Sunday, 8 November 2015

We need constant reminders about women artists

Last week, Radio 3's Composer of the Week has been Louise Farrenc. In her time (the mid-19th century) she and her publisher husband were a considerable presence in music in France and beyond. The examples which Donald Macleod have played, including songs specially recorded by the splendid Ruby Hughes, show that her fame was fully justified. No doubt the easy access to publishing helped, but the young Louise Dumont had established herself before her marriage to a supportive husband. (The story of women composers who were forced to stick to home and hearth after marriage is a long one.) Yet outside France she was largely forgotten. I confess that I did not know of her until CotW responded to a suggestion from a listener that she be featured.
Someone I knew only as a name in the roster of Les Six was Germaine Tailleferre until she was featured in CotW. Her extensive catalogue, including both inventive pieces and background music for the French screen, was a revelation. Not enough is available as commercial recordings. CotW has featured the work of women composers in other recent series.

Jessica Duchen's blog post in the middle of the week was therefore timely. It seems that every generation has to fight anew for equal treatment of women in the arts, and that female achievers in previous ages are dropped from the record. History has been equally unkind to graphic artists.

There is one area of the creative arts which is an exception: writing. Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters have never been far from the top of reading lists. Women dominate the golden age of detective fiction. There seems to be no discrimination in the distribution of literary prizes. There is clearly something to do with the male/female dynamic here.

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