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|Born||October 2, 1946|
St. Louis, Missouri
|Education||BA Southern Illinois University, MA and PhD Harvard University|
|Notable works||Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, & Sexuality|
Susan Kaye McClary (born 2 October 1946) is a musicologist associated with the "New Musicology". Noted for her work combining musicology with feminist music criticism, McClary is Professor of Musicology at Case Western Reserve University.
McClary was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and received her BA in 1968 from Southern Illinois University. She attended graduate school at Harvard University where she received her MA in 1971 and her PhD in 1976. Her doctoral dissertation was on the transition from modal to tonal organization in Monteverdi's works. The first half of her dissertation was later reworked and expanded in her 2004 book, Modal Subjectivities: Self-fashioning in the Italian Madrigal. She taught at the University of Minnesota (1977-91), McGill University (1991-94), University of California, Berkeley (1993), and University of California, Los Angeles (1994-2011), before becoming a Professor of Musicology at Case Western Reserve University. She has also held a five-year professorship at the University of Oslo (2007-12). McClary is married to the musicologist Robert Walser.
One of her best known works is Feminine Endings (1991; ISBN 0-8166-4189-7). ("Feminine ending" is a musical term once commonly used to denote a weak phrase ending or cadence.) The work covers these topics:
This work combines musicology within feminism. McClary suggests that sonata form may be interpreted as sexist or misogynistic and imperialistic, and that, "tonality itself - with its process of instilling expectations and subsequently withholding promised fulfillment until climax - is the principal musical means during the period from 1600 to 1900 for arousing and channeling desire." She interprets the sonata procedure for its constructions of gender and sexual identity. The primary, "masculine" key (or first subject group) represents the male self, while the allegedly the secondary, "feminine" key (or second subject group), represents the other, a territory to be explored and conquered, assimilated into the self and stated in the tonic home key.
"Constructions of Subjectivity in Franz Schubert's Music" first appeared as a paper delivered at the American Musicological Society in 1990 and then in a revised version as a symposium presentation during the 1992 Schubertiade Festival in New York City. At the time McClary was influenced by Maynard Solomon's allegations of Schubert's homosexuality in his 1989 paper "Franz Schubert and the Peacocks of Benvenuto Cellini." McClary's paper explored the relevance of Solomon's research to what she termed the uninhibited, "hedonistic" luxuriance of Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony. The symposium paper elicited in some mild controversy . Following evidence that Solomon's conclusions may have been flawed and largely based on his own psychoanalytic reading of a dream narrative Schubert set down in 1822, McClary revised the paper again. Its definitive version was printed in the 1994 edition of the book Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology edited by Philip Brett, Elizabeth Wood, Gary Thomas.
According to McClary, Schubert, in the second movement of his Unfinished Symphony, foregoes the usual narrative of the sonata form by "wandering" from one key area to another in a manner which does not consolidate the tonic, but without causing its violent reaffirmation:
What is remarkable about this movement is that Schubert conceives of and executes a musical narrative that does not enact the more standard model in which a self strives to define identity through the consolidation of ego boundaries...in a Beethovian world such a passage would sound vulnerable, its tonal identity not safely anchored; and its ambiguity would probably precipitate a crisis, thereby justifying the violence needed to put things right again.
While maintaining that attempting to read Schubert's sexuality from his music would be essentialism, she proposes that it may be possible to notice intentional ways in which Schubert composed in order to express his "difference" as a part of himself at a time when "the self" was becoming prominent in the arts. Schubert's music and often the man himself and the subjectivity he presented have been criticized as effeminate, especially in comparison to Beethoven, the model and aggressive master of the sonata form (Sir George Grove, after Schumann: "compared with Beethoven, Schubert is as a woman to a man"; Carl Dahlhaus: "weak" and "involuntary"). However, McClary notes: "what is at issue is not Schubert's deviance from a "straight" norm, but rather his particular constructions of subjectivity, especially as they contrast with many of those posed by his peers."
