reichardt, Two Prefaces to the Fair Sex
    (pp. 243-246)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 247-300)
    (pp. 301-320)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 321-326)