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Musical Biography and the Myth of the Muse

Wiley, C (2011) Musical Biography and the Myth of the Muse In: Radical Music History Symposium 2011, 2011-12-08 - 2011-12-09, Sibelius Academy, Helsinki. (Unpublished)

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Published version: Christopher Wiley, ‘Musical Biography and the Myth of the Muse’, in Critical Music Historiography: Probing Canons, Ideologies, and Institutions, edited by Markus Mantere and Vesa Kurkela. Farnham: Ashgate, forthcoming, 2014. My intentions in this chapter are to examine the ideologies that historically emerged from biographies of some of Western art-music’s most treasured personages precisely by marginalising the secondary characters that Catherine Peters has described as being those ‘lived in the shadow of the main subject, often paralleling or contrasting with it’. I aim not to question the portrayal of the principal protagonists so much as that of specific females with whom they were associated, and whose union was presented as deriving from shared artistic bonds, with the woman assuming the role of the composer’s ‘muse’. Though silenced and largely invisible throughout much of the text, these ancillary figures typically came into view at critical junctures in the biographies, as signifiers of the productivity and increasing creative power of their accompanying male composer; moreover, they were depicted as having inspired that person to acts of artistic greatness. While in some respects, such practices may reflect the generic expectation for biography to provide an engaging, novelistic reading experience, in the field of music – in which female ‘heroes’ were very few and far between, and little cultural space existed for anything more than a select handful of exalted men – an ideologically-loaded pattern developed in the course of the nineteenth century over and above that recognisable in other disciplines. This is the model to which I refer as the ‘myth of the muse’ or, to repeat a term I have used elsewhere, the ‘muse paradigm’. Following the lead of recent scholarship on mythology, in this context the word ‘myth’ is used not to denote a widely-held misconception with limited factual basis, so much as the ways in which information has been selected and reported to facilitate the dissemination, perpetuation and elaboration of cherished narratives that functioned to reinforce particular cultural values within their interpretive communities.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Conference Paper)
Divisions : Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > School of Arts > Music
Authors :
Date : 2011
Contributors :
Uncontrolled Keywords : music, music history, gender studies
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Additional Information : Full text not available from this repository.
Depositing User : Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited : 19 May 2015 12:55
Last Modified : 19 May 2015 12:55

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