Some of the ideas about composition as subjective narrative proposed in "Constructions" were developed by McClary in her 1997 article, "The Impromptu that trod on a loaf", which applies this analysis to Schubert's Impromptu Op. 90, Number 2. "Constructions of Subjectivity in Franz Schubert's Music" and the ideas in it continue to be discussed, sometimes critically. However, the article influenced a number of queer theorists, and in 2003 was described by the musicologist, Lawrence Kramer, as still an important paper in the field. The paper, and the reactions to it are also discussed in Mark Lindsey Mitchell's Virtuosi: A Defense and a (sometimes Erotic) Celebration of Great Pianists.
McClary set the feminist arguments of her early book in a broader sociopolitical context with Conventional Wisdom (2000, ISBN 0-520-23208-9). In it, she argues that the traditional musicological assumption of the existence of "purely musical" elements, divorced from culture and meaning, the social and the body, is a conceit used to veil the social and political imperatives of the worldview that produces the classical canon most prized by supposedly objective musicologists. But McClary does not ignore the "purely musical" in favor of cultural issues, incorporating it into her analysis. She examines the creation of meanings and identities, some oppressive and hegemonic, some affirmative and resistant, in music through the referencing of musical conventions in the blues, Vivaldi, Prince, Philip Glass, and others.
While seen by some as extremely radical, her work is influenced by musicologists such as Edward T. Cone, gender theorists and cultural critics such as Teresa de Lauretis, and others who, like McClary, fall in between, such as Theodor Adorno. McClary herself admits that her analyses, though intended to deconstruct, flirt with essentialism.
This article is written in the style of a debate rather than an encyclopedic summary.January 2011) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)(
The point of recapitulation in the first movement of the Ninth is one of the most horrifying moments in music, as the carefully prepared cadence is frustrated, damming up energy which finally explodes in the throttling murderous rage of a rapist incapable of attaining release.
This sentence elicited and continues to elicit a great range of responses. McClary subsequently rephrased this passage in Feminine Endings:
[...] [T]he point of recapitulation in the first movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony unleashes one of the most horrifyingly violent episodes in the history of music. The problem Beethoven has constructed for this movement is that it seems to begin before the subject of the symphony has managed to achieve its identity. (128)
She goes on to conclude that "The Ninth Symphony is probably our most compelling articulation in music of the contradictory impulses that have organized patriarchal culture since the Enlightenment" (129). The critiques of McClary discussed below refer primarily to the original version of the passage.
Readers sympathetic to the passage may be connecting it to the opinion that Beethoven's music is in some way "phallic" or "hegemonic," terms often used in modern feminist studies scholarship. These readers may feel that to be able to enjoy Beethoven's music one must submit to or agree with the values expressed, or that it requires or forces upon the listener a mode or way of listening that is oppressive, and that these are overtly expressed, as rape, in the Ninth.
Several commentators have objected to McClary's characterizations. Four examples are:
Leaving aside readers whose main interest is political, there are other reasons readers might take offense at McClary's sentence. The passage could be construed as unfair to Beethoven if one assumes that the "throttling murderous rapist's rage" putatively expressed in the music is supposed to have come from Beethoven's own habitual thoughts and feelings, which McClary does not suggest. Scholars and historians have found no evidence that Beethoven ever committed a rape or harbored an intense urge to do so.
Numerous musicological academics, however, have raised more serious and substantial objections to McClary's scholarship, including (but not limited to) her notorious remark about rape. Four examples are:
Another source of controversy is the possibility that McClary's passage trivializes the experience of rape victims by reducing it to mere metaphor. Even readers sympathetic to criticism of Beethoven's music may find that pinpointing a vague, unintended colonial program as "rape" is inaccurate.
The pianist and critic Charles Rosen has also commented on the famous passage. He avoids taking offense on any of the grounds mentioned above, and is willing to admit sexual metaphors to musical analysis. Rosen's disagreement is simply with McClary's assessment of the music:
McClary also notes that she "can say something nice about Beethoven", saying of his String Quartet, Op. 132, "Few pieces offer so as vivid an image of shattered subjectivity the opening of Op. 132."
Works by Susan McClary