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Women's History and Music History: The Feminist Historiography of Sophie Drinker Ruth A. Soke for Mary Maples Dunn In a talk she gave late in her life on "the dilemma of the woman artist," Sophie Drinker offered her listeners the empowering skill of feminist rereading: Often two versions of the same myth with the same goddess as heroine exist side by side. Take, as an example, the familiar Pandora whom we think of as an inquisitive adolescent opening a box that did not belong to her and letting out all the troubles of the world. But, according to the women's creed, Pandora was a beautiful Earth Mother whose treasure chest was filled with nature's good gifts. Or, take the famous Eurydice and her lover Orpheus. The usual interpretation of their legend depicts Orpheus as a divine musician and Eurydice as a passive shadow, tossed back and forth from earth to hell by men desirous of her. How different is the myth that describes Orpheus as merely an expert human singer and Eurydice as the embodiment of the deep wisdom of music never attainable by mortals. These anecdotes were part of a lecture delivered before Philadelphia club women, in which Drinker summarized her goal as demonstrating that "patriarchal ideals are not necessarily natural and inevitable."1 The same demonstration lies at the heart of her 1948 book, Music and Women,2 whose unexpected and idiosyncratic invention of some now-familiar principles of women's history is my subject. Of what stories is Drinker's book itself a rereading? Certainly of all those recounted in contemporaneous texts in music history, which in the 1940s were suddenly being produced in profusion by the brand-new discipline of musicology, just imported from Europe and newly rooted in the American academy. And perhaps of current stories of the history of women as well, since Drinker's finished work foreshadows ideas later developed by prominent feminist scholars like Gerda Lerner, Joan Kelly, and Linda Nochlin. While Music and Women did not seem to make much impression on either of these disciplines at the time of its publication, there is evidence that it has subsequently sometimes played the same empow- © 1993 Journal of Women's History, Vol 5 No. 2 OFall) 1993 Ruth A. Soue 9 ering role in women's lives that was intended by her myth retellings. The book has been described as "the object of a cult among women musicians" and "the Bible of the women-in-music movement" as of the late 1970s, and it has more recently been cited as a catalyst for the development of feminist consciousness in an autobiographical piece by a British woman of middle years.3 Originally, it was the search for repertory for an amateur women's chorus that led Drinker to the writing of Music and Women. For, as she says in her foreword, "I was both surprised and shocked at the type of choral literature offered by the music publishers. It was childish, trivial, far too sentimental for these intelligent women..." She also discovered that little or none of the music available was composed by women. Women musicians are experts in performing vocal and instrumental music, but rarely do they play or sing music that they themselves have composed. Why do they allow themselves to be merely carriers of the creative musical imagination of men? Why do they not use the language of music, as they use gesture and speech, to communicate their own ideas and feelings?4 Drinker determined to find the historical reasons for this phenomenon , believing as she did that women's apparent musical silence betokened as well a spiritual silencing and impoverishment.5 Before she finished her nearly twenty years of research, she had developed a radically antipatriarchal vision of history, couched in terms of the special brand of ferninism typical of the period, the whole almost unimaginable for someone of her background and upbringing who spent her days at home with her family or in the incessant self-improvement activities typical of her class and situation. In effect she invented her own historiography, a transgressive music history which, although consonant with many later principles of feminist scholarship...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 8-31
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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