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Unsound compositions

University of Florida Institutional Repository

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UNSOUND COMPOSITIONS: WOMEN AND COMPOSITIONAL AGENCY By LAURA MINOR A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLOR IDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2005

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Copyright 2005 by Laura Minor

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iii TABLE OF CONTENTS page ABSTRACT....................................................................................................................... iv DISCUSSION..................................................................................................................... .1 LIST OF REFERENCES...................................................................................................33 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.............................................................................................35

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iv Abstract of Thesis Presen ted to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts UNSOUND COMPOSITIONS: WOMEN AND COMPOSITIONAL AGENCY By Laura Minor May 2005 Chair: Tace Hedrick Major Department: Women’s Studies This thesis considers the reception of tw o avant-garde women artists, Gertrude Stein and Yoko Ono, with attention to the reception of Stein’s opera (in collaboration with Virgil Thompson) Four Saints in Three Acts and Ono’s album (in collaboration with John Lennon) Plastic Ono Band By focusing down on the most radical moment or era that marks a significant epiphany for each artist, this paper explores the cultural practices, aesthetics, and ways of engendering and concep tualizing sound, “noise,” lyricism, music, and compositional agency in relation to thei r reception. The idea is to unlink the avantgarde from the masculine and to separate the meaning constructed in sound from the connotations of the avant-garde. One objective will be to examine ways in which the insights and methods of structuralism, post-structuralism, semiotics, critical theory, and fe minist criticism have been applied to the problem of understa nding how meanings ar e gendered, negotiated, and celebrated in popular music.

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v By contrasting the representation by the popular media and by the artists themselves, a composite representation em erges of the women and their work as androgynous, crazy, non-sensical, unsound (v ersus “sound”), and discordant. The labeling of women artists as possessed, errant geniuses or incapable “tourists” of the art form is a consistent effort to discredi t women of their impact and innovations in composition and the avant-garde.

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1 DISCUSSION Once in a while and where and where around around is a sound and around is a sound and around is a sound and around. Around is a sound around is a sound around is a sound and around. Around differi ng from anointed now. Now differing from anointed now. Now differing differing. Now differing from anointed now. Now when there is left and with it integrally w ith it integrally with it integrally withstood within without with out with drawn and in as much as if it could be withstanding what in might might be so. —Four Saints and Three Acts Gertrude Stein Upon recently viewing the film remake of The Manchurian Candidate (2004), I noticed that the character of Eleanor Prentiss Shaw, the power-hungry U.S. Senator and icy, masterminding mother of the leading ma le protagonist, Raymond Shaw, resonated with many public characterizat ions of powerful women. Port rayed as shrewd, calculating and “hysterical,” Shaw emasculated her son a nd usurped the patriarchal rightof-passage in politics, ending tragically in her conspiracy and assassin ation. I also began to notice these images surfacing in other remake films such as The Stepford Wives ; in this version, powerful women are “reprogrammed” as r obots so they would support patriarchal traditions in domesticity and sexuality. Thes e images of women serve as a warning to what can happen to women in all fields and arenas of gender if patriarchal formulas for success are challenged. And it was powerful imag es of women such as these that began to directly influence my an alysis of gender and experime ntal composition in music. Namely, two under appreciated, yet highly public ized women in the arts: Gertrude Stein and Yoko Ono.

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2 I am going to look at the various camps of reception on Gertrude Stein and Yoko Ono; focusing on the popular discourse surr ounding the ways they made sound. Through non-traditional use of rhythm, sound and syntax, Stein a nd Ono created an open space for women in music by experimentally approachi ng composition in a very public platform. This made it easier for contemporary women co mposers to experiment outside the roles that consistently defined women in music. In contrasting the lite rary and musical camps of reception to Stein and Ono’s self-prese ntation, a composite re presentation of the “hysterical” woman composer emerges and their work is characterized as crazy, nonsensical and unsound (versus “sound”). The labeling of women ar tists as possessed, errant geniuses or incapable “tourists” of the art form is a consistent effort to discredit women of their impact and innovations in changing that art form. Women composers such as St ein and Ono began to appe ar in scholarship by the end of the 1980s when the construction of gender and sexuality became a focal point of feminist music criticism. Feminist music sc holarship offered new ways of looking at the mainstream and the avant-garde works of musi c in the canon. Avant-garde texts received gendered readings and scholars began to analyze the gendered reception of women composers in the media. Influenced by other fields such as literar y criticism, feminist music scholars applied their concepts of ge nder theory to women working in sound. In addition, the existing body of feminis t theory surrounding traditional music discourse outlines the binary of masculine/ feminine, normal/abnormal and strong/weak in many ways. “Julia Kristeva, for example di scussed masculine patriarchal writing as a style incorporating lin ear development and feminine writing as counter-hegemonic in its non-linearity” (Dusman 132). Here, the idea of music and composition is positioned

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3 apart from the idea of “woman” composer unle ss it is positioned specifically as feminine music, deviant by nature. By examining Stein and Thompson’s Four Saints and Yoko Ono’s 1970 Plastic Ono Band/Yoko Ono this paper explores the meaning (or intended lack of meaning) constructed through the cultu ral practices, aesthetics, and ways of gendering and conceptualizing sound or “noise.” The popul ar reception surrounding “meaning” in these two works reveals how the works themselves question the fixed nature of language and sound and how they relate to conventional inte rpretations of music. The idea is to uncouple the avant-garde from its traditionall y masculine connotations and to separate the meaning constructed in sound from th e meaning constructed in traditional composition or songwriting and the connotations of the avant-garde. The reception Stein experienced as she ventured into the new artistic territory of the opera in Four Saints is indicative of a widespread pattern in the way contemporary women working in sound are discussed; that is, as masculine vs. feminine and good vs. bad. Stein’s reputation was alre ady one of non-sensical litera ture, and because this was a musical text to be sung, the “hysteria” of St ein indirectly connected her to “hysterical” composition. One successor to Stein who r eceived a parallel recep tion was Yoko Ono. Looking at the reception surrounding Ono’s record, Yoko Ono/ Plastic Ono Band (1970), the companion record to the doubl e album released by John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band the similarities in establishment press and the avant-garde sustained the image of the “hysterical” woman composer. I am arguing, as do many other critics, that the avant-garde art has been both practiced and received as masculine. Susan Suleiman explains:

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4 …The place of women, and of avant-gard e movements, has traditionally been situated away from the center, ‘on the fri nge,’ in the margins. One difference is that avant-garde movements have willfully chosen their avant-garde position, the better to launch attacks at the center, whereas women have more often than not been relegated to the margins: far from the altar as from the marketplace, those centers where cultural subjects invent and enact their symbolic and material rites (Suleiman 14). Stein and Ono were both infamous characters in their individual spheres of the avantgarde. Stein, known as a difficult, yet innovati ve member of the elite literati and Ono, known mainly as a conceptual visual artist and infamous partner to John Lennon, used their contributions and infamy as a transf igurative vehicle for their own avant-garde concepts. Stein and Ono’s unapologetic pr esence in the avant-garde challenged the comfortable categories of composition and ownership. 1 The avant-garde as a masculine tradition ha s been coupled with the co-optation of the avant-garde by the media. “The ‘minimum reading’ of avant-garde art today, Donald Kuspit argues, is ‘to refuse to serve the me dia—though it may be hard to find ways to do so as the media become increasingly sophist icated, fully realizing their insatiable appetite.’ The aim of avant-ga rde art is ‘to make the audien ce self-reflexive—to make it discover its own discontent.’” (Wiener 2) Stein and Ono both real ized their exclusion from the center of the avant-garde and how compositional agency2 is problematic for 1For the purposes of this paper, composition wi ll mean the result or product of composing or arranging parts, whether it be a literary, artistic or musi cal work, into a unified whole. 2 The idea of compositional agency for the purposes of this paper means a woman’s ability and power to create, influence, me diate, communicate, distribute, negotiate, transform, and compose her art as she wi shes. Thus, gendering women’s compositional agency within the hegemonic confines of the avant-garde is one objective of feminist music scholars. However, the use of the te rm “avant-garde” is troub ling. Primarily used to define work that is experi mental and unorthodox in nature, avant-garde as a term has been tossed around so frequently by scholars, writ ers and critics to describe any work of art or movement that falls in opposition to what is commercially popular in the last century that is has lost much of its signifi cance. For the purposes of this reception study,

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5 women. However, they used their marginaliz ation to their advantage as they embarked on new compositional, conceptual territory. Stein’s use of language in Four Saints demanded audiences construct their own meaning from a non-traditional text, wh ich puts Stein’s libretto into unknown, unwelcome corners of the avant-garde. Susa n McClary explains that “music has often been identified as the most ‘feminine’ of th e arts, because of its relative vagueness, its fluidity, its apparent ‘handm aiden’ relationship to lyrics its ability to arouse, its connections with dance, and even its resona nce with memories of coextension with the mother.” From this we can infer th at women carry a si gnificant connection to finding meaning in music, but are positioned as in significant “subjects,” relegating women to feminine roles such as muse or performance-based participation ( Reshaping a Discipline 6). Four Saints a collaborative opera Stein wrote for the composer Virgil Thomson, (libretto, 1929: music by Virgil Thomson, 1934) shook American opera at its base through the use of a non-tr aditional libretto, Am ericana folk-based hymns and the first all African-American opera cast. Because Thom son was already an established composer, Stein’s contribution was seen as supplement ary to the traditional process of opera. Within the tradition of “composer,” Stein’ s libretto and the reception surrounding this collaboration is illustrative of how the term “composer” marginalizes women from particular rites of passage in musical com position. Thus, the discourse of marginality avant-garde is used in two ways: as a work that employs new concep ts and techniques in an effort to radically innovate the art fo rm and secondly as a group or community active in employing these concepts and techniques.

