Why so little music by women

Posted by on September 11, 2013 in Online Digest

Cover of Wild Swans

Music by and for white males?

An earlier edition of Options On-line recommended Michael Kieran-Harvey's Peggy Glanville-Hicks lecture. He says "Australian music makes up less than seven per cent of concert programs in this country (and even less for Opera)". And, "My tax is funding all this Dead White European Male Music for the diverting entertainment of the well-heeled – with inflated ticket prices excluding the poor – and so little of it is funding new Australian composition".


In June, Emma Ayres, a presenter on ABC Classic FM directly questioned why the ABC plays so little music by women. She said

Probably about eighty percent of the time we play music composed by men who were men (dur), were once very white and are now very dead. The rest of the time we play music by men who are still white, but have the advantage of being alive. Very rarely – maybe once or twice a week – do we play music by living, or even dead, women.

She aptly links this to the question "how is the supposed equality of women being subtly and not so subtly undermined on a daily basis?".


It is just the same in the USA; Sarah Baer has calculated that only 109 of some 12,000 pieces performed in the US in 2008-9 were written by women.  She estimates around 1.7% per cent the total was composed by women compared with 6.8% by Beethoven alone. Moreover, "the bulk of performances of women composers are by lesser-heard, often cash-strapped, smaller ensembles that can only manage a few concerts each season."

Sappho Cover


Some drastic action is needed - perhaps Abbott or Rudd could fund the equivalent of the Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy, formed in 2008 in the US to advocate for performance of works by women composers.


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