Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The rest are women

The people at Farrar, Straus and Giroux deserve a huge round of applause for promoting The Rest is Noise so effectively. Subsequent encouragement from the musical blog world led me to buy the book on Amazon, though I was planning to wait until it came out in paperback. It is very well written, and makes a lot of cultural connections. I believe that this book will increase the awareness of music's presence in the history of the 20th century.

I wish that Ross had given a little more than a paragraph to Nadia Boulanger. I wish he had mentioned Lili. There are a couple of paragraphs on Ruth Crawford Seeger, with a reference to her biographer Judith Tick, and there is a paragraph about the Princess de Polignac, but there is no mention of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. Important 20th century composers like Louise Talma, Joan Tower, Lucia Dlugoszewski, and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich are also overlooked in Ross' 20th century. Germaine Tailleferre's name is mentioned as one of "les six," but Ross does not write anything about her or her music.

I know that there is not space in a book like this for everything, but it would be nice for intelligent people who are new to what I also don't like to call "classical music" to have a sense of the gender equity that started in music during the 20th century, and it would be nice to have the kind of public cultural recognition that will help it to continue.


Lisa Hirsch said...

The emergence of women as important composers, especially in the late 20th century, is huge. Have any of the other reviewers mentioned this?

I already have an idea of what I will think the other major omission is, well, not exactly an omission.

Anonymous said...

I haven't finished Noise but I agree you've indicated a serious flaw; Ross writes eloquently about composers (including AFrican-Americans like Will Marion Cook) he calls "invisible men," but women remain largely unseen. I think he might be open to revisiting this topic for the paperback and subsequent cloth editions; once I've finished the book I'll email him and suggest this. Thanks for raising the issue.

The Watchtower said...

I haven't read the book yet, but if what you say about the relative glossing-over of Nadia Boulanger is true, then I'm shocked. Nadia was the woman on which most of 20th-century music spun -- would the century have been half of what it was without her? She should get her own chapter, and I'm sure Stravinsky, Bernstein, and Copland would agree.