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6 surrounding “woman” is doubly categorized with in the margins of music as “woman composer.” Contemporary feminist discourse in musi cology suggests that the roles given to women in music are being redefined. One of the first critical anthologies that concentrated on gendered performan ce and composition, Jane Bernstein’s Women’s Voices across Musical Worlds uses feminist theory to gene rate ideas about the voice and the transference of authority of a musical work from composer to singer, giving women further compositional agency within their confin ed musical roles. In the third tableau of Act One of Four Saints St. Teresa I and II, Stein wr ites, “Can she sing…Can women have wishes?” (Stein, Four Saints ) In this exce rpt, I feel that Stein saw the use of language as liberat ory and prophetic of the dismantling of a patriarchal style of writing and composition within the theater. Already a seasoned writer, Stein used he r command of language and syntax to reinvent the libretto while simultaneously us ing the libretto to illustrate how many kinds of “Saints” it takes to make up a commun ity of Saints. In Act One, Scene VII [ Dance of the Angels ], Stein uses a humorous di alogue between the Saints to illustrate the politics of community and inclusion. Stein uses repetiti on and “non-sensical” language to create the effect of a room full of people talking. The dialogue overlaps similar arguments so that a rhythmic pattern emerges, illuminating operative words and phrases Stein wanted to emphasize: Saint Therese There are there are ther e are saints saints in it. Saint Therese Saint Settlement Saint Ignatius Saint Lawrence Saint Pilar Saint Plan and Saint Cecilia. Saint Cecilia How many saints are there in it. Saint Cecilia There are as many saints as there are saints in it.

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7 Saint Cecilia How many saints are there in it. Saint Lawrence Saint Celestine There are saints in it Saint Celestine Saint Lawrence there are as many saints there are as many saints as there are as there are in it. … Saint Ignatius More needily of which more anon. Saint Ignatius Of more which more which more. Saint Ignatius Loyola A saint to be met by and by by and by continue reading reading read read readily. Never to be lost again to-day. To-day to stay. … Saint Therese Let it have a place … Saint Chavez Select. Saints. All Saints. (Stein 597) Here, Stein uses a cast of “sai nts” to expose questions of au thority and inclusion within a community. The opera is a community portr ait of 16th-century Spanish saints, some based on historical figures (Teresa of Avila and Ignatius of Loyola) but most of them fictitious (Oestreich 1.16). The saints ask questions concerning the inclusive/exclusive nature of who belongs to the community, and th en there is a listing of the Saints. And finally, the excerpt suggests a contribution th at has been lost and then regained. Perhaps Stein’s contribution was to be “met by and by by and by continue reading read read…” and thus given meaning over a period of time, wherein it will require a “place” as a “Saint” amo ng “Saints.” Stein used Four Saints to trouble the categories of opera by conceptualizing an incl usionary opera. Staged in 1934, there were no stars, no characters, and the lines made “no ordinary sense” (Watson, Prepare for Saints: The Making of a Modern Opera ). However, as the first st aged African-American opera, the art-community did not base the success of Four Saints on the music or the libretto, but rather on the infamous reputation of Stein w ho would bring an eli tist avant-gardism and

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8 “Cubism” to the American stage; Cubism, a Fr ench artistic movement from the early 20th century, went against natural struct ures in favor of the abstract. Stein’s desire to innovate the libretto fo rm resulted in a meditation on the act of experimental writing itself. Stein’s libretto is best illustrated in her essay, “Composition as Explanation.” In this essa y, Stein attempts to explain he r use of language and the label of difficulty that readers and critics attach to her work: There is singularly nothing that makes a di fference a difference in beginning and in the middle and in ending except that each generation has something different at which they are all looking. By this I mean so simply that anybody knows it that composition is the difference which makes each and all of them then different from other generations and this is what makes everything different ot herwise they are all alike and everybody knows it because everybody says it (Stein 513). The consideration of a work of art is con tingent upon the cultural contexts and social norms of the time surrounding the work of art and its creator; as the philosopher Arthur Danto has argued, "what disti nguishes an artwork from an ordinary object is the institutions that confer that status” (Rothstein 1). The inst itutions conferring Stein’s text inflated the reception because of her previous literary fame, but not always in a lasting and credible way as a woman involved in the composition of an opera. This is relevant to the reception of both Stein and Ono because institutional reception presupposes that art generated out side the existing paradigm of art and authority is not credible art. Across generations of avant-ga rde artists, one thing remains consistent in their reception; the status quo within the avan t-garde determines how a work is reviewed and whether or not it is readily accepted: The only thing that is different from one time to another is what is seen and what is seen depends upon how everybody is doing everything. This makes the thing we are looking at very different and this makes what those who describe it make of it, it makes a composition, it confuses, it shows, it is, it looks, it likes it as it is, and this makes what is seen as it is seen (Stein 513).

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9 Here, I understand Stein to be saying that patterns of meaning emerge from different styles and eras of composition. How "everybody is seeing "the thing" in each generation is not the thing itself but the social context in which it is viewed. Because Stein was connected with the visual art world and Cubi sm for some years, it is understandable that some Cubist influence would surf ace in her writings to come. Stein’s intention to apply th e concepts of Cubism to her writing resulted in a narrative departure from the way traditional opera and the libretto was composed. Stein’s few devotees defended her renewal of Am erican language, “while her detractors considered her work quoted verbatim a read y-made parody” (Watson 14). Consequently, the first public caricatu res of Stein’s work appeared in newspaper columns and in such books as The Cubies’ ABC (1913). Her critics used this connection with Cubism to ridicule her : “I called the canvas Cow with Cud/And hunt it on the line/Altho’to me ‘twas vague as mud/’Twas clear to Gertrude St ein.” This suggests that Stein somehow possesses the ability to decode the avant-ga rde unnaturally and us e it to further the obscurity of “meaning.” Moreover, Stein bi ographer Brenda Wineapple, noted early on “critics enjoyed making f un of her since the armory show of 1913,” adding that they were “ambivalent if not hostile.” Subsequentl y, the scandalous cha tter surrounding Stein’s participation in Four Saints tinted the publicity w ith hysteria (Watson, Prepare for Saints: The Making of a Modern Opera ). Stein herself became in some ways conflated with the non-sensical reception of the opera. The initial reception of Four Saints focused on the reputa tion of Stein and her relationship with Thomson as a scandalous society event on the cutting edge of modernism rather than an innovation in opera In a review of Steven Watson’s Prepare

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10 for Saints Patrick Smith wrote of the energetic buzz surrounding the premiere of Four Saints : World premieres of operas are remembered more for their fiascos than for their triumphs, and world premieres of operas th at rarely have been performed since are even less remembered. Yet the exception to th is rule -probably the most important exception in American operatic history -is the world premiere, in Hartford, Conn., on Feb. 8, 1934, of Virgil Thomson's "Four Sain ts in Three Acts," to an abstract libretto of Gertrude Stein. The event, at the Hartford Art Museum -the Athenaeum -brought forth the illuminati and cafe soci ety (most of whom who had never been to Hartford, and some of whom who arri ved on special trains), but the importance of the evening lay rather in the conflu ence of talented people involved in the opera… (Smith, C.02) Likewise, the notion that this opera was not a “serious” op era carried over from this initial camp of reception to the only othe r opera Stein and Thomson would compose together, The Mother of Us All It is possible that the reception surrounding Four Saints was influential to th e reception surrounding The Mother of Us All and that Thomson began to feel the impact of Stein’s reputat ion on the work itself. James R. Oestreich wrote in the New York Times that af ter a young critic writing a feature on The Mother of Us All asked Thomson about this characterization, Thomson replied: ‘I am not too happy at seeing my score called whimsical,' …'Also, I think the idea that Miss Stein and I are primarily wits is, if you will permit me, both antiquated and inaccurate. I should apprecia te it if you could refer to 'The Mother of Us All' -both the words and the music -as a serious work on a serious theme.' (Oestreich 1.16) The criticism that Thomson characterizes above is indicative of the stressful nature of the working relationship. One of the most notable critics of th e time, Leonard Bernstein, was also a composer, pianist and conductor. In 1949, he wr ote a broad review of Stein’s contribution to music while he was completi ng a new piece for the theater: In the vast sea of critical material that has been written about Miss Stein in the last decades there are discernible two general currents of thought, both of which I feel

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11 have carried our attitude toward her extrao rdinary work somewhat off the course of direct appraisal. Critics ha ve usually divided themselves into the pious, who revere her every detached syllable, and the cynica l, who write patronizing pieces in mock Steinese and consequently feel exempt from further analytic al responsibility. (Bernstein BR4) As Bernstein noted, there was a split in reception surrounding Stein. However, the reviews during Stein’s lifetime predominan tly marginalize her and praise her only sporadically. Bernstein admits that she was funny ; however the subtext reads that Stein was underappreciated as a visionary: … She was very funny. Her random distribut ion of labels…has become a classic literary joke…And it takes a Stein to be able to musicalize words as successfully as she has…In all these degrees of meani ng and non-meaning, of useful and useless repetition, of jokes and maxims, there runs the connecting stylistics quality that is Stein’s: the childlike debarassment of word s of their associati ons, the astonishing simplicity of her phraseology and the musical value of any succession of sounds that may occur to her. In the end, …we re turn to our original feeling that their ultimate value lies in their influen ce upon other writers. (Bernstein BR4) Bernstein’s 1949 acceptance of Stein’s libretto and overall contribution explains the kind of reception Stein encountered in her career. And because of Bernstein’s career and reputation, this offers a certain amount of va lidation to Stein’s ability to “musicalize” words. In Stein’s defense, feminist music scholar Linda Dusman says, “[there is] value in speaking, and there is great value in remain ing speechless. Likewise, the meaningfulness of some music may reside in the potenc y of its meaninglessness.” (Dusman 144) Dusman’s “meaninglessness” in music is no t exactly Stein’s goal, but the syntactical techniques Stein used to dismantle the linea r narrative were recei ved as non-sensical rather than conceptual. The “meaninglessnes s” of Stein’s text gave the audience the opportunity to create meaning from the compos ite of text, music and cast because there was no literal story that an opera audience coul d easily interpret. Consequently, there has

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12 not been a significant amount of feminist reception history on Four Saints as a work by Stein. Despite Stein’s immense notoriety as a li terary figure for 25 years before she met Virgil Thomson her lack of experience in music framed her reception. In “Composition as Explanation,” Stein establishes herself as a prophet to her own troublesome reception and as precursor to contemporary women artists denied agency. Here, Stein predicts the reception of her own work as “modern”: In the case of the arts it is very defi nite. Those who are creating the modern composition authentically are naturally onl y of importance when they are dead because by that time the modern compositi on having become past is classified and the description of it is classical. That is the reason why the creator of the new composition in the arts is an outlaw until he is a classic…Of course it is wonderfully beautiful, only when it is still a thing irrita ting annoying stimulating then all quality of beauty is denied to it… If every one were not so indolent they would realize that beauty is beauty even when it is irritating and stimulating not only when it is accepted and classic . (Stein 514) Here, I read Stein as maintaining that a ny artist experimentin g with unconventional methods of composition will encounter a certain amount of resistance and neglect before their work is legitimized; in fact, they only move from legitimized to important when they are dead. Stein’s self-reflexive awareness here se ems to indicate that she might not enter a “classic” status. Stei n’s initial reception was not only going to be considered “classic” art, but it would begin to paint St ein’s image as frightening and “other.” Opera attendees and critics both create d a composite of awe and fear in ( specific ) regards to Stein. Mabel Dodge Luhan, a wealthy salon hostess, thought Stein was creating something genius, but attached the la bel of fear to the masculine prototype of “genius” because Stein was a woman. Luhan st ated, “It is almost frightening to come against reality in language in this way.” A few other attendees were quoted, “But what is going to happen if we acquire a new species of opera in which the words of the poet do

