Opening Remarks - 2002

Opening Remarks

Dr. Robert McFarland

I welcome you to tonight’s performance of music composed by German women. My name is Rob McFarland, and I appear as a cosmic clump between two stars—Michelle James and Ruth Christensen. If I shine at all, it is a reflection of their light. Professor James is the brilliant mind behind the Sophie Digital Library, an online library that gathers the texts of German women authors. This concert is inspired by her work, going to archives and gathering long-forgotten masterpieces so that they can be re-assessed and studied by the scholarly community.

My role in the Sophie Digital library is helping Professor James to implement student research into the Sophie project. The music that you will hear tonight is being performed thanks to the tireless efforts of student researchers, several of whom you will meet tonight as they introduce the composers and pieces that are being performed in this concert. These students spent their summers in archives in Vienna and Frankfurt, educating themselves about different women and choosing some of their compositions to bring back as additions to the Sophie Digital Library.

The other star, Ruth Christensen, came up to me at a college fair where we had set up the Sophie display you saw in the foyer tonight. She gave us the idea for our musical expansion, and she has been the heart, might, mind and strength of this concert tonight, taking the music that our students found in the archives and bringing it to glorious life on the stage.

I have been asked two questions about this concert:

1) Why listen to the works of women composers,


2) Why the name “Sophie’s Daughters?

I will answer both of these questions with a quote from Rousseau’s Emile, the text that set the tone for the possibility of European women artists for more than two hundred years. Rousseau describes Sophie, the ideal woman (Quote:)

[1250:] Sophie should be a woman as Emile is a man. That is to say, she should have everything that suits the constitution of her species and of her sex

[1272:] Once it is demonstrated that men and women neither are nor ought to be constituted the same, either in character or in temperament, it follows that they ought not to have the same education. To cultivate the masculine virtues in women and to neglect their own is obviously to do them an injury.

[1294:] …Voluntary courses are easily extended to include drawing, an art which is closely connected with taste in dress; but I would not have them taught landscape and still less figure painting. Leaves, fruit, flowers, draperies, anything that will make an elegant trimming for her accessories…that will be quite enough.

[1357:] The search for abstract and speculative truths, for principles and axioms in science…is beyond a woman's grasp; their studies should be thoroughly practical. For the works of genius are beyond her reach, and she has neither the accuracy nor the attention for success in the exact sciences.

[1377:] Sophie has natural gifts. She is aware of them, and they have not been neglected, but never having had a chance of much training she is content to use her pretty voice to sing tastefully and truly; her little feet step lightly, easily, and gracefully. But she has taste rather than talent; she cannot read a simple song from notes.

[1382:] Sophie's mind is pleasing but not brilliant, and thorough but not deep. It is the sort of mind which calls for no remark, since she never seems cleverer or stupider than oneself. (End of Quote)

In spite of the weight of expectation of feminine ideals such as Rousseau’s Sophie, these unruly daughters of the European cultural family managed to bring forth music.

Don’t squelch it by comparisons to the Male “Geniuses,” instead listen closely for the voices that softly created a new possibility for women who write, paint, sing and think.

I dedicate this performance to these composers and all other Daughters of Sophie, the great women artists and thinkers who are here tonight, especially Michelle and Ruth.

Thank You