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"My Home Is My Factory": Lady Pianists and Working-Class Discipline
Halmstad University, School of Education, Humanities and Social Science, Contexts and Cultural Boundaries (KK).ORCID iD: 0000-0002-4453-945X
2012 (English)Conference paper, Published paper (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The picture of the bourgeois woman seated at the piano is a familiar one. It has been reproduced in countless paintings, photographs and fictional accounts. Piano playing was one of the accomplishments to be displayed by the nineteenth-century young lady in the private sphere. Today we tend to regard this woman as a decorative relic, who was engaged in an unsystematic leisure activity, victimised by lacking career opportunities and far removed from the realities of industrial life in mid-nineteenth-century England. In fact, her pleasant music-making could be considered the antithesis of factory discipline, according to which time was strictly regulated by the demands of making a profit. During long working hours in the factory, the mechanistic principle disciplined the body; the movement of hands and legs, for instance, was subject to surveillance. As late as the early twentieth century, Havelock Ellis described how foremen were encouraged to monitor young women seated at sewing machines in order to prevent sexual excitement as a result of the wrong positioning of their legs. In comparison, solitary music-making in a secluded home appears to be the very epitome of harmony and freedom. However, I argue that the similarities between female factory workers and amateur lady pianists were greater than our construction of the Victorian period may lead us to believe. Factory discipline was implemented in bourgeois homes all over England. The standard piano practise for young women restricted physical freedom to such an extent that, like factory workers, they were fettered to a machine, the pianoforte. This mechanisation of music was established through the musical institution of the conservatory. Due to the emergence of conservatories all over Europe, the virtuoso became the norm for all pianists. The repertoire was standardised as was the recommended hours of practise. Thus, the distinction previously made between a professional pianist and an amateur disappeared. In addition, the more sophisticated the pianoforte became, the more it turned into a machine that had to be controlled. More often than not, though, the woman was controlled by the machine. Hand gymnastics was introduced as one means of preparing the fingers for the machine-like activity of performing almost impossible pianistic feats without wasting any time. Thus engaged in the virtuoso factory at home, the lady pianist would have no time for such potentially subversive activities as day-dreaming. Ironically, not until piano playing was in actual fact mechanised due to the launching of the player piano, were women freed from their musical servitude. In 1901 they had access to 6,000 music rolls, which they could operate at their own liberty without previous practise. What is more, while doing so they were at leisure to make the music accompany their own thoughts and desires.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2012.
National Category
Musicology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:hh:diva-17574OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hh-17574DiVA: diva2:524193
Conference
9th European Social Science History Conference Glasgow, Scotland, UK Wednesday 11 - Saturday 14 April 2012
Available from: 2012-04-29 Created: 2012-04-29 Last updated: 2017-04-27Bibliographically approved

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