Working – finally – on a new project, I’ve been engrossed in a collection of cultural critic Edward Said’s writings about music. Released earlier this year, Music at the Limits spans 30 years of his reviews and articles about music. It turns out that not only was Professor Said one of the 20th century’s most influential public intellectuals, with around 20 books to his name, but also a prodigiously well informed consumer of “classical music” who wrote about it for publications including the New Yorker, the Nation, the London Review of Books and even Vanity Fair.
Among multiple topics of interest in this collection is Said’s assertion that despite a great deal of musical works written for and about women, there is – apart from the occasional resuscitation of a forgotten or overlooked female composer with a distinctive voice – a significant absence in critical attention paid to the role of women in music history:
It is an interesting fact about feminism, and about the place of music in contemporary culture, that very little has been done to map the female role in the production and performance of music.
This comment, which dates from 1985, bodes well for my project. But my favourite line in the book is Said’s throwaway description of encores, which he finds appalling – “like foodstains on a handsome suit.”