‘The Frozen, Firm, Embodiment of Music’ – introductory remarks

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In the blog post that follows this I plan to publish a paper I wrote back in the last millennium, so I thought it might be useful to give a little context as to why I’m doing this. And as it’s several times longer than my usual blog posts as it stands, I decided to do that in a separate post so as not to make it even longer.

The paper started off as a spin-off from my PhD – a set of themes I noticed as I worked on the section about gendered discourses in music theory and aesthetics in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It had no place in my actual thesis, but the ideas coalesced into a separate argument that I took to a couple of conferences in 1994 and 1995. I spent some time over the next few years, when I was teaching at Colchester, developing it with a wider evidence base, and submitted it for publication to a major journal in 1999, shortly after moving to Birmingham.

As you may know, the etiquette is that you only submit to one journal at a time, so you have to wait for a rejection before trying somewhere else. If, as in this case, you never actually hear back from the journal either way, time dribbles past, and you never know exactly when it’s gone from just being slow (as academic processes can be, as they are operated by chronically over-committed people) to actually being totally ghosted. Especially back in the days when submission was by post, and thus you couldn’t ask for a read receipt when sending to check it even got there.

Anyway, by the time I realised I wasn’t going to hear back from that journal, the references were looking out of date again, and I had landed my first book contract on a totally different subject, so rather than try and keep this one warm and get it published somewhere else, I just put it in the ‘oh well’ pile.

So that’s where it came from. I am pulling it off that pile and giving it another look now because I have been thinking a lot about the music of Clara Schumann, and the way she lost her bottle as a composer after marriage. The themes in this paper are generally helpful for thinking about the cultural context in which she was working, and specifically so because it quotes her husband as a central source for its arguments.

Coming back to it after all these years, it does read a bit dated (anything where the most recent references are in the 1990s is going to feel that way of course), but the more recent scholarship I’ve been reading recently doesn’t on the whole undermine its argument. I’m posting it as is, rather than trying to update with reference to more recent work, though, as it’s not something I want to dedicate that much time to, so you’ll just have to read it as if in a time-warp. If anything, it reads like an argument that actually wants to be made on a much bigger scale, but that’s not going to happen either. I might have another scholarly monograph in me yet, but this won’t be it.

You can also expect to see some posts about Clara Schumann over the coming weeks, some specifically focused on her Op 6 Soirées Musicales, which are my latest pianistic adventure, and others spreading out more widely into the kind of feminist theory and music topics that sucked me into musicology in the first place.

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