Music Room workshop
4th December 2006
‘Public and Private’ - Summary of papers and discussion
Chair: Dr. Juliet Simpson, BCUC
Prof. Louise Stein, University of Michigan
Private and Public: Decorum, Space and Musical Performance in the Spanish Orbit
Louise Stein’s paper suggested that music-making in Spanish court circles acted as a discursive space between the household and the state in the 17th century. She also explained that, except for a few images by Velasquez, there are few accounts of non-elite music-making from Spain. Also, as most chamber music was improvised, there are few written scores for instrumental ensemble pieces that survive from this period.
Her paper considered the gendered nature of musical activity, and the manipulation of intimacy so that some private performances became a public spectacle. She explained that women of the Spanish court led cloistered lives, so they were not seen at public performances. However, they did listen to musicians within their private apartments, and were outspoken in their musical preferences. They wanted to hear soft, plucked music, played on lutes or viols, based on familiar traditional tunes. This contrasted with the music of shawms and trumpets that was played out of doors for male audiences. It also emphasised the distinction between the privacy of the ladies of the court, and the public performance of low-born female musicians. These professional women took the majority of roles in vocal performances. The privacy of elite Spanish women’s musical experience was further contrasted with the loud and visible performances enjoyed by women of the French court.
The final section of the paper looked at the opening up of elite performances to wider publics. Louise Stein showed images of a number of musical spaces within the royal palaces, including the Zarzuela, a hunting lodge outside Madrid, where the king demonstrated his generosity by sharing music with a broader audience. She compared this with the actions of the Spanish ambassador to the Vatican, who established the embassy as a centre for entertainment. Ostensibly private performances became accessible, and so enhanced his diplomatic status. She emphasised the need to maintain decorum in presenting and attending musical performances. But she also noted that musicians were able to move freely between male/public spaces and female/private spaces.
Dr. Sarah Teasley, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
Performance spaces for traditional chamber music in Meiji era Japan
Sarah Teasley introduced herself as a design historian and performer of Japanese chamber music. Her paper considered the impact of modernisation on the presentation of musical performances in Japan. She showed how, despite the dramatic social and economic changes of late 19th century, musical performance maintained the traditions established in the 15th century. Musicians conventionally wear kimonos, and sit on the floor. Their performance space is conventionally decorated with gold screens and a red carpet, with low music stands. Occasionally musicians raise their instruments onto higher stands, so that they can sit on western-style chairs, but this is not standard practice.
Sarah Teasley explained some of the different genres of musical performance. Her paper concentrated on sankyoku, which is performed on 3 instruments, the kokyu, the shamisen, and the koto. Other musical forms include nagauta, which provides the narrative accompaniment for kabuki theatre; gagaku, which is dance music; and hayashi which accompanies performances in the noh theatre.
She demonstrated that after the collapse of the feudal system in the late 1860s, the guild system for musicians was abolished. Until this time, musicians had traditionally been blind and male. With the establishment of the Meiji government, new types of performers and audiences were possible. Although sankyoku music was seen as vulgar and immoral, dealing with love themes, the koto became a popular instrument for bourgeois women. The traditional professional blind male musicians began to teach women amateurs.
However, there was still a strong connection between shamisen performance, and the courtesan or geisha. The paper suggested that the shift from public, paying performances for male audiences, to domestic female performances was a change that needs to be studied further. Sarah Teasley also demonstrated that some elite Japanese families built Western-style houses, with purpose-built music rooms for Western musical display. This was partly in order to entertain the Emperor, who would not remove his shoes to enter a traditional Japanese domestic space. She concluded that she was still researching this subject, and hoped to interview furniture makers as the next stage of the project.
Dr. Sophie Fuller, author of The Pandora Guide to Women Composers
Women and Music Rooms in late 19th- and early 20th-century Britain
Sophie Fuller began by demonstrating how commentators on the ‘British musical renaissance’ of the fin-de-siecle tried to drag music away from its cultural associations with the feminine and the foreign. She highlighted an 1889 article in the Musical Times on ‘Manliness and music’ that attacked those ‘pests of the drawing room’ who had ‘never played cricket’. Her paper showed that there was a vibrant private alternative to the large-scale public musical performances championed by the newspaper critics.
She showed how, in private homes, amateurs could perform on the same platforms as professionals. The repertoire was often adventurous and new. She looked at the careers of a number of patrons, composers and performers who benefited from the supportive, feminised space of the private music room.
These included Mary Gladstone who performed at public charity concerts and in homes. Joachim, Wilma Neruda and Sullivan played at her private concerts. Her music room could seat 275 guests. Similarly, Frank Schuster’s music room could accommodate 4 singers and a 20-piece orchestra. Sophie Fuller also considered the careers of Angelina Goetz (hostess and composer); Liza Lehmann (performer and composer of a popular song cycle, first and reviewed at a private soiree); Maude Valerie White (composer and performer, supported by Gladys de Grey, Marchioness of Ripon); and Adela Maddison (composer, hostess and patron of Faure). This paper also acknowledged that some composers, notably Ethel Smyth and Elgar, were ambivalent about private patronage, and refused to make use of the support of society hostesses. They felt it might undermine their serious musical intent.
The London German-Jewish community was prominent in promoting private music. Noted patrons included Edward Speyer and his cousin Sir Edgar Speyer, who supported the work of Elgar, Debussy, Grieg and Richard Strauss. The paper concluded with a study of the career of Frank Schuster who, despite his Eton education, was set apart from the Establishment, being German, Jewish and homosexual. His home was described by Maude Valerie White as ‘one of the chief centres of musical London’.
Juliet Simpson summed up the themes that had been presented in the three papers. She suggested they were
- how can we chart the iconography of private space?
- Music as a gendered discourse, and alongside this, the marginality/visibility of musicians
- Music rooms as dangerous spaces, especially in sexual or erotic terms
- Music rooms as an equivalent to the atelier of a visual artist, and as an experimental environment
The discussion highlighted the mobile nature of music, so that the physical spaces of performance are rarely described in detail. They are often hybrid spaces, with multiple uses. Until the establishment of massive fixed instruments, notably pianos, music was portable. There were also questions about the use of lighting to enhance performances, and possible resonances with the self-conscious display of visual art, for example, by James Whistler. Connections between French and British music at the fin-de-siecle were also noted.
Louise Stein raised the issue of the large number of texts of 17th century Spanish plays. These included stage directions, indicating that the scene was set in a ‘music room’, but the details of the props or staging were not made clear. How was a music room visually defined on stage?
The discussion moved onto musical notation. Baroque Spanish performers did not know how to read Italian violin music. Instead, their performances were improvised. Sarah Teasley explained that, as traditionally most musicians were blind, in Japan there was no written notation until the late 19th century, when ‘amateurs’ began to play.
Finally, the ‘invisibility’ of professional musicians was addressed, both in Baroque Spain, and Meiji Japan. Japanese prints, for example, focus on courtesans making music, or professional actors, but not professional male musicians. This invisibility allowed musicians to move between private and public, elite and popular spaces with great ease.
V&A Museum, Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London, SW7 2RL
Seminar Room A, Research Department, 17.15–19.00
Nearest tube: South Kensington (link to map)
Please note that the V&A Museum closes at 17.45 on Mondays, so latecomers (after 17.30) cannot be admitted. Seminar Room A is found at the top of the Ceramics staircase, above the Silver Gallery.