Composing the Nation

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about women’s representation in music. It is staggering that out of almost 200 pieces being played to celebrate 100 years of composition in Ireland, merely 23 pieces are by women.

I have never consciously chosen to programme music by women. In fact a lot of the time when constructing concert programmes choices are made for a number of reasons: style, music, personal taste. I have looked through the list of works perfomed by myself and David in our programmes for the Irish Canon – we performed 3 recitals for this: the first songs by Bodley, Clarke, Barber, Moran, Bremner and Cleary – 3 women, 3 men. In our second programme we performed Bremner, Bodley, Cleary, Moran, Molloy, Lane – 1 women, 5 men. In our third programme we performed: Mulvey, Bremner, Cleary, Mulvey, Sholdice – 2 women, 3 men. In total we represented 6 men and 4 women.

In making our programme choices we agreed that it was important to choose repertoire from a wide variety of compositional style and background and also to represent different generations of composers. There was no intention to specifically include women composers. It just happens that half the people alive are women. One fifth of the composers represented by the Contemporary Music Centre are women. Music is a subject I would imagine studied in equal numbers by women and men and I think I know roughly the same amount of women composers as I know male composers.

It would seem to me that in choosing repertoire for a centenary of music, it would have been difficult to choose so few works by women. If there was an attempt to include more works by women, but for various reasons it was felt that the selected works represented Ireland better, it would I feel be right for those reasons to be spelt out. Unfortunately the exclusion of women composers not only colours my feelings about the event, but makes me think perhaps this is a reflection of the society we live in today when people will march on the streets to celebrate Ireland’s treatment of women.

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