Women composers - a gendered study playlist

Updated: Aug 26, 2019


Chiquinha Gonzaga, Brazilian composer, 1847-1935

I was listening to the podcast Yo, is this racist? (episode 1038) and guest Nikesh Shukla talked about a book he organised and how it became political because of the period in which it was released (Trump, Brexit). The thing is, Shukla's book is called The good immigrant and it's a collection of essays by immigrants. It didn't become political, it always was.


Anyway, this reminded me of my choice of music while writing the the bulk of the thesis. Whenever I needed to write, rather than work on data, I tried classical music, with a few favourites, with all of them but one being men. I asked a friend, who is a musician, if she could direct me to some women composers. She didn't know any, except for the one I already knew. Mary Wollstonecraft, back 1792, was already talking about how education shaped our knowledge and view of the world. It's not that my friend has any judgment of women composers, but her training never included them. (Incidentally, I believe Mary Wollstonecraft is one of the first political scientists and is widely unrecognised as such).


A quick Google search and I hit jackpot. This particular link, from Oxford Music Online, was just a treasure. There was also this one, from Classic FM, which was a little less daunting. To Chiquinha Gonzaga, the only women composer I knew (whitewashed for most of history), I was able to add dozens! And add I did, to a Spotify playlist, as I was able to find them all there. The playlist is a work in progress, and I suspect it'll always be. Since I know very little about music, it doesn't follow any rules, except my likes and dislikes.


But the point is, there is no meritocracy. People who are talented come from all walks of life, but most don't get a chance to achieve the recognition they deserve, and that's often due to systemic sexism and racism. How many non-white teachers have you had? How many books by women have you read? How many LGBTQI artists have influenced your life? They are out there, we just need to find them and celebrate them.

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