Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music by Anna Beer - review by Rupert Christiansen

Rupert Christiansen

Play It Again, Ma’am

Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music


Oneworld Publications 368pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

This stimulating and engaging book, written with passionate enthusiasm and a light touch, addresses one aspect of a contentious cultural quandary: why is it that women seem to have created and achieved so much less than men in the arts? Anna Beer focuses on the field of Western ‘classical’ music, in which male domination remains marked: there isn’t a single piece of music authored by a woman that has entered the traditional canon, and women are generally absent from histories of the evolution of form. Music comes nowhere near the higher levels of gender parity that obtain in painting, fiction and poetry.

What is strikingly odd about this is that the performance of music stands as one area in which women have long prevailed. Despite the Pauline injunction (in 1 Corinthians) that women should stay silent in church, public singing ranks as one of the first professions open to women, affording them

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