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.
1 Biography 2 Feminine Endings 3 "Constructions of Subjectivity in Franz Schubert's Music" 4 Other work 5 The Beethoven and rape controversy 6 Quotes 7 Selected bibliography 8 Notes and references 9 Sources 10 External links
McClary was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and received her BA in 1968
from Southern Illinois University. She attended graduate school at
Musical constructions of gender and sexuality.
Gendered aspects of traditional music theory.
Gendered sexuality in musical narrative.
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.
Subjectivity in Franz Schubert's Music"
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 "
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. Other work 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. The Beethoven and rape controversy
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In the January 1987 issue of Minnesota Composers Forum Newsletter, McClary wrote of Ludwig van Beethoven's 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.
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:
"Painter Jailed for Committing Masterpieces" by Robert Anton Wilson
(also Wilson, Robert A. (1998). Everything Is Under Control:
Conspiracies, Cults, and Cover-ups, p. 64.
Historical Review Press: "The Godfather of the Multi-Cult Nightmare"
by Robert Stacy McCain
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
We have first her characterization of the moment of recapitulation in the first movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony:
[passage appears here]
The phrase about the murderous rage of the rapist has since been withdrawn [as noted above], which indicates that McClary realized it posed a problem, but it has the great merit of recognizing that something extraordinary is taking place here, and McClary's metaphor of sexual violence is not a bad way to describe it. The difficulty is that all metaphors oversimplify, like those entertaining little stories that music critics in the nineteenth century used to invent about works of music for an audience whose musical literacy was not too well developed. I do not, myself, find the cadence frustrated or dammed up in any constricting sense, but only given a slightly deviant movement which briefly postpones total fulfillment.
To continue the sexual imagery, I cannot think that the rapist incapable of attaining release is an adequate analogue, but I hear the passage as if Beethoven had found a way of making an orgasm last for sixteen bars. What causes the passage to be so shocking, indeed, is the power of sustaining over such a long phrase what we expect as a brief explosion. To McClary's credit, it should be said that some kind of metaphorical description is called for, and even necessary, but I should like to suggest that none will be satisfactory or definitive.
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." Quotes
"Most people have music in the center of their lives. I believe my
work sheds light on how music affects us and why it is so
"Rather than protecting music as a sublimely meaningless activity that
has managed to escape social signification, I insist on treating it as
a medium that participates in social formation by influencing the ways
we perceive our feelings, our bodies, our desires, our very
subjectivities—even if it does so surreptitiously, without most of
us knowing how. It is too important a cultural force to be shrouded by
mystified notions of Romantic transcendence."
"My history of Western music contains Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, but
it also includes Stradella and the Swan Silvertones,
Selected bibliography Works by Susan McClary
"The Blasphemy of Talking Politics during
Notes and references
^ See, for example Horowitz (January 19, 1992); Rothstein (February
16, 1992); Holland (February 17, 1992)
^ Summarized in Tellenbach (2000)
^ Horowitz (January 19, 1992)
^ McClary (1994) p. 215
^ Quoted in McClary (1994), p. 214
^ McClary (1994) p. 214
^ Originally published in the journal Narrative, 5 (1), January 1997
reprinted in Bal (2004)
^ See for example, Ross (June 27, 1994); Tommasini (August 6, 1995);
Rothstein (August 6, 1995); Tellenbach 2000; Hatton (2004)
^ Tommasini (October 24, 2004); Peraino (2006) p. 256
^ Kramer (2003) p. 99.
^ Mitchel (2000) pp. 113-114
^ “Politics, Feminism, and Contemporary
Quotations related to
Susan McClary at Wikiquote
TRANS 15 (2011), Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Feminine Endings
by Susan McClary:
WorldCat Identities VIAF: 64109043 ISNI: 0000 0001 2027 2562 SELIBR: 311418 SUDOC: 03417074X BNF: