“Girls” and the Grove

[Note: This blog post began life quite a few years ago as a proposed and accepted abstract for a talk at the International Summit on Gender, Sexuality, and Equity in Grove Music Online, which was to be held at the University of Guelph in spring of 2020 and which was sadly canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While I’d love to return more fully sometime to the historical question of “women’s work” and gendered language in the first two editions of Grove’s Dictionary, I also figured now might be a good chance to reflect on gender in musicology and my own participation in the current Grove project.]

Over its almost 150 year history Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (later known as the New Grove Encyclopedia of Music and Musicians, now published as Grove Music Online) has had a complicated relationship with gender and sexuality that reflects many of the changing attitudes and trends in the field of musicology more broadly. Some of this was reflected in editorial policy or debates over inclusions and exclusions, as in the well-known disputes that took place during the revisions and expansions characterizing the New Grove years. But it also could be reflected in how others have seen the reference work’s place as a reflection of the state of the field. In 1945, Curt Sachs infamously wrote in Music Educators’ Journal that he rejected the term “musicologist” in favor of “music historian,” claiming that “any girl that manufactures a newspaper article by transcribing Grove’s Dictionary without too many misspellings presents herself as a musicologist.” (As Ruth Solie notes in her study of the intellectual context for Sophie Drinker’s Music and Women, “this meddlesome girl is, of course, the only female referred to in Sachs’s talk; the ‘music historian’ is described as he.'”)

This argument for the institutional and professional status of musicology (or music history, if you prefer) was, as others have noted, frequently gendered. Philip Brett observes it in the quasi-scientific stance music research began to take on around the midcentury, an approach and framing that was implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) male and heterosexual. (As a slight tangent, as someone whose work on the history of queer musicology was very directly inspired by Brett’s work on Edward Dent, I am very excited to read Karen Arrandale’s new biography Edward J. Dent: A Life of Words and Music!) Ellie Hisama and Suzanne Cusick note the exclusion of Ruth Crawford from what would become the first meeting of the New York Musicological Society, as well as Charles Seeger’s later anxieties about the perceived masculinity of the nascent American Musicological Society.

Such anxieties tell us much about how (some) people felt about musicology in various times and places and they should absolutely be taken seriously as a record of the field’s never-entirely-reckoned-with history of gatekeeping in various forms. But we also sometimes risk imagining that no work was done on particular topics or by particular people before a particular landmark individual or moment or debate. I recently heard an invigorating and reflective talk by Guthrie Ramsey, wherein he mentioned the importance of new work on race in US music history acknowledging the contributions, labor, and struggles of previous scholarly generations.

So, back to Curt Sachs and those “girls” reading Grove’s Dictionary. While his admittedly flippant remark positions women’s participation in music history as the act of amateurs cribbing from the scholarship of (presumably male) professionals, this is far from an accurate portrait. Women’s intellectual and editorial labor was present in the encyclopedia from the start, beginning with a volume-length index compiled by one Mrs. E. Wodehouse to the first edition.

Rosa Newmarch contributed several articles on Russian music to the second edition, including a lengthy article on Tchaikovsky that reiterates the views of Tchaikovsky’s life and works found her longer biographical writings and program notes. Of particular note is her focus on his depictions of emotion in music as more broadly relatable, especially given that “morbid” was often a euphemism for homosexuality during this period:

The time of prejudice against Tchaikovsky’s music on the ground of its national peculiarities has long since gone by; at least in this country, where his reception has always been more enthusiastic than critical. As regards its powers of endurance, the prophetic spirit is hardly needed in order to foresee the waning popularity of a few of his works which have run a course of sensational success. The world is growing weary of the Overture ‘1812,’ and perhaps also of the evanescent charms of ‘The Chinese Dance’ and the ‘Sugar-plum Fairy.’ But it would be a rash critic who would venture to set a term for the total extinction of such of Tchaikovsky’s symphonic and operatic music as bears the full impress of his individuality. There is enough fire, human and divine, in such works as the four later symphonies, the Overture ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ ‘Francesca da Rimini,’ the Pianoforte Concerto in B-flat minor, the Third String Quartet, and the operas ‘Eugen Oniegin’ and ‘Pique-Dame, ‘to ensure them a long lease of life. If Tchaikovsky does not bear a supreme message to the world, he has many things to say which are of the greatest interest to humanity, and he says them with such warmth and intimate feeling that they seem less a revelation than an unexpected effluence from our own innermost being. His music, with its strange combination of the sublime and the platitudinous, will always touch the average hearer, to whom music is — and ever will be — more a matter of feeling than of thought. Therefore, if we must pose the inevitable question — How long will Tchaikovsky’s music survive? — we can but make the obvious reply : As long as the world holds temperaments akin to his own : as long as pessimism and torturing doubt overshadow mortal hearts who find their cry re-echoed in the intensely subjective, deeply human music of this poet who weeps as he sings, and embodies so much of the spirit of his age ; its weariness, its disenchantment, its vibrant sympathy, and morbid regretfulness.