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13 not convey any thought?” (Tommasini 198) This composite of awe and fear can be read that Stein was to be feared in all realms; she could be fear ed as deviation from “woman” and from “composer.” Women mu sicians have been rarely ch aracterized as genius even if the language of “genius” is an undercurrent in the language of the criticism. Stein’s literary peers were no different in marginalizing her work and reputation. For example, T.S. Eliot did not characterize Stein as frighteningly abnormal, but rather primitively abnormal and thus we should be frightened. Eliot recognized the power of her writing and it frightened him: It is not improving, it is not amusing, it is not interesting, it is not good for one’s mind. But its rhythms have a peculiar hypnotic power not met with before. It has a kinship with the saxophone. If th is is the future, then the future is, as it very likely is, of the barbarians. But this is the futu re in which we ought not to be interested. (Watson 20) Eliot speaks to the ways in which conservative critics characterized Stein as primitive and barbaric. Stein’s modern contemporaries did not have stake in her ideas and at times the only negotiator for Stein besi des the publicity around her na me was Virgil Thomson. Furthermore, the reference to the “saxophon e” connects Stein to the rhythms of jazz, another “modern” art form invented in Amer ican by African-based rhythms from the folk and blues communities of African-Americans. Jazz was considered primitive, barbaric and frightening. And even though the modernis t exoticizing of race was part of Stein’s community, Four Saints is lumped in with the racially tin ted rhetoric of “the future is of the barbarians” that Eliot espoused. Even Virgil Thomson, her collaborator, wr ote a letter that explained the troubling negotiation that went into producing Four Saints and how Stein’s self -evaluation was an obstacle. Thomson wrote to Stein on June 9, 1933:

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14 And dear Gertrude, if you knew the resist ance I have encountered in connection with that text and overcome, the amount of reading it and sing ing it and praising it and commenting it I have done, the articles the lectures, the private propaganda that has been necessary in Hartford and in New York to silence the opposition that thought it wasn’t having any Gertrude Stein, you wouldn’t talk to me about the commercial advantages of your name . (Watson 214) Watson notes that “Stein’s literary reputation was jarringly out of s cale with her selfevaluation: she believed, quite simply, that she possessed th e most creative literary mind of the century” (Watson 14). It is possible th en that Stein’s imprude nt belief in her vision resulted in a negative backlash amongst her pe ers. Undeniably, there is a certain amount of ego involved in making any art. But in the case of women artists, ego can be a form of survival in the arts. Male artists receive in stitutional validation; women have to validate their own existence and right to make art on a co ntinual basis. Stein’s reception by Virgil Thomson and othe rs was painted with the language of infantile nonsense and inadequac y. Thomson observed that for Stein “ . an opera was a different story . She was not by nature what we would call musical” (Watson 41). Thomson added in Watson’s documentary on Four Saints “For the most part you didn’t know what the words meant.” The consistent label of “obscure” language by Stein was felt by the cast more intimately, yet seemed to reflect the language of the critics. For example, Eva Justice a member of the cast said, “I enjoyed singi ng those crazy lyrics” while the rest of the cast simply described that the words “didn’t have to make sense— they were just beautiful words” (Watson, Prepare for Saints: The Making of a Modern Opera ). Stein’s words were rhythmic, but not musical ; beautiful, but without sound “sense.” And this treatment by the initial camp of reception still resonates in contemporary characterizations of Stein. For example, Cheryl Faver, artistic direct or of the 11-year old

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15 Gertrude Stein Repertory Theater states, “Gertrude Stein is s till a name to know, even if you wouldn’t touch Tender Buttons with a 10-foot buttonhook . She’s one of those Hollywood Squares types of personalities . ”(Wren 1). Again, Stein’s legacy of obscurity finds its way into tokenized ambiguity for the sake of fame rather than artistic legitimacy. Cynthia Wren summarizes th e permanence of Stein’s image amongst her peers. “Whether one has actually read much, or even any of the writings tends to be irrelevant—a forbidding aura hovers around St ein’s very name.” Stein’s writing became overshadowed by the weight of her reputati on. Richard Foreman, whose early career was heavily influenced by the Stein, said she was “Ruthless. Her heart had a kind of ruthlessness that usually is not paid homage to”(Wren 3). Characterized as deliberately obscure and ruthless, Stein’ s initial reception of “hysteria” still shapes her ongoing reception. Unlike the 19th century version of “hysteria,” th e composite of ruthless, calculating and cold forges “crazy” and “out of contro l” into a new composite of “hysterical woman.” These women are simultaneously controlling, powerfully manipulative, “troubled” (in terms of their sexuality) and “hyste rically” insane in the end. When men make brave innovations in art they are seen are courageous or “genius,” but when women make bold, experimental gestures in art they are seen as “ unsound,” crazy or troubled. In addition to the many similar portrayals of pow erful women, Stein and Ono contend to be this contemporary archetype. However, in co ntrast to fictional characters like Eleanor Prentiss Shaw or The Stepford Wives Stein and Ono cannot liter ally be transformed or killed in the end; they must be discredited.

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16 But even within the antagonistic portrait that critics, peers, and receptors painted of her, Stein had fans that defended her contributions within the avant-garde. Recent contributions to the revision of Stein’s reception, such as Watson’s Prepare For Saints documentary created a positive representation of Stein by bringing together all the critics of Four Saints not just the “true critics” reception. Members of the cast affirmed that Four Saints “had the lyrics of liber ation.” It liberated the stereotype of the black performer and “took them off their knees and out of their overalls” ( Watson, Prepare for Saints: The Making of An Opera ). Carl Van Vechten, a nove list, critic and informal supporter of Stein, said in1928 that “she is li ke yeast, the yeast that makes the bread.” (Watson 14) For her fans, Stein’s innova tions in writing represented freedom and modernity for its liberatory nature. Stein and Thomson’s all African-America n cast remains troublesome because it was born into a framework that exoticized race from the start. Even though it was Thomson’s “own striking idea . roles not specifically meant for blacks,” Stein had her own opinions on race and modern expression ( “When . ” C.02). Originally, Thomson wanted the “black voice,” and before ever collaborating with Stein wrote, “The extraordinary thing to me, however, was thei r aptness to the language.” In the 1920s, critics believed that broader cheekbones and a different facial stru cture gave birth to different vocal qualities. Thomson considered a “black voice” to be “notably articulate.” (Watson 200) Thomson and Stein unconsciously participated in the institutionalized racism that patronizes race by tokenizing and fragmenting the talents of AfricaAmericans as “exceptional,” becaus e they are “black” talents.

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17 Even Carl Van Vechten was quoted as sayi ng to Thomson in rega rds to the cast of Four Saints “Think how many opera stars have bl acked up to sing Amonasro and Aida. Why can’t my colored singers white up for Four Saints ?” Thomson was quoted divided black actors into “objects” and “subjects” wh en he said, “Negroes objectify themselves very easily . They live on the surface of their cons ciousness” (Watson 202). The confining of African-American actors and singers compartmentalized race into the casting practices of the day. Stein and Thom son certainly inherited the institutionalized treatment of race from the era, obj ectifying and exotic izing the cast of Four Saints ; they simultaneously presumed that the all African -American cast would lend a more spiritual, musical, and modernistic edge to the production. Yet, Stein possessed a more “detached” attitude toward the depiction of black characters than Thomson. Stein wrote in 1927, “It is not because they are primitive but because they have a narrow but a very long civilization behind them…their sophistication is complete and so beautifully finished and it is the only one that can resist.” (Watson 202) And years later, in mi d-production conversation with Th omson, Stein racialized the bodies of African-Americans: I suppose they have good reasons for using Negro singers instead of white, there are certain obvious ones, but I do not care for the idea of showing the Negro bodies, it is too much what the English ‘modernistic’ novels call futuristic and do not accord with the words and music to my mind. (Watson 207) Although Thomson and Stein used an all Af rican-American cast, the controversial reception of Four Saints did not solely focus around race. Thomson and Stein’s sexuality were not absent from the reception and in fact played a key role in how Stein’s work was received by critics, peers and the press a like. The reception and this libretto are bound within the critical framework of race and Stein’s sexuality. Ono was not literally

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18 “queered” in terms of her sexuality; howe ver, she was figuratively queered in her reception by challenging the boundari es of women in popular music. Although Thomson respected her work as an artist, he openly linked the “obscurity” of her words to the “obscurity” of a being a lesbian at the time. Thomson wrote, “The two things you never asked Gert rude, ever, were about her being a lesbian and what her writing meant.” (Watson 47) This is not to say that Thomson judged or rejected Stein’s sexuali ty, but rather respected and understood Stein’s privacy in regards to her work and her life. The gendered labels assigned to women composers are often not based on their actual work, but rather on the prescribed role s and cultural images of “woman” that they continue to reform in their work. Through the use of repetition, rhythm and sound, Stein and Ono use ‘noise’ and experimental composition to create a space for music that is difficult to label ‘women’s music’. To this da y, labels that support th e strict binaries of male/female and heterosexual/homosexual con tinue to create and maintain barriers to interpreting and preserving the artistic contributions of those who challenge gender. However, Stein was troubled by the focus of attention on her life rather than her work. Stein wrote “There is no sense in it because if it were not for my work they would not be interested in me so why should they not be more interested in my work than in me. That is one of the things one has to worry about in America” (Wren 4). Stein was pointing out that women have to be account ed for as women making art, rather than artists making art. For Ono and Stein, th e artist-self is shaped through composition, through performance, on their own terms, and as women.

