female composers

Celebrating Female Composers and the Importance of Allyship

With this month having International Women’s Day I thought that I would include some female composers and artists for you to listen to. Two composers that I thought that I would mention are Alma Mahler and Clara Schumann. Both of these women have connections to husbands who were great and prolific composers but were burdened with the responsibilities of their gender roles. 

Alma’s musical career started young and throughout her life, she produced at least 50 songs for voice and piano as well as works in other genres. However, only 17 songs are known to have survived. Her first marriage was to Gustav Mahler under the condition that she stopped her musical compositions which she reluctantly conceded to. Her mental health deteriorated throughout the marriage because of the stifling of this creative outlet. Following the death of one of their daughters, Maria, the degradation of their marriage, and the discovery of Alma’s affair with Walter Gropius, Gustav Mahler had a change of heart and started to encourage Alma’s compositions. 

Barbara Hannigan; “Laue Sommernacht”; Alma Schindler Mahler 

Clara Schumann was one of the most famous female pianists in the 19th century. She started her career as a child prodigy on the piano and performed for six decades throughout Europe. She was her own manager, female composer, and wife to Robert Schumann, gave birth to eight children, a piano educationist and editor of the works of her deceased husband. 

Clara Schumann: Six Lieder, Op.13 – 1. Ich stand in dunklen Träumen 

When I learned about these two female composers I was reminded of all the work that women have put towards their liberation and also of the work that needs to be done. How can men be better allies to their female friends? How can we uplift all women? How do we become better allies? 

Allyship is a concept that members of a privileged group stand by marginalized groups and work in defending, and uplifting them whilst educating themselves and continuing to confront their own biases. It is not enough to just “not be racist” but to be actively anti-racist. More and more we are seeing performative allyship within many communities – Allyship should not be conditional. A marginalized community, such as female composers, should not have to “act a certain way” for you to believe that they should be treated as equals and human beings. We should be aware of this type of response called “tone policing” when we engage in these conversations with marginalized communities. Examples of these may be when women are told that they are being emotional or crazy, but not addressing the issues that are being brought forth. We also saw these responses during the George Floyd protests. Many people took more issue with the destruction of property than the actual crimes that had occurred and were still occuring. As an ally, I think that we must remember that there is an anger that we will never know and we should not discredit. Good allyship often requires us to act in ways that do not directly benefit ourselves. This video by Shon Faye breaks down performative activism during pride by businesses. 

Gay Pride & Capitalism: What is Pinkwashing? 

Being a good ally is hard. It requires a lot of maturity in understanding others’ emotional well being as well as our own. It is necessary work, and the work is never finished. It requires us to understand where our money goes, what policies we support, who we support and how we speak about our own work. All we can hope to accomplish is to aid in the dismantling of these systems and breaking down these cycles of trauma. 

Further listening: 

Eve Parker Finley – Icarus 

ALOK: The Urgent Need for Compassion | The Man Enough Podcast 

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By: Kristian Lo, Member at Large, RESOUND Choir