The Women of Viennese Musical Modernism

Alice Belshaw, Jana Michalik, Dr. Kerry Ginger, Department of Music, Sewanee: The University of the South, 735 University Avenue, Sewanee, TN, 37383

The celebrated composers of music’s Second Viennese School (circa 1905-1935) undoubtedly had connections to female associates, including musical colleagues and students, but the mainstream historical narrative is oddly silent on these women’s activities. We tasked ourselves with unearthing the reasons for this silence. We explored the scholarship on well-known Viennese modernists such as Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern, and cross-referenced those sources with numerous databases, books, and encyclopedias on women composers. As a result, we were able to identify a multitude of female musicians closely associated with the Viennese modernist sphere but excluded from prevailing histories. These composers include Elizabeth Gyring, Charlotte Schlesinger, and Grete von Zieritz, who had a vast modernist output ranging from operas to string quartets. Of the seventy-plus additional women composers we identified with connections to the Second Viennese School, many chose a more conservative or non-modernist musical idiom. 

After surveying the literature on women composers with substantial links to Viennese musical modernism, we conducted preliminary case studies on Gyring, Zieritz, and a number of other contemporaries. We concluded that the lack of representation of female composers in musical modernism of this era can be attributed to limitations on women’s education, social pressures and oppression stemming from stigmatizing gender norms, and the later blockage of modernist composition, publication, and study by the Nazi party. To illustrate the musical world of these women, we also developed a voice recital program showcasing music by many of the composers we uncovered in our research, including Alma Mahler-Werfel, Johanna Müller-Hermann, Vally Weigl, and Gyring. By shedding light on their historically shadowed musical contributions, we hope to retroactively correct the wrongs visited upon these composers and bring them back to the public consciousness, thereby giving them their deserved place in the musical canon.

Additional Abstract Information

Presenters: Alice Belshaw, Jana Michalik

Institution: Sewanee: The University of the South

Type: Poster

Subject: Music

Status: Approved

Time and Location

Session: Poster 8
Date/Time: Tue 5:00pm-6:00pm
Session Number: 5672