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19 Stein’s libretto negotiated compositional agency by dismantling the modernist and the post-modernist canon. And this is also what ties her to the avant-garde composers that succeeded her. There are many women co mposers that endured a similar reception. Yoko Ono is one of the successors to Stein’s in famous legacy of bei ng ill received in the avant-garde. Both women were consistently characterized as “frightening,” but Ono was considered manipulative because her avant-gardism robbed Lennon of his pop-genius status. Yet, despite a long list of contributions to conceptual art, film and music, Ono experienced the same margin alized treatment of her work by the same contemporary framework of criticism that is beginning to re-examine Stein. McClary positions Stein and Ono as similar in their reception as “other”: The much-loathed Yoko Ono is now coming into her own as an avant-garde artist rather than just the dragon lady who broke up the Beatles; an d that weird opera project by Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson, Four Saints in Three Acts can finally be grasped as the fundamentally qu eer text it always was, long before we had words to label its deconstructive mi schief (“Woman and Music . ” 1285). McClary positions Stein and Ono in their contemporary reception, suggesting that their receptions are not so different. Additionally, how images of Stein and Ono circulate and how they are articulated is crucial to how they were and in Ono’s case stil l are, received. Conditionally Ono Lennon benefited from Beatles’ fame; however, that fame simultaneously positioned Ono as a secondary personality that served to disrupt Lennon’s career, rather than “compliment” it. Musically, women have b een historically expected to “perform” in ways that compliment others harmoniously. Between Ono’s repetitions, violations of melody and cacophonic vocal delivery, she chal lenged conventional interpretations of women’s composition. Ono enc ountered a significantly more odious reception because

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20 she challenged the assumption that music is supposed to be an emotional and performative expression for a woman, rather than an artistic one. How we interpret women composers and their work contributes to how these binaries and ultimatums are reinforced: se nsual vs. tough, confessional vs. strong, sound vs. unsound. The same binaries that cons train women sexually constrain women musically. Over time, Ono’s initiation into composition involved unlinking herself from the cultural celebrity of John Lennon. And despite her lifelong history in musical composition, professional piano and vocal training, she never received musical legitimacy or agency when she began composing popular music. Ono and Stein’s tenacity upon breaking into art and literature on their own shaped their subjectivity in regards to their transition to the world of music. Ono’s artist-self was shaped largely by her early success in conceptual art. And Stein wrote, “the theater made me real outside of me” (Wren 6). This statem ent lends itself to all women in the arts who are forced to negotiate themselves as “women artists,” before being “artists,” especially in the prime of the creative progress. It ga ve women an identity outside of the identity that was given to them by simply being bor n women. Moreover, th e connective tissue that links Ono to Stein is the labeling of their work as non-sensical and their syntactical usage of repetition and sound. Those who are looking at the image frame the reception; it is received as a personal affront to the co mfortable definitions a nd clean categories of gender in relation to music and composition. If anything, Ono’s treatment was significantl y harsher due to her association with the Beatles. A woman without a country, O no straddled the unforgiving “high art” world of the avant-garde and fielded the witch hunt carried out by the pop-music masses who

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21 made up Lennon’s fan base. Her treatment by the men of the avant-garde was not much different, however her marriage to Le nnon brought a wider-reaching aggression Painted as a black widow, a “child of Hiroshima” the task of challenging these institutions would rest in applying the imaginat ive techniques of the avant-ga rde to her newfound celebrity within a pop audience (Ryan 1). Ono’s rece ption was doubly aggressive because of her two-pronged celebrity; she was discredited in two worlds by trying to bridge them. In an effort to separate himself from the constraint of the Beatles, Lennon drew from Ono’s background in the avant-garde. Ono’s various biographies prove that Ono was making a name for herself as a visual ar tist and experimental musician before her marriage to Lennon: In 1967 she moved to the cen ter of public controvers y with her Film No. 4, Bottoms, in which 200 notable people appeared one at a time for ten seconds. Their bare bottoms filled the frame…In London, she played a concert with Ornette Coleman at the Royal Albert Hall—bef ore she ever met John Lennon. (Wiener 4) Contrary to popular belief Ono’s art suffered in some ways because of her association with Lennon. The first moment that put Ono directly in the spotlight as equal partners with Lennon was the beginning of Ono’s negative reception. Upon her marriage to Lennon in March 1969, the couple spent their honeymoon in the Amsterdam Hilton to stage a bed-in for peace. The newlyweds were eager to conduct interv iews and give the media an alternative to the anti-war demonstrations that were characterizing Vietnam protesters as antipatriotic terrorists. The anti-Ono image began ge stating within the context of this protest with Lennon and the establishm ent press picked Ono apart, imprinting her as a negative influence on Lennon. During the bed-in for p eace, one right-wing cartoonist, Al Capp, conducted an inflammatory interview in whic h he coined the insult, “Madame Nu.” Capp

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22 was trying to paint her has the Oriental witch of elitism so that Lennon would be provoked to break his peaceful de monstration on camera (McGrath, John and Yoko’s Year of Peace ). From the beginning, Ono’s negative recep tion as an artist was defined by the establishment press. And by this I mean the popular music media received as Ono as dangerous and “other”—the primary scapeg oat for the transformation of Lennon. And Ono’s contemporary reception still resonate s with this scapegoating. “She has had a lifetime of upset and disputes, some venom ous. The criticisms sting, such as Mick Jagger’s recent accusation that she “cut him of f from his friend . ” (Ryan 3). Despite the time she put in as an ar tist and a composer, she sti ll struggles with her infamy received as a vehicle for her art. Ono’s upbringing in Japan suggests she was inte rested in music from an early age. Her early desire to compose was met with her father’s derision, “I don’t want you to struggle in vain…Women may not be good cr eators of music, but they’re good at interpreting music.” (AIU: A Yoko Ono Biography/intro ) As a trained pianist and vocalist, Ono studied the va rious techniques of compositi on in Eastern and Western classical music. Upon arrival in New Yo rk as a young woman, she studied music at Sarah Lawrence College and often held loft c oncerts in New York City as a young artist. After being blamed for breaking up the B eatles, Ono’s musical endeavors made no attempt to conceal her avant-gardism. The vari ous labels attached to her future endeavors would be a catalyst to further separate hers elf from the traditional Beatles’ audience. Even though Ono was active in the avan t-garde music scene, the popular music scene knew nothing of her work, outside of negative referential comments in Lennon’s

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23 press. Yet the elements that led to the “ hysterical” characterization in her reception carried over from the avant-garde. Earl y in her days she was dubbed as the “High Priestess of the Happening,’ throwing dried pe as at the audience while whirling her long hair to provide ‘musical accompaniment” (AIU: A Yoko Ono Biography/3 ) Clearly, this would not qualify to the es tablishment press as Lennon-worthy musicianship. However, interviews with Ono suggest that she and Lennon were early collaborators, although they did not wr ite that many songs together (AIU: Jody Denberg series: Yoko in 1992 ). When Ono and Lennon would record together, Ono would initially experienced the sexism of the industry in regards to her own contributions: Lennon would finish laying down his tracks a nd it was her turn But the engineers would all suddenly have to go to the bathroom. Even Apple producer Phil Spector treated her this way. ‘He was the worst,’ Yoko said, ‘He would come back from the men’s room and say, like, ‘I just threw up,’ to let me know how he felt.’ (AIU: Yoko Ono in the Soho News ). Yoko’s three-fold reception as a woman, an Asian in the time of Vietnam and an experimental artist alienated her from the av ant-garde and pop-music. Ono recalled how her reception changed tones from disdain of an experimental arti st to international infamy: . in those days I was an easy target a nd a scapegoat; they just wrote about me in a very unflattering way…but I think that the press carved the image. I’m sure all the DJs were saying, ‘Oh dear, that woma n again’, but you get used to that and people get to think, ‘She’s just a punch bag’. I was the safest bet. And also it’s very interesting to make a woman into a kind of evil person who has strong evil powers, or something. It’s a dichotomy in a way in their minds—strength even. It’s a very interesting twist, and that’s wh at they loved about it.’ (AIU: A Yoko Ono Biography/6 ) Women artists clearly receive a different pe rception on their careers as musicians. In light of the “hysterical” label attached to women composers and compositional agency, Ono was being intimidated by the establishment press; she was, by this time, aware of her

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24 own alienation and marginali zed reception. Although, Ono ha d been involved in music and composition for sometime now, the height of critical atte ntion fell on the double album Plastic Ono Band put out by Lennon and Ono, each contributing their own version. Jody Denberg, a supportive and consistent interviewer of Ono, asked Ono in 1997, “What do people talk to you about in terms of your albums?” She replied, “Plastic Ono Band, surprisingly enough (AIU: Jody Denberg series: Yoko in 1997 ). A great departure from the “Give Peace A Chance” bed-in, Ono’s version of the record was a collage of sounds, screams, repetitions and vocal experimentations: . it was very interesting because that area I felt was not explored at all, in a way…And when I was screaming and all that kind of thing I think that they—in fact, somebody commented that, this is too theatrical or dramatic. You know, that’s how it was perceived. Too animalis tic. But we make those noises when we give birth to children. And so I was more interested in the kind of—the sound of turmoil, inner turmoil kind of thing. (AIU: Jody Denberg series: Yoko in 1997 ) Lennon’s companion record was still primarily pop-oriented and so mewhat reminiscent of his signature sound. The rhetoric surr ounding Ono’s reception was dismissive and alarmist at the same time. But Ono’s use of feminist humor to accentuate this rhetoric was misinterpreted. It is no wonder that Ono received a back lash toward her feminist stance; she was unapologetic about her ownership of these songs, their titles and their feminist impact. “With songs titled, “What A Bastard the World Is,” “She Gets Down On Her Knees,” “I Felt Like Smashing My Face in a Clear Gla ss Window,” “I’m a Witch,” or “Women like Catman,” Ono clearly knew she was going to be received with an “extreme” label and did this to illustrate the absence of a feminist voice and make a parody of her reception.” To this Ono says, “That’s something that wome n laugh at but I don’t think men would laugh,

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25 you know (laughter). It’s a funny thing.” (AIU: Jody Denberg Series: Yoko in 1992 ) Ono clearly wanted to strike a chord with women and use her humor in the way that Stein used humor syntactically in her work. Ono’s recollection of the Plastic Ono Band/Yoko Ono reception is summed up this way: “The whole world hate d me and my music” (AIU: Yoko Ono Biography/intro ). Ono knew that she was triply marginalized fr om what was successful at the time; she was an experimental composer and an Asian wo man that symbolized an invasion of popular music. Furthermore, Michael Bracewell wrote that Ono became, “a kind of psychic lightning-conductor for other people’s hostility” (Grant 1). Once Lennon was assassinated, Ono’s reception took a particularly hostile tu rn and everything she made became characterized as an act to capitali ze on Lennon’s death or a tasteless act of exploitation for her own self-promotion. The combination of the music industry’s co mmodification of artists and its infrastructure of masculinity painted Ono as a “corruptor” of true music, rather than a composer of music. Lennon’s reception in rega rds to their collaborations was considered “John’s Yoko problem” and the works themselves were “unlistenable mistakes.” Lennon became tainted with Ono’s infectious experimentalism. She caused his “true art,” his “natural sound to be pitted against his “unnatural” sound as the product of “disordered minds.” (Hasted 1) Avant-Garde in its purity aims to negate the commodification of artists, but in the past fift y years since Stein’s era the me dia has learned to co-opt the rebelliousness of the avant-garde. The reception of Ono’s Plastic Ono Band record is one perspective from which to gauge her “hysterical reception.” However, given the energetic fan base that surrounds

