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Reviewed by:
  • New Historical Anthology of Music by Women
  • Liz Garnett
New Historical Anthology of Music by Women, ed. James R. Briscoe. Plus Companion CDs. (Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 2004, $39.95. ISBN 0-253-21683-4, CDs: 0-253-34406-9.)

Anything presented as a 'new' version of an existing publication invites comparison with the previous iteration, and a consideration of exactly how new it is. The New Historical Anthology of Music by Women and its companion compact discs appear seventeen years after the original collection, and arrive in a very different musicological landscape. Both Susan McClary, in her Foreword to the new edition, and the editor, James R. Briscoe, in his Preface, frame the volume in terms of the distance travelled in the intervening years, and throughout the volume one can see traces of these changes both in the wider research context and the musical world in which the original version was conceived.

The new volume, like the old, consists of a chronologically ordered collection of pieces by women, each preceded by a short introduction that recounts the composer's biography and discusses the pieces presented. The companion CDs include performances of all except one item in the anthology, although where multiple movements are presented in the anthology, the recordings often offer only a single movement. The introductions to each item are written by a range of contributors, from Ph.D. candidates to established scholars, and offer short bibliographies (and occasionally also discographies) for further study.

The collection presents many of the same works as the original, although it is significantly expanded, with new composers added and two of the original ones (Josephine Lang and Louise Talma) dropped. The additions increase the historical range, with Sappho at the start and a 1999 work by Augusta Read Thomas at the end, as well as rectifying the odd glaring omission, such as Barbara Strozzi. The addition of a rag by May Frances Aufderheide extends a nod towards popular traditions, and Florence Price's Song to the Dark Virgin adds a second black voice to the collection. The shape of the tradition presented, though, remains largely the same.

When the 1987 edition was published, the study of music by women was still a minority interest, producing few publications and with little sense of forming a self-aware subject area. A few of what are now standard texts were available: Christine Ammer, Unsung: A History of Women in American Music (Westport, Conn., 1980), for example, and Jane Bowers and Judith Tick (eds.), Women Making Music: The Western Art Tradition, 1150-1950 (Urbana, Chicago, and London, 1986); but much of the material cited in the bibliographies was still unpublished.

The original anthology played a significant role in the formation of a sense of disciplinary identity for the study of women's music. It not only brought together a significant number of scholars who had previously been working largely in isolation, it also provided study material for those teachers who were aware of the gaps in their students' (and their own) knowledge, but who lacked the resources to fill them in any systematic or thorough way. The ways it facilitated scholarship as well as teaching can be traced in the bibliographies of the new edition. Ann McNamee's article on Bacewicz's Second Piano Sonata, for instance, cited in the 2004 edition, explicitly references the 1987 edition as a source for both score and recording ('Grazyna Bacewicz's Second Piano Sonata (1953): Octave Expansion and Sonata Form', Music Theory Online, Sept. 1993).

The growth in scholarship following the original publication, though, left its anthology looking increasingly out of date, and a new edition was clearly needed. The change in research context is evident throughout the new volume. There is a sense of establishment and disciplinary confidence in the prefatory material, and this is balanced by the inclusion of a sizeable general bibliography at the end of the volume. Bibliographies for individual composers are likewise much expanded, and there is repeated reference to outside sources such as New Grove II for further information. This sense of the anthology as a starting point for study, opening up doors into a wider world of scholarship...


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