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“And Who Has Not Had Their Ears Tickled?” Sophia and the British Musical Miscellany

Year: 2023

Presenter Name: Janice Bunker

Historian Charles Burney (1726-1814) mentions an ancient Grecian woman named Lamia who played the flute. Plutarch and Athenaeus both wrote about her as a ""most celebrated"" female flutist. Burney's opinion is that her fame was based on her abilities as a courtesan rather than her abilities on the flute. Greek artifacts from this time often depict female musicians performing naked and describe them in erotic terms. However, it is possible that some female musicians were not prostitutes, yet were perceived and portrayed as sexual objects because their performances were controlled and viewed by men, and the artifacts we have were created by men. In the eighteenth century, similar attitudes existed: public female performers ""were"" socially inferior and morally loose, and most public performances were controlled by men. Domestic female performers were considered socially and morally superior, but there was a fine line of demarcation. In addition, flute was not considered a proper instrument for a woman. Thus, information about female flute players performing either in public or at home is difficult to find, and if it exists, is in non-traditional resources. The current research project will review non-traditional literature for clues about female domestic musicians who may have played the flute. For example, we have financial records that show a Scottish noblewoman purchased a flute and paid for flute lessons for one of her daughters from 1702 to at least 1717. James Freebairn, a Scottish historian, mentions several women whose flute-playing delightfully ""tickled the ears"" of their audiences around 1727. We have artwork from the mid-1700s depicting female flutists. A strong piece of evidence is the Scottish National Library's copy of the first volume of The British Musical Miscellany bearing the signature Sophia Eyre and the year 1733 on the title page. As was common with miscellanies of the time, the pieces are arrangements of theater, popular, and folk songs. The score includes separately notated flute parts, which made it more attractive to amateur musicians, many of whom were women. It is possible that some female domestic musicians could have played the flute. The current research project will analyze pieces in the score, including their origin, technical details, and their post-publication existence. This will shed light on the musical culture in which female domestic musicians lived and transmitted musical knowledge to the next generation. Results from the current research project will reveal hints about the musical lives of eighteenth-century women and their networks of influence, and add significantly to the growing body of knowledge about underrecognized women musicians who were working toward enlarging their musical spheres and paving the way for the female musicians of today.
University / Institution: University of Utah
Type: Oral
Format: In Person
SESSION C (1:45-3:15PM)
Area of Research: Arts
Faculty Mentor: Jane Hatter
Location: Union Building, ROOM 312 (2:45pm)