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26 Ono’s reception over the decades, within the cu lture of blogs and consumer websites, the everyday consumer holds as much cultural weig ht in shaping the image of “hysteria” as the “true critic.” One of the largest consum er websites on which to evaluate and purchase music today, Amazon.com, offers an open forum for fans to critically review albums and artists. One reviewer wrote of Ono’s first solo album: Universally, Yoko’s P.O.B. album was seen as an extreme affront against propriety and possibly civilization! Something so re volutionary should have been applauded by the free-thinking radicals, but they were not as free as they pretended to be…Originally released to almost unive rsal disdain in 1970, critics now declare this album as laying the groundwor k for the punk revolution of 1976.” ( Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band, June 24, 2000) Positive in its tone, the “extreme” weight the re viewer puts into the review is not so much a critique of the text as it is of the cultural context surroundi ng the text. Using this forum to contextualize Ono to Lennon, one re viewer compared Lennon’s version of Plastic Ono Band to its companion record by Ono: But compare it to Yoko’s masterful compan ion: nothing on Earth can possibly date this life-affirming torrent of mad eyed, bare toothed crying rage…She unfurls her voice like it was a great creature rising from the throat, so organic that it swamps the entire album in its presence and thr eatens to dissolve the music itself.” ( Yoko Ono/ Plastic Ono Band July 20, 2004) The reviewer intends a positive reception, ye t seems to reaffirm the “hysterical” image through an inherited script used to describe Ono for decades. One might think that this reviewer is de scribing a horror film itself: “mad eyed, bare toothed crying rage,” “a great creature, ” “it swamps” and “dissolves.” Ono becomes so horrifically, relentlessly hysterical, she devours her own creation; she becomes a monster capable of eating her young. And then of course, there are those w ho staunchly believe that Ono ripped Lennon from the bosom of greatness. Moreover, wh ere Stein’s “hysteria” was linked to the “non-

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27 sensical,” Ono’s hysteria was rooted in the raci st characterizations of the native, “primal” Dragon Lady image. Yoko wrote of her recepti on, “There’s relentle ssness in my music which is precisely what people used to di slike—now, when a lot of energy has been lacking in recent music, maybe that re lentlessness is welcome” (AIU, Gurney). As a result of this relentlessness, Ono became a corruptor, a co-optation, a capitalist, linking Asian women, communism and patriotism to the racist images of the Vietnam war. Without even addressing the text critically, the intention is to create an image of inadequacy and disdain. And in juxtaposing Ono’s modern recep tion against her ini tial receptors, a continual re-evaluation of Ono appears. Main ly this is because she is still alive and making art, which puts her in the headlines a nd forces critics and the media to draw upon thirty years of reception. The modern re-eva luation reinforces the stigma even if the article is intended as pro-Ono. The critic has to address the stigma in order to establish a context from which to review the new work. A journalist for Soho News opens his article: I always hated Yoko Ono. I didn’t hate he r for breaking up the Beatles. If indeed she did, because by that time I didn’t care a nymore the 60s were finished and I was already a jazz snob. Besides, anyone w ho had the power to undermine the most popular band of all time must have had something going for her...Now in 1980, here was an even more palpable reason to distrust her. After having gotten John to trade in his guitar for an apron . ” (AIU: The Soho News ) Ono must have had a lot going for her if the tension in her early work still resonates in the tension of her recep tion. Lennon trading in his “g enius” for an apron clearly projects how Ono emasculated him, thus c ontinues to emasculate his legacy by making art. Another example from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explains, “When it comes to Yoko Ono’s recorded music, a listener has to take the good with the bad. Ono’s songs

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28 tend to be either high art or pure garbage.” Ono’s work continues to be categorized by extremity, polarized between the avant-gard e and popular music which translates into “high art” (avant-gardism) and “pure garbage” (art by a woman). However, similar to Stein’s reception, Ono’s ego informed her th is particular reception “Ono is once again saved by her best asset, an endless self-confiden ce that permits art so daring that even the missteps make for captivating listening.” (“Get Out . ” 14) Equally, no matter what arena Ono is evaluated in, the image of inade quacy, illegitimacy and “o ther” is solidified in the tone of the reception. The question of legitimacy over time remains questionable in the ongoing reception of Stein and Ono, even in our desire to sanctify their rights as women composers. How does the language of reception positi on “hysterical” woman as the central metaphor for Ono? Jody Denberg, a consis tent interviewer of Ono over the years, inquires in his 2000 interview of the motiva tion behind the technique in Plastic Ono Band, “How did the primal scream therapy that you and John did with Dr. Janov affect John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band?” She replied, “Very much so. It is true and right to be called Primal Therapy or Primal Scream Album. Most of the songs were either written or inspired . when we were in L.A. going to the sessions, primal therapy sessions.” A woman composer open to explor ing her psyche to find a ne w sound might be the single most obvious link to Ono’s “hysteria.” Ther e were compositional and contextual reasons for the album’s use of ‘noise’ aside from th e “hysterical” reading the press gives Ono. Less obvious are the stories a nd characterizations of “hys teria” that surface in between the lines of her reception. A write r for the Independent London characterized Ono in 1998 as someone who is “not likely to model or host society parties—but she

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29 might steal your children and exhibit them in a glass case.” (Ryan 2) And when John Lennon died, she spent some time at their Da kota property, which was characterized in the language of Grimm’s Ono-Tale: Understandably, she was locked away in the towering Dakota mansion block while crowds below chanted ‘Woman’ until they were hoarse. ‘Woman’ was the song Lennon had written especially for her, and which was re-released posthumously by public demand and went to No. 1 on both sides of the Atlantic. It was destined to be part of the soundtrack for any Lennon mention of soundbite for evermore. Whether Yoko could bear it or not.” (Ryan 1) Framed in this context, she is no longer th e confident artist that is ill received; She is the embodiment of the “hys terically” doomed widow who is haunted and painted with morbidity (Lennon’s death). However, Ono transcended Lennon’s death with whom her art was forever linked by continuing to make music regardless of her reception. Stein and Ono challenged the ritual cere mony of composition and created meaning by distorting the traditional distinctions of male/female and by confronting linear narratives with new approaches. Stein a nd Ono’s compositions provided a liberating opportunity for the transformation of assi gned gender roles by going outside of the expected contributions of wo men in music. This tran sformation of options opened avenues for women to experiment with s ound. And no one benefits more in this transformation than those who have been hi storically excluded from making art and receiving legitimized credit for their contributions. Principally portrayed as women that have ei ther lost their sense or their other half, Ono and Stein endured a similar reception as women writing in a time of war and as women making art. Chiefly, the institutions of war and art do not want “hysterical” women artists troubling the categories and forg etting their roles, in side or outside of music. The discourse of marginality su rrounding “woman” is doubly categorized within

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30 the margins of music as “woman composer .” By focusing on the popular discourse surrounding the ways Stein and Ono approached sound, this paper explores the gendering and conceptualizing of sound or “noise.” By examining Stein’s Four Saints and Ono’s Ono/Plastic Ono Band the popular reception surrounding “meaning” in both works reinforces a consistent pattern of gende ring two women working in music from two different eras. It poses questions of how th e works themselves que stion language, sound and conventional interpretations of music by disunifying the avant-garde from the masculine. Historically, women’s significan ce in music has been relega ted to the roles of muse and performer; as central focal points in great works of musical composition, however, insignificant to the compositional process. Only recently have women’s voices in music become more subjective and less objective to the para digm. Correspondingly, the representation of the “hysterical” woman co mposer emerges in this comparison because Stein and Ono’s reception reveals a pattern of consistent effort by the establishment press to label women composers as crazy, non-sensic al and unsound. Hence, the divergence of sound versus unsound transforms artists back into women; the patterns in reception removes the contributions altogether and gauge s the work of women artists as a gimmick. Aligned in their “novice” as women com posers, Stein and Ono were characterized as engaging in artifice and deceit, somehow “t ricking” the music world into letting them in. Women’s compositional agency is a term I use to illustrate how women in music must contend with these obstacles before their art is considered valid; without it, women’s art is presumed as counterfeit, tricker y, or enterprising for th e sake of attention.

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31 The press relayed the idea that somewher e underneath the fixtur e of their womanhood, lies stratagem that Stein and Ono used to deceive or surprise the music world. The limited set of options given to women in music is possibly the source of Stein and Ono’s original compositional style. Th e confidence that infuriated critics is simultaneously responsible for the widesp read fascination with Stein and Ono’s personalities; it allowed them to trouble cate gories and straddle multiple disciplines. Characterized as primal and nave, Stein a nd Ono created compositions that were stripped free from narrative constraint; they used e xperimental approaches to text and sound to separate from what we expect words and mu sic to mean. Behind each sound, rhythm and syllable is meaningful and mindful composition that was created by women artists on their own terms; the concept of discontinui ng from the masculine in the avant-garde created a cultural impact upon women composers and feminist scholarship. Music is neither language nor opposed to language; it can easily be dismissed as an unsound, invalid form of communication, a threat to any established order. Stein used the same poetic techniques in her libretto as sh e used in her other works. She used syntax as her instrument, using the natural rhythms of the words as music on the page. Like Stein, Ono’s unexplained “noise” was never re ceived as serious, successful composition because there was no element of submission in her work. Critics put Stein and Ono in the hysterical box because as women they were su spect for deviating from the status quo. Stein and Ono were self-contained muses within a limited set of options. What linked these two artists together in my own research is the consistent question of legitimacy and artistry and how using the rhetoric of Stein and Ono’s reception resonates with women artists on all levels including myself. I f ound myself using the

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32 rhetoric of their defense in everyday c onversations about women artists and how the media treats them. At the root of this pape r is what every woman artist wants, validation of her contributions and ideas. It is a confusing time for women and a transformative time for women artists. More aware than ever of a lack of conscious ness, increase in guilt, and internalization absorption of the masculine artist rhetoric, wo men artists are watchi ng their contributions get elevated, distorted and co-opted by the media. Women musician s’ contributions are negated because their media presentation fragments their work. For example, if Britney Spears wanted to become an experimental composer in the coming years, she would have to spend twi ce the time it took to get famous as a sexual pop icon negating this image and legitimizing her work to “make up” for her previous image; which then would consistently rein force the cycle of women’s guilt in artistic elitism. What links Ono to Stein is the forced awareness of their legitimacy before it is even in question. In the prime of creative pr ogress, Stein and Ono are forced to evaluate themselves and expend energy and time in ne gotiating their future as “women artists” versus simply being accepted as “artists.” It is not surprising then, th at an emerging history of wo men composers and feminist music scholarship has proved an invaluable and empowering inspiration to contemporary women composers, as they see their struggles for compositional agency in the struggles of their predecessors.

