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  • Her-StoriographyPierre Bourdieu, Cultural Capital, and Changing the Narrative Paradigm
  • Kimberly Francis (bio)

Hildegard Jone (1891–1963) was a writer, poet, and artist who corresponded with Anton Webern, and he set her poetry to music on numerous occasions.1 Rosa Mayreder (1858–1938) was an Austrian painter, writer, and renowned feminist whose work influenced Arnold Schoenberg and Hugo Wolf.2 Nadia Boulanger (1887–1979) was a French pedagogue, performer, and conductor who molded generations of artists. She maintained connections with numerous composers and performers throughout her career, among them Aaron Copland and Igor Stravinsky.3 All three of the women presented here—active, vibrant, influential artists during the modernist period—deserve [End Page 169] a place within and yet commonly stand outside of existing musicological narratives. The aforementioned trio is but a distilled sample of the many women or “other” actors essential to the mediation, transfer, and exchange of culture who as of yet occupy tangential roles in musicological work. It remains a complicated task to place these trivialized actors at the center of narratives, in large part because gendered devaluing—whether intentional or not—has predominantly overlooked or otherwise called into question the influence of their work. Indeed, Jeanice Brooks’s description of Boulanger as “seemingly central, yet stubbornly elusive” could easily apply to any of these women.4

For myriad reasons, women’s artistic work in less-conventional fields has been difficult to incorporate into the historical record, and I agree with Brooks—whose work argues persuasively for Boulanger’s musicological importance—that the blame lies, in large part, with musicologists’ seeming recourse to romantic narrative constructs centered on the “Great Composer.”5 Indeed, even the work of feminist musicologists—scholarship undeniably essential for the field—has tended to focus on women composers or feminist interpretations of male composers, marking the maker of the work as the center of the story, the essential protagonist, a critique made by Suzanne Cusick in 1999 that remains true today.6 This structural dependency entrenches composers and their works as the nucleus of any musicological narrative. Those who would fulfill ancillary roles must in some way be connected directly to the work as, for example, collaborators, patrons, or conductors, to name but three roles traditionally dominated by white men.

To reposition those who filled unorthodox positions as powerful members of modernist activity, I turn to Pierre Bourdieu’s theorization of the field of cultural production. Bourdieu’s model offers scholars an additional set of metaphors by which to organize narrative paradigms and thereby to displace the composer-nuclei of our discipline’s historiographical tendencies. Through Bourdieu, composers become situated within and amongst other cultural actors who play essential roles in the establishment of careers, reputations, and prestige. In adapting and extending Bourdieu, I advocate for the introduction of additional narrative paradigms within musicology that displace composers from their central location as isolated geniuses and instead portray them as interdependent upon those within their cultural mosaic. In so doing, I join with scholarship that seeks to reinterpret, in Suzanne Cusick’s words, “woman’s work and the culturally feminine so that they cease to be marginalized and devalued, but might be re-interpreted as important elements of musical culture.”7

Bourdieu was prolific, and his theories are expansive, teeming with potential [End Page 170] for feminist musicologists. Within the scope of this essay, I address only the usefulness of Bourdieu’s notions of cultural production, cultural capital, and the act of consecration. Though his theories could be applied to any of the previously mentioned individuals, for the purposes of this discussion I will focus exclusively on Nadia Boulanger. In so doing, my Bourdieudian intervention opens the interstices of the cultural process wherein “others” worked, and in eschewing a crippling dependence on the centrality of the composer-artist, I create room to celebrate the work of powerful historical women, to whom I refer as “cultural agents.”

The Field of Cultural Production

According to Bourdieu’s theory of cultural production, culture can only be defined within and amongst a group of individuals who engage in its discussion and definition. Bourdieu defines this system of social interaction as a “field” (champ) and the space...


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pp. 169-177
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