The Crimes of the Sonata

I ended yesterday’s post by mentioning about the work of musicologist Susan McClary. The Wikipedia article about her musicological contributions explains her discovery that the Sonata form (the most basic form in Western music) is inherently misogynist, sexist, imperialist, to name a few of its crimes.

Not only is the sonata sexist, misogynistic and imperialistic, but “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.” As such, McClary interprets the sonata as being rooted in constructions of gender and sexual identity. To quote from the Wikipedia article,

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.

To the extent the Sonata form reached its peak in the music of Beethoven, he receives the harshest critique from McClary. In the January 1987 issue of Minnesota Composers Forum Newsletter, McClary wrote as follows about the Ninth Symphony:

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.

Er…ok.

Further Reading

The Shadow of Marcuse: from Phallogocentrism to Feminine Endings

Reductio Ad Femininum

 

2 thoughts on “The Crimes of the Sonata

  1. …this woman maybe has too much time on her hands.

    What a silly, silly idea…

    Eisegesis..Pouring her own ideas into an unrelated form!

  2. A good entree into this weird Sexualization of Everything is “The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art” by Roger Kimball.

    I agree with some of what she says, such as: “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.” I mean, a whole lot of what drives culture is that women have babies and men can’t. But she can’t make a living saying just that; she had to add this, which in a sad way is both predictable and preposterous: “the throttling murderous rage of a rapist incapable of attaining release,” as though normal sexual desire can’t be fully experienced and expressed in a loving marriage.

    And even considering 19th century classical music, women can channel sexual energy as directly as men:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6S2En6ZRrY

    There’s “the carefully prepared cadence [which] is frustrated, damming up energy which finally explodes,” but where’s “the throttling murderous rage of a rapist incapable of attaining release”? I must be missing something.

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