Rosa Newmarch, “Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilich.” Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Vol. V: T-Z and Appendix. Edited by J.A. Fuller Maitland, pp. 48-49. New York and London: Macmillan, 1910.

While (as I say in Imagining Musical Pasts), Newmarch’s predictive skills may have needed fine tuning, her reflection on Tchaikovsky’s presumed future legacy is also a valuable moment to reflect upon what it is a resource like Grove is for. Women are (and were in Newmarch’s time) also present in Grove as the subjects of articles, including historical and then-living composers, performers, patrons, and relatives of well-known men. The nature of this coverage–both in quantity and quality–has fluctuated over time.

When I recently was invited to update and expand the Grove Music Online article on Constanze Mozart as a part of their current initiative to update coverage on topics related to women, gender, and sexuality, I read several prior editions of the article and found myself thinking about how I have used Grove in my music appreciation and history classes. I wanted to acknowledge Constanze’s complicated place in Mozart scholarship and biography without spending too much time weighing in on her character as wife and mother. (That there has been a wealth of recent research on Constanze and the Nissen Mozart biography in recent years, not to mention the fact that the previous version of the article was written by Rudolph Angermüller, something of a professional hero to me for his exhaustive multivolume and decades-spanning documentary biography of Antonio Salieri, made the process slightly more terrifying.) Beyond updating and reorganizing the bibliography and expanding Angermüller’s outline of Constanze’s life, I eventually decided that I needed to address her reception history of a sort. As someone who works on unreliable sources, I wanted to provide context for the corrective work that has been done in framing her famously unreliable contributions to the archive of Mozart anecdotes and explore how she has herself been depicted in fictional and semi-fictional works on Mozart’s life. The effect was, I hope, not so much to serve as Constanze Mozart’s personal cheerleader, but to show how she took part in and spurred on a great popular interest in and market for stories (true and less so) about composer’s lives that went beyond her particular efforts as Mozart’s widow. Ultimately, I found myself believing that the Grove (or, at least, my small contribution to it) should provide a baseline explanation of the subject and the tools to follow up on new or lingering questions. This seems to me to be especially important with figures whose lives have been marginalized or dismissed in some way, or for those about whom much remains unknown.


Newmarch’s Grove article on Tchaikovsky can be read in full at the Internet Archive here. If you have access to Grove Music Online/Oxford Music Online via a library or other academic institution, you can read my expanded article on Constanze Mozart here.

Other Reading:

Philip Brett. “Musicology and Sexuality: The Example of Edward J. Dent.” In Queer Episodes in Music and Modern Identity. Ed. Sophie Fuller and Lloyd Whitesell, 177-188. University of Illinois Press, 2002.

Philip Brett and Elizabeth Wood. “Lesbian and Gay Music.” Electronic Musicological Review 7 (2002). Accessed via the Wayback Machine on November 25, 2023 at

Suzanne Cusick. “Gender, Musicology, and Feminism.” In Rethinking Music. Ed. Nicholas Cook and Mark Everist, 471-498. Oxford University Press, 1999 [2001].

Ellie M. Hisama. Gendering Musical Modernism: The Music of Ruth Crawford, Marion Bauer, and Miriam Gideon. Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Guthrie Ramsey. “What I Took From Musicology and What It Gave Me Back.” Talk given at the Music Research Doctoral Colloquium. November 22, 2023. McGill University. Montreal, QC.

Curt Sachs. “The Music Historian.” Music Educators’ Journal (1945): 31, no. 6 (May/June 1945): 78-79.

Ruth A. Solie. “Sophie Drinker’s History.” In Disciplining Music: Musicology and its Canons. Ed. Katherine Bergeron and Philip V. Bohlman, 23-43. The University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.