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Music and the Skillful Listener

American Women Compose the Natural World

Denise Von Glahn

Publication Year: 2013

For Denise Von Glahn, listening is that special quality afforded women who have been fettered for generations by the maxim "be seen and not heard." In Skillful Listeners, Von Glahn explores the relationship between listening and musical composition focusing on nine American women composers inspired by the sounds of the natural world:Amy Beach, Marion Bauer, Louise Talma, Pauline Oliveros, Joan Tower, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Victoria Bond, Libby Larsen, and Emily Doolittle. Von Glahn situates "nature composing" among the larger tradition of nature writing and argues that, like their literary sisters, works of these women express deeply held spiritual and aesthetic beliefs about nature. Drawing on a wealth of archival and original source material, Von Glahn skillfully employs literary and gender studies, ecocriticism and ecomusicology, and the larger world of contemporary musicological thought to tell the stories of nine women composers who seek to understand nature through music.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4

Copyright Page

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pp. 5-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-xiii

Among the themes weaving together the women in this study, none is more fundamental than collaboration. And so it is with the book itself. Over years and miles I have benefited from the generous collaborative spirit of dozens of people, some close friends and colleagues, and others professionals I’ve never...

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pp. 1-7

This is a book about nature, and women, and music. It reflects a lifetime of curiosity regarding rocks and plants and animals and my relation to them: in that regard it is a quite personal study. Its title was inspired in part by a book by Tina Gianquitto...

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1. A Context for Composers: Within the Nature-Writing Tradition

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pp. 8-23

Until the 1980s, noted American women composers were few in number; their activities were limited in scope. Social mores and circumscribed educational opportunities had discouraged and denied women’s pursuits of professional musical careers. The situation regarding women and music composition, in particular, differed...

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Part One: Nature as a Summer Home: Amy Beach, Marion Bauer, Louise Talma

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pp. 25-31

The first three composers considered in this study – Amy Beach (1867–1944), Marion Bauer (1882–1955), and Louise Talma (1906–1996) – were born four decades and thousands of miles apart: Beach was born in Henniker, New Hampshire; Bauer in Walla Walla, Washington; and Talma in Arcachon, France – she settled in New York City when she was quite young. Beach, the ...

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2. Amy Marcy Cheney Beach (Mrs. H. H. A. Beach)

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pp. 32-47

At a time when serious American musicians traveled to Europe and more specifically to Germany for their education, as had Marian Nevins MacDowell and Amy Fay, Amy Marcy Cheney remained in the United States and under the watchful eye of her mother. Amy Cheney was born in 1867, and when she...

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3. Marion Bauer

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pp. 48-68

In Modern Music-Makers: Contemporary American Composers, a collection of interview-based writings published by Madeleine Goss in 1952, the author quoted Marion Bauer (1882–1955): “To Mrs. Edward MacDowell, I owe a debt of gratitude for having founded a haven where many other composers, writers...

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4. Louise Talma

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pp. 69-98

In September 1946, Louise Talma wrote of her summer’s experience at the MacDowell Colony: “For two months now I have had the wonderful privilege of dwelling in that enchanted little house, the Phi Beta Studio at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. . . . It is a veritable fairy-tale house...

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Part Two: Nature All Around Us: Pauline Oliveros, Joan Tower, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

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pp. 99-101

Composing women born in the 1930s entered a world and a national consciousness that differed significantly from their predecessors.’ The nation that had acknowledged no limits to its potential now had a more realistic picture of its place in the world. For a number of years, the United States shared equally in the widely felt sense...

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5. Pauline Oliveros

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pp. 102-128

In a career spanning nearly sixty years, Pauline Oliveros (b. 1932) has been at the forefront of multiple twentieth-and now twenty-first-century musical movements. Starting in the late 1950s, she was among the vanguard of American composers exploring analog electronic technology and the promises it held...

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6. Joan Tower

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pp. 129-176

Numerous published interviews, feature stories, scholarly writings, and entries in journals, anthologies, dictionaries, and collections of various kinds – and now Ellen K. Grolman’s 2007 Comprehensive Bio-Bibliography – offer essential background information on Joan...

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7. Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

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pp. 177-205

On first glance, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich may appear to have the weakest claim on being included in a study that focuses upon composers for whom nature is a recurring source of inspiration or reference, or whose responses to nature are well documented. Indeed, a look at her extensive works list indicates a spirit more at home in abstract musical...

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Part Three: Beyond the EPA and Earth Day: Victoria Bond, Libby Larsen, Emily Doolittle

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pp. 207-211

The final group of composers includes two women born in the years closely following World War II, Victoria Bond (b. 1945) and Libby Larsen (b. 1950), and one woman born two years after the celebration of the first Earth Day, Emily Doolittle...

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8. Victoria Bond

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pp. 212-241

As Bond’s poem demonstrates, the idea of numinous nature continues to be a powerful force motivating musical creation in the early years of the twenty-first century. But as this chapter will also show, it will not keep Bond from outright irreverence regarding nature’s peskier agents. As has been...

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9. Libby Larsen

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pp. 242-273

Of the composers studied thus far, Libby Larsen is among a very few to ascribe extramusical intent to her works. In contrast to Victoria Bond, whose music making is, by her own admission, not driven primarily by political issues, Libby Larsen acknowledges that many of her pieces...

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10. Emily Doolittle

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pp. 274-316

Of the composers considered in this project, Emily Doolittle is the youngest by nearly a generation. Born in 1972 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to American parents, Doolittle enjoys both Canadian and U.S. citizenship; she thinks of herself as North American. Like Pauline Oliveros and Libby Larsen most especially, Doolittle...

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Conclusions: The Repercussions of Listening

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pp. 317-323

The nine composers considered in this book enjoy a variety of relationships to the natural world. Many have pointed out that within their own oeuvre, nature informs works in different ways and to different degrees; for them, no type of interaction is privileged, no single piece tells all, although specific...


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pp. 325-372


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pp. 373-382


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pp. 383-397

E-ISBN-13: 9780253007933
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253006622

Page Count: 416
Publication Year: 2013