When Brandeis University composer and resident scholar at the Women's Studies Research Center (WSRC) Ruth Loman was researching music archives in London, she realized that women composers were hard to find. This was before the iconic anthology by Judith Tick with her co-editor Jane Bowers called Women Making Music: The Western Art Tradition, 1150-1950 was published. This collection of fourteen essays covers a long range of music history in Europe and the US featuring performers and composers. The Women And Music Mix (WAMMIX) of the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University honored its publication with events throughout the day. The celebrations began with an engrossing concert of Vivian Fine's Five Preludes by pianist and resident scholar Emily Corbato, who was privy to Fine’s newly uncovered hand written score; Corbato describes this work as "dissonant [and] contrapuntal."
Following Corbato's concert, Judith Tick described how she faced “sharp skepticism” with derision for suggesting that gender could be “category of analysis,” from the prevailing musicologist experts of the 1980s. With the traditional musicology “grounding research in data and archival material as a standard,” they found it impossible to find anything to meet the “well intentioned roadblocks” and scorn of that period. At first the reviews accused this volume as not contributing to the canon, because there were no great women to match the great men, but that has changed. At this event honoring the work of musicologist Judith Tick, Laury Gutiérrez, Director of La Donna Musicale, declared that her book was the first book to give her the courage to go on with her work, which was researching and performing the work of woman composers. Indeed the anthology was categorized as "scholar activist," and was born from the women's liberation movement, which was born from the civil rights movement.
Tick's present work, the researching of Ella Fitzgerald from her chittlin' roots to present day fame, was illustrated by 16-year-old Claire Dickson, award winning recording artist, and Fitzgerald aficionado. Her scat versions of "How High the Moon," "Angel Eyes," and "Lady Be Good" brought smiles to many in the packed lecture hall.
The evening concert began with La Donna Musicale under the direction of Laury Gutierrez offered a stunning performance by male soprano Robert Crowe in La Sofinisba (“drama eroico”) by the prolific 18th century composer Maria Teresa Agnesi; Agnesi’s work was a favorite of Queen Maria Theresa of Austria, who is said to have sung some of Agnesi’s arias herself. The New York Times has described Crowe as a “male soprano of staggering gifts.” To hear La Donna Musicale perform another work by Agnesi go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=awDN9bCxPg8
The 20th century composer Ruth Crawford Seeger (step-mother to folk singer Pete Seeger) was perhaps chosen because, as musicologist Liane Curtis suggests, Judith Tick also wrote a biography of Seeger. Her Violin Sonata beginning with a splashing shriek demonstrated her harmonic dissonance and something of her interest in American mysticism. Curtis suggests that, because Seeger destroyed the manuscript, she had an identity crisis. The audience has Vivien Fine to thank for finding the piece in 1980.
Mezzo Soprano Pamela Dellal sang the poetry of Naomi Myrvaagnes with her entire body and breath as she portrayed Rebekah in Ruth Lomon’s chamber opera. Together they created the role of narrator, sung by countertenor Martin Near, parsing out the poetry with music that followed the form of the poetry and its depth. Myrvaagness’ poetry is in the tradition of Jewish Midrash, which is commentary and interpretations of the stories in the Bible. For more authenticity, Lomon chose to use the Arabic maqam, an Arabic form with smaller sets of consecutive notes. Jane Ring Frank conducted the ensemble consisting of alto flute, viola, cello, harp, and waterphone. Lomon’s daughter Glynis bowed the aquasonic between sections evoking haunting eerie sounds akin to whales calling or the time travel of science fiction movies.
After the intermission Vivian Montgomery on the fortepiano accompanied Dellal singing five poems set to music by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Felix Mendelssohn’s sister. Hampered by the restrictions of the time, Fanny still was about to compose almost 500 pieces of music, in spite of her brother’s caution at public recognition of her work. It took Queen Victoria, singing one of her songs attributed to him, for Felix to admit that Fanny wrote the Queen’s favorite song. The meaning of Heinrich Heine’s Swan-Song is elevated with Dellal’s phrasing and strength.
Dana Maiben’s premiere of The Green House closed the concert featuring contralto Elizabeth Anker of The Mockingbird Trio. These six poems by Cambridge poet Martha Collins speak to Maiben “singing, intoning, calling, whispering” to her as a “labyrinthine psychic journey.” Her musical materials “range from pentatonic melody to 15th-century chanson style to serial techniques to jazz-style accompaniments to mixed modes and polytonality.”
In 1986, Ruth Solie, a feminist musicologist, wrote prophetically about the initial publication of the Women Making Music anthology: “Can this book begin the real transformation of our discipline . . .? I’m happy to be able to report that, by and large, it promises to do so.”
Twenty-five years later, that transformation is evident in the WAMMIX concert at Brandeis University.