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33 LIST OF REFERENCES AIU. [A Yoko Ono Box, an Unofficial Yoko Ono Resource]. . ___. “The Jody Denberg Series.” 1984-2003. Date last accessed, December 15, 2004. ___. “A Yoko Ono Biography / intro/3-8.” Date last accessed, December 15, 2004. ___. “The Soho News” 1980. Date last accessed, December 15, 2004. ___. Gurney, Sari. “Let Me Dream.” 2002. Date last accessed, December 15, 2004. Amazon.com. “Plastic Ono Band/ Yoko Ono.” Editorial/Spotlight Reviews. . Date last accessed, December 15, 2004. Bernstein, Jane A., ed. “Introduction.” Women's Voices across Musical Worlds Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004. Bernstein, Leonard. “Music and Miss Stein.” The New York Times 22 May 1949: BR4. Dusman, Linda. 1994. “Unheard-of: Music as Performance and the Reception of the New.” Perspectives of New Music. 32: 2, 130-146 “Get Out: Yoko’s Fearless Flights and Failures.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch 14 December 1995: 14. Grant, Simon. “Features/Arts: Ono! It’s Her Again.” The Guardian 5 February 1997: T12. Hasted, Nick.“Arts: Starting Over.” The Independent (London), 24 June 1997: 6. McClary, Susan. “Reshaping a Discipline: Musicology and Feminism in the 1990s. Feminist Studies 19:2 (1993) _______. “Woman and Music on the Ve rge of the New Millennium” Signs 25.4 (2000).

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34 McGrath Paul, dir. John and Yoko’s Year of Peace Documentary Film: 52 min. Image Entertainment, 2000. Oestreich, James R. “To Susan B., With L ove: Gertrude S. And Virgil T.” [Review] New York Times 19 July 1997: 1.16 Rothstein, Edward. “Critic’s Notebo ok; Dissecting a ‘Masterpiece’” The New York Times 30 December 2000: Section B, Col.1: 9. Ryan, Barry. “Features: Why She Was Right for Him.” The Independent (London ) 4 January 1998: 1. Smith, Patrick J., “When All Roads Led to Ha rtford: Gertrude Stein, Virgil Thomson, and the Mainstreaming of American Modernism.” Review of Prepare for Saints by Steven Watson; The Washington Post 11 March 1999. C.02 Stein, Gertrude. Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein edited by Carl Van Vechten. New York: Random House, 1990. Sulieman, Susan. Subversive Intent: Gender, Politics, and the Avant-Garde Boston: Harvard University Press, 1992. Tommasini, Anthony. Virgil Thomson: Composer of the Aisle New York: WW Norton & Company, 1997. Watson, Steven. Prepare for Saints: Gertrude Stein, Virgil Thomson, and the Mainstreaming of American Modernism New York: Random House, 1998. ____________. dir. Prepare for Saints: The Making of a Modern Opera Documentary Film: Connecticut Public Television, 1999. Whittier-Ferguson, John. "The Liberation of Gertrude Stein: War and Writing" Modernism Modernity 8.3 (2001) 405-428. Wiener, Jon. “Pop and Avant-Garde: The Case of John and Yoko.” Popular Music & Society 22.1(1998.): 1-16. Wren, Celia. “Loving Repeating” American Theater 18.5 (2001): 30-35.

PAGE 40

35 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Laura Minor received her B.A. with honor s in English/ creative writing from Florida State University in 1997. She also r eceived her M.F.A. in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College in 1999. This is the graduate thesis for an M.A. in Women’s Studies from the University of Florida in May 2005.


Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0010587/00001

Material Information

Title: Unsound compositions : women and compositional agency
Physical Description: 40 p.
Language: English
Creator: Minor, Laura ( Dissertant )
Hedrick, Tace M. ( Thesis advisor )
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2005
Copyright Date: 2005

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords: Women's Studies thesis, M.A   ( local )
Dissertations, Academic -- UF -- Women's Studies   ( local )

Notes

Abstract: This thesis considers the reception of two avant-garde women artists, Gertrude Stein and Yoko Ono, with attention to the reception of Stein's opera (in collaboration with Virgil Thompson) Four Saints in Three Acts and Ono's album (in collaboration with John Lennon) Plastic Ono Band. By focusing down on the most radical moment or era that marks a significant epiphany for each artist, this paper explores the cultural practices, aesthetics, and ways of engendering and conceptualizing sound, 'noise,' lyricism, music, and compositional agency in relation to their reception. The idea is to unlink the avant-garde from the masculine and to separate the meaning constructed in sound from the connotations of the avant-garde. One objective will be to examine ways in which the insights and methods of structuralism, post-structuralism, semiotics, critical theory, and feminist criticism have been applied to the problem of understanding how meanings are gendered, negotiated, and celebrated in popular music. By contrasting the representation by the popular media and by the artists themselves, a composite representation emerges of the women and their work as androgynous, crazy, non-sensical, unsound (versus 'sound'), and discordant. The labeling of women artists as possessed, errant geniuses or incapable 'tourists' of the art form is a consistent effort to discredit women of their impact and innovations in composition and the avant-garde.
Subject: Avant, composers, composition, experimental, feminist, Gertrude, Lennon, libretto, musicians, Ono, plastic, popular, Stein, women, Yoko
General Note: Title from title page of source document.
General Note: Document formatted into pages; contains 40 pages.
General Note: Includes vita.
Thesis: Thesis (M.A.)--University of Florida, 2005.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
General Note: Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: UFE0010587:00001

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0010587/00001

Material Information

Title: Unsound compositions : women and compositional agency
Physical Description: 40 p.
Language: English
Creator: Minor, Laura ( Dissertant )
Hedrick, Tace M. ( Thesis advisor )
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2005
Copyright Date: 2005

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords: Women's Studies thesis, M.A   ( local )
Dissertations, Academic -- UF -- Women's Studies   ( local )

Notes

Abstract: This thesis considers the reception of two avant-garde women artists, Gertrude Stein and Yoko Ono, with attention to the reception of Stein's opera (in collaboration with Virgil Thompson) Four Saints in Three Acts and Ono's album (in collaboration with John Lennon) Plastic Ono Band. By focusing down on the most radical moment or era that marks a significant epiphany for each artist, this paper explores the cultural practices, aesthetics, and ways of engendering and conceptualizing sound, 'noise,' lyricism, music, and compositional agency in relation to their reception. The idea is to unlink the avant-garde from the masculine and to separate the meaning constructed in sound from the connotations of the avant-garde. One objective will be to examine ways in which the insights and methods of structuralism, post-structuralism, semiotics, critical theory, and feminist criticism have been applied to the problem of understanding how meanings are gendered, negotiated, and celebrated in popular music. By contrasting the representation by the popular media and by the artists themselves, a composite representation emerges of the women and their work as androgynous, crazy, non-sensical, unsound (versus 'sound'), and discordant. The labeling of women artists as possessed, errant geniuses or incapable 'tourists' of the art form is a consistent effort to discredit women of their impact and innovations in composition and the avant-garde.
Subject: Avant, composers, composition, experimental, feminist, Gertrude, Lennon, libretto, musicians, Ono, plastic, popular, Stein, women, Yoko
General Note: Title from title page of source document.
General Note: Document formatted into pages; contains 40 pages.
General Note: Includes vita.
Thesis: Thesis (M.A.)--University of Florida, 2005.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
General Note: Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: UFE0010587:00001


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UNSOUND COMPOSITIONS: WOMEN AND COMPOSITIONAL AGENCY


By

LAURA MINOR


















A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


2005

































Copyright 2005

by

Laura Minor
















TABLE OF CONTENTS



A B STRA C T ....................................................................................................................... iv

D ISCU SSION ...................................................................................................................... 1

LIST O F R EFEREN CE S ... ........................................................................ ................ 33

B IO G R A PH ICAL SK ETCH .................................................................... ................ 35















Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts

UNSOUND COMPOSITIONS: WOMEN AND COMPOSITIONAL AGENCY

By

Laura Minor

May 2005

Chair: Tace Hedrick
Major Department: Women's Studies

This thesis considers the reception of two avant-garde women artists, Gertrude

Stein and Yoko Ono, with attention to the reception of Stein's opera (in collaboration

with Virgil Thompson) Four Saints in Three Acts and Ono's album (in collaboration with

John Lennon) Plastic Ono Band. By focusing down on the most radical moment or era

that marks a significant epiphany for each artist, this paper explores the cultural practices,

aesthetics, and ways of engendering and conceptualizing sound, "noise," lyricism, music,

and compositional agency in relation to their reception. The idea is to unlink the avant-

garde from the masculine and to separate the meaning constructed in sound from the

connotations of the avant-garde.

One objective will be to examine ways in which the insights and methods of

structuralism, post-structuralism, semiotics, critical theory, and feminist criticism have

been applied to the problem of understanding how meanings are gendered, negotiated,

and celebrated in popular music.









By contrasting the representation by the popular media and by the artists

themselves, a composite representation emerges of the women and their work as

androgynous, crazy, non-sensical, unsound (versus "sound"), and discordant. The

labeling of women artists as possessed, errant geniuses or incapable "tourists" of the art

form is a consistent effort to discredit women of their impact and innovations in

composition and the avant-garde.















DISCUSSION

Once in a while and where and where around around is a sound and around is a
sound and around is a sound and around. Around is a sound around is a sound
around is a sound and around. Around differing from anointed now. Now differing
from anointed now. Now differing differing. Now differing from anointed now. Now
when there is left and is iih it integrally in ith it integrally in ith it integrally in ithin,,
11 i/hin ii ith i u ii ith oin ii i/h drawn and in as much as if it could be ii iliiulndiing
what in might might be so.

