I came across a CD of music by women, a Koch release from around the millennium. It featured top-notch performers interpreting art song repertoire mostly from 19th and 20th century women composers and one new commission from a living composer, Libby Larsen. Whereas such a project is commendable, as it renders accessible music that either unknown or rarely-performed, I obsessed over the title of the CD, The Eternal Feminine. This concept suggests that there is an esthetic associated with women, and this plays along with the traditional roles socially assigned to women as nurturers, occasional seducers, providers of sweetness and beauty, emotion, as opposed to the strength and power that belong to men only. From a strictly musical standpoint, I can’t say that the 19th century art songs by women were any different in terms of esthetic than (depending on time period) lieder by Schubert or art songs by Fauré, for instance. In fact, these women composers must have been really strong individuals, in order for their music to not only be performed, but also to survive the passing of time.

Then I thought about whether there could be any kind of ‘eternal feminine’ in each and every woman, but again it didn’t add up: I found that in my activities and interests, if I enjoy so-called feminine interests such as home decorating or browsing the shops, I might enjoy even more the so-called masculine interests such as technically-related activities (computers, electronics) and even carpentry and home-repair. I can enjoy a ‘girl chat’ as much as a ‘tech talk’, whether it be with a female or male – and I know many males who enjoy traditionally female-related activities, without being gay. Didn’t Jung postulate that each human being had both a feminine and a masculine side? This makes a lot of sense to me. In this case, the eternal feminine, if there ever was one, is a place in consciousness to be shared equally between men and women.

In terms of music composition, I very much object to a separation of the sexes. I believe that each and every composer has a unique voice, beyond any kind of generalization based on X or Y chromosomes. I have encountered this misconception many times in honest efforts to promote the work of women – but from a conventional perspective, as if women composers were composing ‘women’s music’, which would be, of course, prettier and lighter than the music of real men. And please, stop calling women’s music intuitive! It isn’t that SIMPLE!

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