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Also relevant for music degrees at universities of music (teacher training courses, performance and/or music education training courses) and related degree courses (cultural studies, theatre studies, popular music and the media, etc.

Course: Musicology
Group of courses: Languages and Cultural Studies, Art and Design


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Course objectives:

Students should

  • learn about methodological concepts and theoretical considerations relating to gender studies in the area of musicology
  • understand music in the context of historical or contemporary gender relations
  • learn about gender-specific areas of activity in musical cultures of the past and present
  • understand and question the mechanisms by which the musical canon and repertoire are built and how this has led to works by female composers being "forgotten"
  • be introduced to works by female composers that they can then include in their subsequent professional work (music-making, teaching, working in the theatre, etc.)
  • understand and analyse the function of music performance, musical reception, composition etc. and  in constructing and "performing" gender.

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Teaching content/subject-specific gender studies content:

Women's studies and gender research in the area of musicology investigate gender-specific areas of activity in musical cultures, in the musical construction of gender and in the performance of gender in music-making and the approach to music. Not only are musical activity and musical works shaped by gender relations, but music itself is involved in the production of gender relations. Musical works can construct gender, music-making and reception of music could be analyzed as doing gender.
Women's studies and gender research is not well established in the field of musicology and has to defend itself against principle reservations. Concerning the level of research and reflection, there are significant differences between the three main sub-disciplines: historical musicology, systematic musicology and ethnomusicology. Only the historical musicology has undergone a sustainable process of theory-building and has systematically developed a number of subjects. For this reason, particularly in this part of the musicological studies consideration of gender could be claimed realistically.

Research fields for gender studies in the area of musicology

Musicological methodologies

The gender perspective goes hand in hand with critical reflection on the methodological tradition of the subject and therefore goes beyond the field of gender studies itself. Various studies have investigated the mechanisms by which music history is written and the musical canon and repertoire built, or examined the area of music-related biography. In particular, these studies have questioned the concentration of the discipline on the history of composition. This has been contrasted with approaches from the fields of cultural science and history that consider music as cultural acting. These include – except the composition which is privileged by traditionally working scholars – professional and "private" music-making, the reception of music, music patronage, etc. This has not only meant a greater focus on female musical figures, long neglected and devalued in terms of their cultural significance; it has also opened up the performance, composition and reception of music to analysis as a construction and performance of gender.

Gender issues in musical culture

There is growing recognition in musicological research of the importance of the category gender for the analysis of music-cultural structures and processes. Research has appeared on the gender-specific possibilities for action and areas of activity from both a historical and comparative cultural perspective. Topics have included aspects of sociology and social history, such as:

  • The spaces, locations and institutions for music-making
  • Professionality, musical education, working conditions
  • Choice of instrument
  • Mobility and travel
  • Gender-typical reception and preferences

There are also an increasing number of studies looking at questions of mentality and the history of day-to-day life, e.g.:

  • Music and the discourse around gender relations, love and sexuality
  • public and private spheres of music
  • music and religion - ritual - cult
  • Dance, song and the body
  • Artistic concepts and types (genius, author, muse, star, diva)

Biography and research on works

Studies of the life and work of individual female composers currently account for an main part of research in women's and gender studies in the area of musicology. Initially, an important motive for the research was rediscovering works by "forgotten" women composers and making these available for professional performance not least by producing editions of musical works. To begin with, this branch of research followed the traditional "life and works" approach of historical musicology. However, it has increasingly reflected on the underlying principles of the biography in particular the concentration on potential "masterworks" and included issues relating to the history of society and culture in its focus. Male composers and performers have only formed a marginal part of biographies taking account of gender issues.

Aesthetics, history of composition, musical analysis

Appropriate for the tradition of the discipline with its focus on the history of musical composition, it is particularly claimed to regard aspects of gender in analyzing music. Many studies inverstigate opera and music theatre (as well as film music). The idea that it is possible to talk about the symbolic representation of gender even in music that is not connected to a text is associated mainly with "new musicology", which approaches musical structures as narratives of sexuality and desire. An area of research that is growing in importance is the investigation of singing voice. Understood as performance of the gendered body, singing voice is not only shaped by gender concepts, but itself helps shape these "by doing".

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Integration of gender studies content into the curriculum:

The new examination and degree regulations should give extra impetus to the development of the subject but on no account turn it into a niche-subject. Especially lecturers who are not specialists in women's studies should be more strongly encouraged (and enabled) to apply these new perspectives to traditional areas of the subject.

When accrediting or reaccrediting musicological studies, it should generally be examined if it is possible to incorporate certain modules and module components on gender studies. Institutes or universities that lack specific competence in teaching musicological gender studies should be encouraged to increase their staff or at least engage guest professors or lecturers.

Often it will be preferable to integrate gender issues into generally defined modules and classes, rather than constructing special modules. There are organisational as well as subject-related reasons for this.

On the subject-related side, there is the fact that gender studies in the area of musicology is still not very well established, as discussed above. Consequently, published research is only available in few subject areas and the specific competence of the teaching staff is limited. As a consequence, university-level teaching of gender studies in the area of musicology is limited, where it exists at all, to examining the few female composers or presenting a general survey of the field in courses with unjustifiably broad titles such as "Women and Music". Often such courses are an excuse for completely ignoring issues relating to women's studies outside these special classes.

On the organisational side, musicology is not often offered as an independent subject (e.g. as a single- or double-subject Bachelor's or Master's in Musicology). More often it takes the form of individual modules as part of degrees in performance, music education or teacher training, or other related degree courses (cultural studies, theatre studies, popular music and the media, etc.). An integrative approach to gender studies in more generally defined modules will ensure that gender issues are not neglected even where musicology forms such a small part of these degree courses that gender studies in the area of musicology could not be incorporated in the form of special modules.

To ensure that gender studies receives enough attention even when not taught in specially made modules, courses of studies in the area of historical musicology in particular should be designed so that they are not based on an assumed canon of "great composers" or "masterworks". In addition to topics in the history of composition and musical aesthetics, which usually predominate here, the modules should look at questions relating to cultural history (the social history of music, the history of mentalities, the history of popular music), the history of musical performance, and listening to music/reception. It is also desirable that descriptions of generally defined modules should contain examples of topics where gender issues play a significant role; this could be explicitly required in the accreditation process. This is particularly relevant for modules in the following areas:

Modules that are general surveys of music history or are on general topics in music history, for example:

  • Gender-specific areas of activity in musical cultures of the past
  • Knowledge about women composers and their works

Modules on the history of composition, for example:

  • Selected works of women composers
  • Female and male roles in opera
  • Setting text to music in the context of historical constructions of gender
  • Music genres in the context of social and gender history.

Introductory courses, for example:

  • Theories on gender studies in the area of musicology

Modules on ethnomusicology, for example:

  • Gender relations as "signatures" of music cultures
  • Gender-specific areas of activity and locations for music-making

Modules in the area of musical sociology/music culture/the cultural history of music, for example:

  • Artistic types as gender roles
  • Music in everyday life, musical institutions and gender-specific participation
  • Music-making as gender performance
  • Listening to music and music appreciation as gender performance
  • Professionalism and gender

Modules on music psychology, for example:

  • Gender-specific perception of music
  • Musical development and gender identity
  • Are there gender-specific biological conditions for music-making?

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Degree Stage:

The proposed integration of gender issues into teaching should span the entire course of study. Specific modules (or parts of modules) should not be left for later phases of the studies (in the sense of a progressing specialization). They are also appropriate as exemplary issues to learning basic methodological approaches.