Four Saints and Three Acts, Gertrude Stein

Upon recently viewing the film remake of The Manchurian Candidate (2004), I

noticed that the character of Eleanor Prentiss Shaw, the power-hungry U.S. Senator and

icy, masterminding mother of the leading male protagonist, Raymond Shaw, resonated

with many public characterizations of powerful women. Portrayed as shrewd, calculating

and "hysterical," Shaw emasculated her son and usurped the patriarchal right- of-passage

in politics, ending tragically in her conspiracy and assassination. I also began to notice

these images surfacing in other remake films such as The Stepford Wives; in this version,

powerful women are "reprogrammed" as robots so they would support patriarchal

traditions in domesticity and sexuality. These images of women serve as a warning to

what can happen to women in all fields and arenas of gender if patriarchal formulas for

success are challenged. And it was powerful images of women such as these that began

to directly influence my analysis of gender and experimental composition in music.

Namely, two under appreciated, yet highly publicized women in the arts: Gertrude Stein

and Yoko Ono.









I am going to look at the various camps of reception on Gertrude Stein and Yoko

Ono; focusing on the popular discourse surrounding the ways they made sound. Through

non-traditional use of rhythm, sound and syntax, Stein and Ono created an open space for

women in music by experimentally approaching composition in a very public platform.

This made it easier for contemporary women composers to experiment outside the roles

that consistently defined women in music. In contrasting the literary and musical camps

of reception to Stein and Ono's self-presentation, a composite representation of the

"hysterical" woman composer emerges and their work is characterized as crazy, non-

sensical and unsound (versus "sound"). The labeling of women artists as possessed,

errant geniuses or incapable "tourists" of the art form is a consistent effort to discredit

women of their impact and innovations in changing that art form.

Women composers such as Stein and Ono began to appear in scholarship by the

end of the 1980s when the construction of gender and sexuality became a focal point of

feminist music criticism. Feminist music scholarship offered new ways of looking at the

mainstream and the avant-garde works of music in the canon. Avant-garde texts received

gendered readings and scholars began to analyze the gendered reception of women

composers in the media. Influenced by other fields such as literary criticism, feminist

music scholars applied their concepts of gender theory to women working in sound.

In addition, the existing body of feminist theory surrounding traditional music

discourse outlines the binary of masculine/feminine, normal/abnormal and strong/weak in

many ways. "Julia Kristeva, for example discussed masculine patriarchal writing as a

style incorporating linear development and feminine writing as counter-hegemonic in its

non-linearity" (Dusman 132). Here, the idea of music and composition is positioned









apart from the idea of "woman" composer unless it is positioned specifically as feminine

music, deviant by nature.

By examining Stein and Thompson's Four Saints and Yoko Ono's 1970 Plastic

Ono Band/Yoko Ono, this paper explores the meaning (or intended lack of meaning)

constructed through the cultural practices, aesthetics, and ways of gendering and

conceptualizing sound or "noise." The popular reception surrounding "meaning" in these

two works reveals how the works themselves question the fixed nature of language and

sound and how they relate to conventional interpretations of music. The idea is to

uncouple the avant-garde from its traditionally masculine connotations and to separate

the meaning constructed in sound from the meaning constructed in traditional

composition or songwriting and the connotations of the avant-garde.

The reception Stein experienced as she ventured into the new artistic territory of the

opera in Four Saints is indicative of a widespread pattern in the way contemporary

women working in sound are discussed; that is, as masculine vs. feminine and good vs.

bad. Stein's reputation was already one of non-sensical literature, and because this was a

musical text to be sung, the "hysteria" of Stein indirectly connected her to "hysterical"

composition. One successor to Stein who received a parallel reception was Yoko Ono.

Looking at the reception surrounding Ono's record, Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band (1970),

the companion record to the double album released by John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band,

the similarities in establishment press and the avant-garde sustained the image of the

"hysterical" woman composer.

I am arguing, as do many other critics, that the avant-garde art has been both

practiced and received as masculine. Susan Suleiman explains:









... The place of women, and of avant-garde movements, has traditionally been
situated away from the center, 'on the fringe,' in the margins. One difference is
that avant-garde movements have willfully chosen their avant-garde position, the
better to launch attacks at the center, whereas women have more often than not
been relegated to the margins: far from the altar as from the marketplace, those
centers where cultural subjects invent and enact their symbolic and material rites
(Suleiman 14).

Stein and Ono were both infamous characters in their individual spheres of the avant-

garde. Stein, known as a difficult, yet innovative member of the elite literati and Ono,

known mainly as a conceptual visual artist and infamous partner to John Lennon, used

their contributions and infamy as a transfigurative vehicle for their own avant-garde

concepts. Stein and Ono's unapologetic presence in the avant-garde challenged the

comfortable categories of composition and ownership. 1

The avant-garde as a masculine tradition has been coupled with the co-optation of

the avant-garde by the media. "The 'minimum reading' of avant-garde art today, Donald

Kuspit argues, is 'to refuse to serve the media-though it may be hard to find ways to do

so as the media become increasingly sophisticated, fully realizing their insatiable

appetite.' The aim of avant-garde art is 'to make the audience self-reflexive-to make it

discover its own discontent.'" (Wiener 2) Stein and Ono both realized their exclusion

from the center of the avant-garde and how compositional agency2 is problematic for


1For the purposes of this paper, composition will mean the result or product of composing
or arranging parts, whether it be a literary, artistic or musical work, into a unified whole.

2 The idea of compositional agency for the purposes of this paper means a woman's
ability and power to create, influence, mediate, communicate, distribute, negotiate,
transform, and compose her art as she wishes. Thus, gendering women's compositional
agency within the hegemonic confines of the avant-garde is one objective of feminist
music scholars. However, the use of the term "avant-garde" is troubling. Primarily used
to define work that is experimental and unorthodox in nature, avant-garde as a term has
been tossed around so frequently by scholars, writers and critics to describe any work of
art or movement that falls in opposition to what is commercially popular in the last
century that is has lost much of its significance. For the purposes of this reception study,









women. However, they used their marginalization to their advantage as they embarked

on new compositional, conceptual territory.

Stein's use of language in Four Saints demanded audiences construct their own

meaning from a non-traditional text, which puts Stein's libretto into unknown,

unwelcome corners of the avant-garde. Susan McClary explains that "music has often

been identified as the most 'feminine' of the arts, because of its relative vagueness, its

fluidity, its apparent 'handmaiden' relationship to lyrics, its ability to arouse, its

connections with dance, and even its resonance with memories of coextension with the

mother." From this we can infer that women carry a significant connection to finding

meaning in music, but are positioned as insignificant "subjects," relegating women to

feminine roles such as muse or performance-based participation (Reshaping a Discipline

6).

Four Saints, a collaborative opera Stein wrote for the composer Virgil Thomson,

(libretto, 1929: music by Virgil Thomson, 1934), shook American opera at its base

through the use of a non-traditional libretto, Americana folk-based hymns and the first all

African-American opera cast. Because Thomson was already an established composer,

Stein's contribution was seen as supplementary to the traditional process of opera.

Within the tradition of "composer," Stein's libretto and the reception surrounding this

collaboration is illustrative of how the term "composer" marginalizes women from

particular rites of passage in musical composition. Thus, the discourse of marginality


avant-garde is used in two ways: as a work that employs new concepts and techniques in
an effort to radically innovate the art form and secondly as a group or community active
in employing these concepts and techniques.









surrounding "woman" is doubly categorized within the margins of music as "woman

composer."

Contemporary feminist discourse in musicology suggests that the roles given to

women in music are being redefined. One of the first critical anthologies that

concentrated on gendered performance and composition, Jane Bernstein's Women's

Voices across Musical Worlds, uses feminist theory to generate ideas about the voice and

the transference of authority of a musical work from composer to singer, giving women

further compositional agency within their confined musical roles. In the third tableau of

Act One of Four Saints, St. Teresa I and II, Stein writes, "Can she sing... Can women

have wishes?" (Stein, Four Saints) In this excerpt, I feel that Stein saw the use of

language as liberatory and prophetic of the dismantling of a patriarchal style of writing

and composition within the theater.

Already a seasoned writer, Stein used her command of language and syntax to

reinvent the libretto while simultaneously using the libretto to illustrate how many kinds

of "Saints" it takes to make up a community of Saints. In Act One, Scene VII [Dance of

the Angels], Stein uses a humorous dialogue between the Saints to illustrate the politics of

community and inclusion. Stein uses repetition and "non-sensical" language to create the

effect of a room full of people talking. The dialogue overlaps similar arguments so that a

rhythmic pattern emerges, illuminating operative words and phrases Stein wanted to

emphasize:


Saint Therese. There are there are there are saints saints in it.
Saint Therese Saint Settlement Saint Ignatius Saint Lawrence Saint Pilar
Saint Plan and Saint Cecilia.
Saint Cecilia. How many saints are there in it.
Saint Cecilia. There are as many saints as there are saints in it.









Saint Cecilia. How many saints are there in it.
Saint Lawrence Saint Celestine. There are saints in it Saint Celestine
Saint Lawrence there are as many saints there are as many saints as there
are as there are in it.

Saint Ignatius. More needily of which more anon.
Saint Ignatius. Of more which more which more.
Saint Ignatius Loyola. A saint to be met by and by by and by continue
reading reading read read readily.
Never to be lost again to-day.
To-day to stay.

Saint Therese. Let it have a place

Saint Chavez. Select. Saints. All Saints. (Stein 597)

Here, Stein uses a cast of "saints" to expose questions of authority and inclusion within a

community. The opera is a community portrait of 16th-century Spanish saints, some

based on historical figures (Teresa of Avila and Ignatius of Loyola) but most of them

fictitious (Oestreich 1.16). The saints ask questions concerning the inclusive/exclusive

nature of who belongs to the community, and then there is a listing of the Saints. And

finally, the excerpt suggests a contribution that has been lost and then regained.

Perhaps Stein's contribution was to be "met by and by by and by continue reading

read read..." and thus given meaning over a period of time, wherein it will require a

"place" as a "Saint" among "Saints." Stein used Four Saints to trouble the categories of

opera by conceptualizing an inclusionary opera. Staged in 1934, there were no stars, no

characters, and the lines made "no ordinary sense" (Watson, Prepare for Saints: The

Making of a Modern Opera). However, as the first staged African-American opera, the

art-community did not base the success of Four Saints on the music or the libretto, but

rather on the infamous reputation of Stein who would bring an elitist avant-gardism and









"Cubism" to the American stage; Cubism, a French artistic movement from the early 20th

century, went against natural structures in favor of the abstract.

