Amazingly, yes, the past was dominated by men. Credit - Drama Musica

There is a significant risk of mansplaining here, as we have a group of women complaining that classical music is just not promoting nor playing the music of women. To which the answer is, well, D’Oh! It’s you know, classical music. Drawing from the history of civilisation’s collision with an orchestra, a history which was indeed rather male dominated.

Does this mean that men are innately better than women at composing music? No, it doesn’t – although there are indeed those out there who will claim they are. Does this mean that there is discrimination against current day female composers? Nope, it doesn’t. What the male written heavy rosters of pieces played by orchestras shows is that the past was male dominated. That’s all it shows too – and that should even be something we can all agree upon, no?

New statistics have shown up the “inexcusable” fact that only 76 classical concerts among 1,445 performed across the world from this year to 2019 include at least one piece by a woman.

The figure amounts to about 95% of concerts having music only composed by men.

Well, OK, what we want to know though is why is this?

The figures, compiled by the project and , also show that a total of 3,524 musical works will be performed at those concerts, and, of those, 3,442 (97.6%) were written by men and only 82 (2.3%) were written by women.

The soprano Gabriella Di Laccio said she was shocked by the research. “I don’t really understand it, we don’t have excuses any more. The idea that there might not be enough female composers or the music might not be good enough … this is all in the past.”

Well, that probably is the answer actually. That there aren’t enough female composers around. Or, to be clear, that there weren’t, even if there are.

To show that the modern world is discriminating against women we need to show that orchestras lean heavily male in the works they play by contemporary composers. Do they?

The LSO’s managing director, Kathryn McDowell, said the orchestra championed the work of women. “Of the 12 young composers on our programmes this season six are women, and while entry to them is based purely on merit, we have seen a 50/50 gender split emerge for the past two years, signalling that the best composers writing in Britain today are just as likely to be women as they are men, which is exactly as it should be.”

Seems pretty good really, doesn’t it?

The campaign itself is over here. And the thing is, I can’t see that they’re restricting their count to contemporary works. They’re counting all pieces – and that, given that male oppression of the past – if that’s what you want to cal it of course – is going to lean heavily male. Simply because the pieces are being drawn from the past couple of centuries, a couple of centuries when men did dominate the field.

It might even be fair – OK, it wouldn’t be but let’s run with contemporary mores here – to ask or demand female representation in modern works, but it’s entirely ludicrous to demand it over those centuries that have already happened.

The point being, classical music is dominated by the pieces from the past. Given that the past did lean heavily male then that roster of classical music is going to do so, isn’t it? But then actually pointing this out is no doubt that oppression of mansplaining, isn’t it?

The composer Emily Hall, who called the result of the tot-up inexcusable, said: “All organisations have a responsibility to programme at least one work by a female composer, I just think that should be standard now. I’m always shocked when I go to a concert and they don’t, it seems such a straightforward thing to do … I’m always amazed, it seems like such a huge oversight.”

Hall said she was in favour of positive discrimination. “It works, it really does. We need to rebalance the scales.”

She would, wouldn’t she? Composers get royalties every time a piece of theirs is played publicly. One of the few name female composers out there will benefit disproportionately from an insistence upon playing music by female composers. Well, she would call for positive discrimination, wouldn’t she? Hey, no one said a healthy regard to economic self-interest was a purely male phenomenon, did they?

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  1. “the best composers writing in Britain today are just as likely to be women as they are men, which is exactly as it should be.”

    Not saying I’m a particular fan of classical music. If the alternatives were that & root canal work without anaesthetic it’d be a difficult choice. But from the little I’ve heard of orchestral music by modern composers. the genre can best be described as cruel & unusual punishment. So there’s no reason women couldn’t be as good at it as men. Even serve the same sentences for the crime.

  2. As well as “at least one work by a female composer”, we need at least one by a Person Of Colour, one by an LGBTQAWVXYZ+ person, one by a non-mammal, one by a Liberal Democrat, one by an Everton supporter, and one by a beef monster munch. Or we could just choose on theme and merit, without prejudice.

  3. After 50 years of equal entry to health care there is now equal representation in health care – because all the entrants from the past are not longer present having retired/died off. The only way that equal *entrants* to the music catalogue can result in equal *representation* in the music catalogue is if the previous catalogue entries are destroyed. Goodbye Mozart, cheerio Beethoven, tata Bach, Brahams, Chopan, Tchaikovsky, Handel, Strauss, Schubert…….

  4. Surely, some of those “male” composers of years ago identified as women but would not have publicly admitted it, the times being less enlightened on such matters. Therefore, we don’t actually know if the industry was dominated by men.

  5. “while entry…is based purely on merit,” (also fear of shaming/shunning/suing) “a 50/50 gender split…is exactly as it should be” — Now, why should it be so? Why should the average man and the average woman have exactly identical aptitude for composing classical music? And if they do not have, then why should we pursue equality of result?

    I agree that, if the gadflies achieve numerical parity, the next stop will be to destroy history. Compare the galloping LGBT crusade or the pulling down of Confederate statues. Blacks are still underrepresented in American history, because you don’t make much history during the era when most lives were spent picking cotton. We “solved” this with a Black History Month, invented heroes to Tell An Important Story, and government schools eager to subordinate education to the ideological theme of the day.

  6. I’m very hopeful that in short order we’ll have the usual suspects at each other throats when an aspiring male composer who hasn’t been able to break through realizes that if he identifies as female he can qualify for one of the quota positions. Possibly even jump the queue altogether, since T>W.