A Question of Equity - April 1990

Submitted by root on Mon, 08/07/2017 - 17:44

 Women in the Arts


Obviously the question of the presentation of works is complicated by the different ways works are presented in different art forms. For instance it is usual for a theatre to present the same play for 2/3 weeks, an orchestra may perform several different concert pro­grammes in the same hall during a month, and a painting may hang in a major art gallery in the same place for years.

Therefore I have not in general tried to make comparisons across art forms but rather to look at the authorship of works within art forms.

a) Music

I have divided music into the three main areas which receive subsidy - classical music, jazz and folk music - though it should be noted that the subsidy for classical music far exceeds the subsidy to other musical areas, it being some £2 million and the others only a few thousand pounds.

Classical music: During this period there were 116 concerts on Merseyside ranging from the subscription concerts at the Philharmonic Hall to lunch-time recitals at the Central Libraries. I do not have the programme details for 6 of these. In the remaining 110 concerts there were 381 works by 159 composers. Of these there was one work by a woman.

The lack of performances of works by women within the field of classical music is entirely unacceptable. But even less acceptable are the attitudes of those involved in spending public money within this area. During the course of this research I have been told that:- a) there are no women composers, b) there are also many male composers whose works are not played, c) possibly women composers are not played because they are not very good, and d) women already make a major contribution to music as interpreters (both as singers and players).

Aaron Cohen has produced the "International Encyclopaedia of Women Composers". In it he lists over 5,000 women composers, with details of what they have written, and where and when they lived. To quote from his preface "One of the unfortunate facts of the history of music is the non-recognition of women composers. However, as this book documents, women have composed music throughout the ages - in large numbers and in nearly every country of the world."

It is about time that this fact was acknowledged and acted upon by the male musical establishment.

ii) Jazz: Unlike classical music comparatively little jazz comes within the auspices of the subsidised arts - the majority of jazz being played within a commercial context. This means that what is presented here is a partial picture of the situation, though having talked to people I have every reason to suppose it is a representative picture.