The Structure of This Book:
Trends, Individuals, and Documentary "Vignettes"
The essays in this collection, we have said, cannot pretend to offer a fully comprehensive study of the topic. Taken together, though, they treat it in a manner that, the editors hope, is representative, intellectually challenging, and well grounded historically and theoretically. Five chapters study groups and trends (Chapters 1 and 10, which both offer broad overviews, although of different kinds, plus Chapters 2, 5, and 7), four chapters examine in closer detail the patronage work of a particularly active individual woman (Chapters 3, 4, 6, 9), and one (Chapter 8) falls somewhere between the two types, in that it discusses four individuals in moderate detail.
Among the major developments studied in one or more of the "trends" chapters are the concert-sponsoring activities of women's music clubs and women impresarios (Chapters 2 and 7) and women's founding and support of symphony orchestras (Chapters 2 and 5). Chapters 5, 6, 8, and 10 (as well as several of the documentary vignettes) shed some light on the phenomenon—often seen, even today, as surprising, paradoxical, or ludicrous—of wealthy women supporting composers of challenging and often-dissonant "modern music," whether "modern" would, depending on the period in question, have been taken to mean Wagner, Strauss, and Debussy (around 1900), Bartók and Henry Cowell (in the 1920s), or Mel Powell and John Adams (in our own day). That the names just mentioned are all male is not accidental: the frequent (although not total) lack of support for women composers by female (and of course by male) patrons throughout the period under study will also be addressed at several points, as will public reactions to and images of women's musical activism (beyond the "modern music" issue just noted). In addition, various of the essays illustrate how women's musical patronage meshes with, or contradicts, the broad explanatory schemes of such cultural and social historians and sociologists as Ann Douglas, Paul DiMaggio, Kathleen D. McCarthy, Lawrence W. Levine, and Anne Firor Scott.
The four "individuals" treated at length are Isabella Stewart Gardner, the art collector whose Boston home, now the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, once contained a high-ceilinged concert hall that could seat three hundred listeners (Chapter 3); Jeannette Thurber, the woman who brought Antonín Dvorak[*] to America to head the National Conservatory (Chapter 4); Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, the pianist, composer, and patron who endowed the Coolidge Foundation, donated the Coolidge Auditorium to the Library of Congress, and commissioned many works from important composers such as Bartók, Copland, and Stravinsky (Chapter 6); and Sophie Drinker, the author of Music and Women (1948), whose organizational activities in music reflected her strongly held views about
women's special gift for musical self-expression and women's rights generally (which mingled oddly—or perhaps not so oddly, after all—with her general political and cultural conservatism: see Chapter 9).
Throughout the book there will be, by intention, much overlap between "trends" and "individuals": the trend chapters, being based largely on documentary evidence, regularly mention the contributions of various individuals; and the four individuals chosen for chapter-length discussion represent important larger developments, including some not discussed in the more broadly focused chapters.
In addition, several larger issues are raised repeatedly throughout the book, although they are not highlighted in any one chapter:
1. Conflicting and changing attitudes toward the proper spheres of activity for middle- and upper-class women and men (including, for women, certain alternatives to—or extensions of—domesticity, such as voluntarism and "social feminism").
2. The intertwined factors of social class, race, ethnicity, and geographical location (east/west, town/city).
3. A specific aspect of point (2): the wide range of ideological and political investments that could motivate music patronage, including various forms of patriotism and nationalism (especially in wartime), but also (near the left end of the political spectrum) the Progressive-inspired desire to educate and empower immigrants and working people, and (at the opposite end) the arch-conservative program of constructing highly elitist and socially (racially, religiously) exclusive cultural institutions, such as the nation's opera houses around 1900.
4. The tendency of "serious" American music lovers to devote their energies to dissemination of the canonical works of European musical culture and to resist American music (including much American "art" music but also vernacular genres such as musical comedy, spirituals, and jazz).
5. The functions that musical patronage has fulfilled in women's lives, including the ways in which it has been altered by society's increasing willingness, especially in recent decades, to permit women to study music in all its aspects, perform publicly, and pursue the full range of professional careers in music.
The book's conclusion (Chapter 10) is devoted to a more thoroughgoing and frankly personal discussion, by one of the editors, of certain issues broached earlier, especially in the present Introduction and in Chapters 1, 2, 5, and 9. Some recent scholarly discussions of the "sacralization" of music in turn-of-the-century America, and the role played by patrons (whether male or female) in that process, are challenged, as are various widespread prejudices and misconceptions about the phenomenon of the woman patron of music. Recent changes in patterns of patronage, finally, are briefly addressed, especially those relating to the new conditions of musical life that have arisen with the growth of the electronic media.
As interludelike vignettes between the chapters, we include some particularly revealing (and annotated) unpublished or "lost" documents that provide a direct glimpse into various aspects of musical life and patronage. Each vignette that directly follows a chapter (i.e., Vignettes C, D, G, I, and J) relates to that chapter. When two or more vignettes are grouped together, the second or later ones serve as "further cases," often introducing patrons whose work illustrates some aspect not otherwise discussed, or treated only briefly, elsewhere in the book. Vignettes A and B are rather special, in that they together "frame" the time period to be covered in the book—from the 1860s or even, briefly, the 1830s up to the present day—and together hint at the variety of women's ways of working for music in America. Finally, many of the vignettes have the added advantage of allowing the voice of a given patron (whether or not she also has her own chapter) to be heard with relatively little editorial mediation.
The book is organized in roughly chronological sequence, although the chronology is tempered by certain connections of subject matter and complicated by the long life span and continuing patronage of some of the patrons here discussed, such as Coolidge. (Whether patrons are referred to as "Mrs." or by last or first or full name has been left to the discretion of the individual contributors.) In any case, we as editors have tried to make sure that each chapter can stand independently of the others. We look forward to this book being used by readers who may come from women's history, American studies, or other fields outside of music.
Throughout the book, all of the authors, even in the chapters concerned with larger trends, have, with our encouragement, anchored the discussion by referring to specific cases and archival documents. Many previously unpublished or nearly inaccessible sources of information have been consulted (e.g., letters, diaries, local newspapers), greatly reducing the need to rely on hoary generalizations or impressionistic observations. At the same time, though, we (the editors) do not advocate holding back from the task of interpreting the phenomena here uncovered. To begin with, the very process of selecting, summarizing, and arranging historical data is inevitably guided by the scholar's particular aims and by the audience being addressed. Beyond that, though, a study of this sort calls for the scholar, or so it seems to us, to enter imaginatively into the lives of the historical actors under discussion. This should not imply some sort of sentimental fusion between past (however distant or recent) and present, between historical "material" and historian; rather, it requires a perpetual and, we hope, creative tension—a constant corrective interplay—between evidence and interpretation. Our authors here face and also sometimes explicitly address the challenge of striking a dynamic balance—again, one must not imagine finding the perfect, static middle point—between, on the one hand, doing justice to the ways that women's work in music was perceived by the women themselves and their contemporaries and, on the other hand, submitting such testimonies to a more searching critique informed by, say, feminist and cultural theory (enriched, at times, by commonsense insight into basic human motivation and group dynamics). In particular, we feel, the historian
(and, in turn, the reader) should be wary of various stereotypical and demonstrably inadequate ways of depicting the woman patron: for example, as a selfless heroine battling overwhelming odds, or (the polar opposite) as a silly overprivileged dabbler. This problem of "reading" the patron will, as noted earlier, receive fuller discussion in Chapters 1, 2, 5, 9, and 10.