For my first paper, I’m hoping to learn more about the influential yet under-represented contributions of women–especially women composers–to the musical life of 1920s Paris. I came upon this website and, making note of all names with “France” and dates showing the composer to be at least teen-aged in the 1920s next to them, used it as a launching point for my preliminary research.
I came up with a list of intriguing musicians active in 1920s Paris, including Marguerite Canal, Marguerite Beclard d’Harcourt, Jane Evrard, Hedwige Chretien, Yvonne Desportes, Jeanne Leleu, and Marcelle de Manziarly. Most of these musicians (excluding Jane Evrard) have brief biographical entries in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, but few have further related sources cited in their bibliographies. (Exceptions to this observation include original ethnomusicological writings by Beclard d’Harcourt, citations in other encyclopedias [Canal, Chretien, Desportes, Manziarly], and mention in other articles not specifically devoted to these composers [for example, Evrard in an entry discussing Paris after 1870]).
But compared to the sheer number of search results, length and content of biographical entries, and citations of further research for male composers of this time period (for example, Darius Milhaud), the collection of information about these composers is decidedly incomplete.
One of the few women composers of this era that we do hear about, Germaine Tailleferre, has a significantly more pervasive presence on Grove in comparison with many of her female contemporaries (compare Tailleferre’s entries with those of Yvonne Desportes, about whom Grove itself claims, “After Lili Boulanger she may be considered the foremost French woman composer of her generation”). Yet even Tailleferre is far eclipsed in terms of exposure by male composers such as Milhaud. This is blatantly obvious on the most superficial level: just glance at the relative length of their biographical entries on Grove.
Because of this lack of obvious research materials, I was excited to stumble upon Laura Ann Hamer’s 2009 dissertation entitled “Musiciennes: Women Musicians in France during the Interwar Years, 1919-1939.” 1
Ironically, I started reading it after realizing that there were no Grove or English Wikipedia entries devoted to Jane Evrard (there is a Wikipedia entry in French); had Evrard had more exposure and hence been included in these basic encyclopedias, I might not have scrolled down far enough down on my Google search to find the link to Hamer’s work!
Hamer completed her PhD at Cardiff University (UK) in 2009, joined the faculty at Liverpool Hope University (also UK) in 2012, and became Head of the Department of Music at LHU in 2014. Hamer explains in her Preface and Acknowledgements section of the dissertation that her original plan for her thesis was to study the piano music of Germaine Tailleferre. But upon finding a significant amount of Tailleferre’s works to be unpublished or otherwise unavailable, Hamer re-conceived her research. She writes, “I decided to broaden the scope of my enquiry to investigate the wider activities of women musicians in interwar France. I soon realized that women contributed to French musical life during this period in nearly every possible way, as composers, performers, conductors, and pedagogues. The majority of these women musicians, however, have been virtually forgotten, and have received little scholarly attention to date. These musiciennes, therefore, became the new focus of my thesis.” Excited to see all of the composers’ names I had found (and more I hadn’t heard of) mentioned in Hamer’s dissertation, and upon confirming her credibility–successful PhD candidate who quickly found work and just as quickly was promoted to lead the department in which she was originally hired–I realized that her paper would serve as an excellent starting point for my investigation of the contributions of women composers of 1920s Paris.
Hamer divides her thesis into three main areas of focus: Part I examines the context in which women composers of the inter-war years found themselves, Part II explores the lives of specific women composers and conductors, and Part III discusses the careers and reception of women musicians in Paris between 1919 and 1939, importantly devoting a chapter to the question, “Unjustly Neglected or Justifiable Obscurity?” Throughout the paper, Hamer includes score examples, photographs, quotes from the figures she studies, and, in the appendices, two interviews, one with Michel Gemignani, the son of Yvonne Desportes, and one with Manuel Poulet, the son of Jane Evrard. Hamer also includes in her appendices a listing of Tailleferre’s music and a study of the Competitors for the Prix de Rome Competition from 1919-1939.
As exciting as it was to find this dissertation, I realize that I may have difficulty moving forward: as Hamer warns on page ii, there is very little published research, especially research that goes beyond the biographical, on many of the people Hamer profiles. However, this paper and Hamer’s bibliography may help me begin the process of learning more about these composers.
Hamer, Laura Ann, “Musiciennes: Women Musicians in France during the Interwar Years, 1919-1939” (PhD diss., Cardiff University, 2009), https://stolaf.mnpals.net/vufind/SummonRecord/FETCH-proquest_dll_29998300713/Description#tabnav (accessed September 28, 2015).