Professional Interchange in the Developing
by Rose Eide-Altman
One of the purposes of this site is to examine common themes
in the lives of women pianists, themes that may be unexplored or may be
different from their male counterparts. One theme that I ran across this
month in a biography on Fanny Mendelssohn was the role artistic interaction
plays once an artist has left the scholastic/competition world of their
"Fanny: Life and Music"
Dr. Jill Halstead presents a concise and insightful biography of this
early 19th century artist (1805-1847). She describes Fannyís earliest
reputation as a child prodigy ("at the age of thirteen she played from
memory all twenty-four of the first book of Bachís Well-tempered Clavier
"), her education, social restrictions, marriage and artistic frustrations.
As they grew up it seems that she and her brother, Felix, developed together
as artists to such a degree that they were artistic "soul mates" drawing
necessary inspiration and affirmation from each otherís composing and performing.
As Felixís career spread throughout Europe Fanny was artistically isolated
and often became depressed. Dr. Halstead writes:
"Fannyís lack of confidence in her own abilities is
clear and she very much missed having suitably qualified musicians to judge
her work. In 1836 she confided to her friend Klingemann:
'When one never encounters either objective criticism or goodwill,
one eventually loses the critical sense needed to judge oneís work, while
at the same time losing the wish to create it. Felix, who could easily
take the place of an audience for me, can only reassure me sparingly for
we are seldom together. I am thus more or less alone with my music.'"
Is this a sentiment shared by some women today, and is it
unique to women? All artists, men and women, undergo changing environments
as they progress from the encouraging and affirming early years of study,
through the challenging, competitive and stimulating years of high school,
college and graduate studies. As long as there is artistic interaction
they can find stimulation to grow and mature as artists. I think it is
when they leave the scholastic environment that many women flounder as Fanny
describes above, where the lack of criticism is more debilitating than the
overabundance of it. Often, it seems, at the same time most men are focused
on "playing the game" and are not as dependent upon artistic stimulation
and motivation from other individuals.
Granted, there are still the social and traditional differences
between the genders. Most women performers, when asked why there are not
more women performing internationally, state that it is probably because
of the family responsibilities that accompany having children. This is
a very important issue and reality, but I think there are several other factors
at play here and one I have not heard much about is the dependence women
have on feedback about themselves as individuals as well as artists. Much
has been written in the business world about how women would rather get
along and be accepted and men are out to play the game (e.g. "Play Like a
Man, Win Like a Woman" by Gail Evans, Broadway Books, 2000). As much as
one may hate stereotypes this probably has some validity and probably can
be applied to the world of the concert artist as well. It certainly seemed
to resound in Fannyís statement above. Even though women of today have
more liberties there may still be the same emotional restrictions that need
to be recognized and addressed, if by no one other than the artist. Once
informed they can purposely seek out avenues of peer and professional interaction.
It is notable that most of the concert pianists interviewed by Cheryl
Branham (see Branham page)
were employed at universities. Here they have the necessary interaction
and affirmation needed to thrive as artists. Most of them even state that
that is necessary in order to give of themselves to the audience in their
performing. But many of the men concert pianists featured in interview
books restrict themselves solely to performing, stating that they do not
have the time to teach and it would be an injustice to their students.
I think that at the root of the issue is the fact that they donít need to
have that professional interaction to thrive as artists, at least not as
much as women.
Back to Fanny, it is interesting to note that within two
years of her statement quoted above she submitted a composition for publication
and gave her only public performance as pianist. I was impressed that she
realized and could articulate what she needed, and then looked for suitable
opportunities to meet those needs. Her year in Italy in 1839-1840 filled
her with a new and much needed artistic affirmation, one of the results of
which was an increase in composing, and eventually publication. Dr. Halstead
"The publication of her work meant it was reviewed,
praised and criticised, only from such critical attention can a composer
The need for greater professional interchange and educated
affirmation by women is not a strength or weakness but an important difference
that college students need to learn about and professional pianists need
to realize in order to develop their full potential and continue to perform
into their thirties and beyond. We have many young, talented women pianists,
but not so many mature artists who can express the deeper insights of accumulated
life experiences, expressions necessary for the truly great masterpieces
of classical piano music.
How do professional women pianists today maintain their
motivation if they are not employed by institutes of higher learning, or
is that an anachronism?
Your comments and insights on this subject are welcome
and, unless specified otherwise, will be posted on Augustís "Letters to
the Editor" page.
published July 1, 2001
copyright 2001 PianoWomen.com