Evocations of the other : treatments of the exotic and the feminine in nineteenth-century music - The redemption of Sheherazade

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Venter, Luka
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Ngā Upoko Tukutuku (Māori subject headings)
Orientalism in music
octatonic scales
Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolai (1844-1908)
Scheherazade (1888 - Rimsky-Korsakov)
Georgian folk music
women in music
Strauss, Richard Georg (1864-1949)
Salome (1905 - Strauss)
exoticism in music
ethnic women in music
ANZSRC Field of Research Code (2020)
Venter, L. (2017). Evocations of the Other: Treatments of the exotic and the feminine in nineteenth-century music – The redemption of Sheherazade. Pūrātoke: Journal of Undergraduate Research in the Creative Arts and Industries, 1(1), 094-109. ISSN: 2538-0133. Unitec Institute of Technology. Unitec ePress. Retrieved from: http://www.unitec.ac.nz/epress
The concert hall, as much as the operatic stage, is a theatre – a place for viewing, and the observation of narratives. Music can be and often is read as the latter, whether overtly programmatic or not, and though abstracted through the intermediation of instruments, the orchestral and operatic literatures of Western art music enact and present narratives and struggles of power. Classical music has been dominated since its inception by men, working in a historically white European context, with the result of an almost total exclusion of the first-person perspectives of women and non-white ethnic and cultural identities. This fact, coupled with an intense historical fixation with the Orient within Western classical music, transforms the concert hall and operatic stages into extra-artistic theatres where the material presented can be read as representative of Western societal trends, attitudes and prejudices. This research draws connections between colonialist and patriarchal thought and musical representations of the ethnic and/or female ‘Other’ in the Western canon, and traces the use of certain musical TOPOI in conjunction with female and ethnic tropes. I examine these with reference to works ranging from Rameau, Saint-Saëns, and Strauss, among others, with a particular emphasis on the operatic and orchestral works of Rimsky-Korsakov, inquiring into the possibility of subverting Orientalist and misogynist elements within such musical works from a socially critical perspective. I will argue that classical music, rather than existing as a purely sonic artefact, becomes representational, on the stages of the concert hall or operatic theatre, of power struggles and of imbalances of power between men and women, and between white and non-white ethnic and cultural identities. I will do so in an attempt at communicating a vital understanding of classical music as a cultural object that ties into lived socio-political realities.
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