Posted by: saramariafinley | January 19, 2013

Genderization in the World of Classical Music

Lately I have been thinking a lot about how women and men often seem to have different roles in the home or the workplace. I have played violin since eight and one of the things I participated in was orchestra. I have played in several different orchestra’s and one thing that struck me was how certain instruments were typically played by a certain gender. There was generally a large female presence among the violins but if you looked at the bass section, it was generally male dominated. Occasionally there would be a solitary female bassist with the six other males, but that was highly place. And there was not only a difference of genders in the string section but also in many of the brass and wind instruments. Often the tuba players would be mostly male, the majority of flute players would be all female, and then the males would dominate the trumpet section.


Another interesting phenomenon is the fact that there are almost no famous female composers  that are household names. Even if a person has not listened to the music of Vivaldi, his name is familiar. Mozart and Beethoven are equally well known. If you google famous composers and look at the “100 Greatest Classical Music Composers”, there is not a single female on the list ( The music of Sofia Gubaidulina is beautiful and highly worth listening too.  Why is it that male composers can create such lasting works of musical art whereas the female composers are unknown?



  1. I am a vocalist and I sing in the CNU Chamber Choir so this post really caught my eye. You make a lot of good points about the uneven dynamic (musical joke, hah!) between men and women within an instrumental group. Obviously it is different for choir where voice parts are divvyed out by gender… MOST of the time (save for counter-tenors and women who sing tenor)! On another note, I saw my friend trying to play the bass the other day for string tech and she is only 5’5. The bass was way over her head and it was extremely difficult for her to wield. Do you think that might be why there are fewer women, because of height differentials? Also, I see the lack of female representation in composers who are considered successful. In the music fraternity I am a part of (it’s made up of only women though), our national board makes an effort to highlight women’s compositions by putting it into our national objectives! Thanks for posting this, I was really intrigued by it! 🙂

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