Stein's desire to innovate the libretto form resulted in a meditation on the act of

experimental writing itself. Stein's libretto is best illustrated in her essay, "Composition

as Explanation." In this essay, Stein attempts to explain her use of language and the label

of difficulty that readers and critics attach to her work:

There is singularly nothing that makes a difference a difference in beginning and in
the middle and in ending except that each generation has something different at
which they are all looking. By this I mean so simply that anybody knows it that
composition is the difference which makes each and all of them then different from
other generations and this is what makes everything different otherwise they are all
alike and everybody knows it because everybody says it (Stein 513).

The consideration of a work of art is contingent upon the cultural contexts and social

norms of the time surrounding the work of art and its creator; as the philosopher Arthur

Danto has argued, "what distinguishes an artwork from an ordinary object is the

institutions that confer that status" (Rothstein 1). The institutions conferring Stein's text

inflated the reception because of her previous literary fame, but not always in a lasting

and credible way as a woman involved in the composition of an opera.

This is relevant to the reception of both Stein and Ono because institutional

reception presupposes that art generated outside the existing paradigm of art and

authority is not credible art. Across generations of avant-garde artists, one thing remains

consistent in their reception; the status quo within the avant-garde determines how a work

is reviewed and whether or not it is readily accepted:

The only thing that is different from one time to another is what is seen and what is
seen depends upon how everybody is doing everything. This makes the thing we
are looking at very different and this makes what those who describe it make of it,
it makes a composition, it confuses, it shows, it is, it looks, it likes it as it is, and
this makes what is seen as it is seen (Stein 513).









Here, I understand Stein to be saying that patterns of meaning emerge from different

styles and eras of composition. How "everybody" is seeing "the thing" in each generation

is not the thing itself but the social context in which it is viewed. Because Stein was

connected with the visual art world and Cubism for some years, it is understandable that

some Cubist influence would surface in her writings to come.

Stein's intention to apply the concepts of Cubism to her writing resulted in a

narrative departure from the way traditional opera and the libretto was composed. Stein's

few devotees defended her renewal of American language, "while her detractors

considered her work quoted verbatim a ready-made parody" (Watson 14). Consequently,

the first public caricatures of Stein's work appeared in newspaper columns and in such

books as The Cubies 'ABC (1913). Her critics used this connection with Cubism to

ridicule her: "I called the canvas Cow with Cud/And hunt it on the line/Altho'to me 'twas

vague as mud/'Twas clear to Gertrude Stein." This suggests that Stein somehow

possesses the ability to decode the avant-garde unnaturally and use it to further the

obscurity of "meaning." Moreover, Stein biographer Brenda Wineapple, noted early on

"critics enjoyed making fun of her since the armory show of 1913," adding that they were

"ambivalent if not hostile." Subsequently, the scandalous chatter surrounding Stein's

participation in Four Saints tinted the publicity with hysteria (Watson, Prepare for

Saints: The Making of a Modern Opera). Stein herself became in some ways conflated

with the non-sensical reception of the opera.

The initial reception of Four Saints focused on the reputation of Stein and her

relationship with Thomson as a scandalous society event on the cutting edge of

modernism rather than an innovation in opera. In a review of Steven Watson's Prepare









for Saints, Patrick Smith wrote of the energetic buzz surrounding the premiere of Four

Saints:

World premieres of operas are remembered more for their fiascos than for their
triumphs, and world premieres of operas that rarely have been performed since are
even less remembered. Yet the exception to this rule -- probably the most important
exception in American operatic history -- is the world premiere, in Hartford, Conn.,
on Feb. 8, 1934, of Virgil Thomson's "Four Saints in Three Acts," to an abstract
libretto of Gertrude Stein. The event, at the Hartford Art Museum -- the Athenaeum
-- brought forth the illuminati and cafe society (most of whom who had never been
to Hartford, and some of whom who arrived on special trains), but the importance
of the evening lay rather in the confluence of talented people involved in the
opera... (Smith, C.02)

Likewise, the notion that this opera was not a "serious" opera carried over from this

initial camp of reception to the only other opera Stein and Thomson would compose

together, The Mother of Us All. It is possible that the reception surrounding Four Saints

was influential to the reception surrounding The Mother of Us All and that Thomson

began to feel the impact of Stein's reputation on the work itself. James R. Oestreich

wrote in the New York Times that after a young critic writing a feature on The Mother of

Us All asked Thomson about this characterization, Thomson replied:

'I am not too happy at seeing my score called whimsical,' ...'Also, I think the idea
that Miss Stein and I are primarily wits is, if you will permit me, both antiquated
and inaccurate. I should appreciate it if you could refer to 'The Mother of Us All' --
both the words and the music -- as a serious work on a serious theme.' (Oestreich
1.16)

The criticism that Thomson characterizes above is indicative of the stressful nature of the

working relationship.

One of the most notable critics of the time, Leonard Bernstein, was also a

composer, pianist and conductor. In 1949, he wrote a broad review of Stein's contribution

to music while he was completing a new piece for the theater:

In the vast sea of critical material that has been written about Miss Stein in the last
decades there are discernible two general currents of thought, both of which I feel









have carried our attitude toward her extraordinary work somewhat off the course of
direct appraisal. Critics have usually divided themselves into the pious, who revere
her every detached syllable, and the cynical, who write patronizing pieces in mock
Steinese and consequently feel exempt from further analytical responsibility.
(Bernstein BR4)

As Bernstein noted, there was a split in reception surrounding Stein. However, the

reviews during Stein's lifetime predominantly marginalize her and praise her only

sporadically. Bernstein admits that she was funny; however, the subtext reads that Stein

was underappreciated as a visionary:

... She was very funny. Her random distribution of labels.. .has become a classic
literary joke.. .And it takes a Stein to be able to musicalize words as successfully as
she has... In all these degrees of meaning and non-meaning, of useful and useless
repetition, of jokes and maxims, there runs the connecting stylistics quality that is
Stein's: the childlike debarassment of words of their associations, the astonishing
simplicity of her phraseology and the musical value of any succession of sounds
that may occur to her. In the end, ... we return to our original feeling that their
ultimate value lies in their influence upon other writers. (Bernstein BR4)

Bernstein's 1949 acceptance of Stein's libretto and overall contribution explains the kind

of reception Stein encountered in her career. And because of Bernstein's career and

reputation, this offers a certain amount of validation to Stein's ability to musicalizee"

words.

In Stein's defense, feminist music scholar, Linda Dusman says, "[there is] value in

speaking, and there is great value in remaining speechless. Likewise, the meaningfulness

of some music may reside in the potency of its meaninglessness." (Dusman 144)

Dusman's "meaninglessness" in music is not exactly Stein's goal, but the syntactical

techniques Stein used to dismantle the linear narrative were received as non-sensical

rather than conceptual. The "meaninglessness" of Stein's text gave the audience the

opportunity to create meaning from the composite of text, music and cast because there

was no literal story that an opera audience could easily interpret. Consequently, there has









not been a significant amount of feminist reception history on Four Saints as a work by

Stein.

Despite Stein's immense notoriety as a literary figure for 25 years before she met

Virgil Thomson, her lack of experience in music framed her reception. In "Composition

as Explanation," Stein establishes herself as a prophet to her own troublesome reception

and as precursor to contemporary women artists denied agency. Here, Stein predicts the

reception of her own work as "modern":

In the case of the arts it is very definite. Those who are creating the modem
composition authentically are naturally only of importance when they are dead
because by that time the modem composition having become past is classified and
the description of it is classical. That is the reason why the creator of the new
composition in the arts is an outlaw until he is a classic... Of course it is
wonderfully beautiful, only when it is still a thing irritating annoying stimulating
then all quality of beauty is denied to it... If every one were not so indolent they
would realize that beauty is beauty even when it is irritating and stimulating not
only when it is accepted and classic (Stein 514)

Here, I read Stein as maintaining that any artist experimenting with unconventional

methods of composition will encounter a certain amount of resistance and neglect before

their work is legitimized; in fact, they only move from legitimized to important when

they are dead. Stein's self-reflexive awareness here seems to indicate that she might not

enter a "classic" status. Stein's initial reception was not only going to be considered

"classic" art, but it would begin to paint Stein's image as frightening and "other."

Opera attendees and critics both created a composite of awe and fear in (specific)

regards to Stein. Mabel Dodge Luhan, a wealthy salon hostess, thought Stein was

creating something genius, but attached the label of fear to the masculine prototype of

"genius" because Stein was a woman. Luhan stated, "It is almost frightening to come

against reality in language in this way." A few other attendees were quoted, "But what is

going to happen if we acquire a new species of opera in which the words of the poet do









not convey any thought?" (Tommasini 198) This composite of awe and fear can be read

that Stein was to be feared in all realms; she could be feared as deviation from "woman"

and from "composer." Women musicians have been rarely characterized as genius even

if the language of "genius" is an undercurrent in the language of the criticism.

Stein's literary peers were no different in marginalizing her work and reputation.

For example, T.S. Eliot did not characterize Stein as frighteningly abnormal, but rather

primitively abnormal and thus we should be frightened. Eliot recognized the power of

her writing and it frightened him:

It is not improving, it is not amusing, it is not interesting, it is not good for one's
mind. But its rhythms have a peculiar hypnotic power not met with before. It has a
kinship with the saxophone. If this is the future, then the future is, as it very likely
is, of the barbarians. But this is the future in which we ought not to be interested.
(Watson 20)

Eliot speaks to the ways in which conservative critics characterized Stein as primitive and

barbaric. Stein's modern contemporaries did not have stake in her ideas and at times the

only negotiator for Stein besides the publicity around her name was Virgil Thomson.

Furthermore, the reference to the "saxophone" connects Stein to the rhythms of jazz,

another "modem" art form invented in American by African-based rhythms from the folk

and blues communities of African-Americans. Jazz was considered primitive, barbaric

and frightening. And even though the modernist exoticizing of race was part of Stein's

community, Four Saints is lumped in with the racially tinted rhetoric of "the future is of

the barbarians" that Eliot espoused.

Even Virgil Thomson, her collaborator, wrote a letter that explained the troubling

negotiation that went into producing Four Saints and how Stein's self-evaluation was an

obstacle. Thomson wrote to Stein on June 9, 1933:









And dear Gertrude, if you knew the resistance I have encountered in connection
with that text and overcome, the amount of reading it and singing it and praising it
and commenting it I have done, the articles, the lectures, the private propaganda
that has been necessary in Hartford and in New York to silence the opposition that
thought it wasn't having any Gertrude Stein, you wouldn't talk to me about the
commercial advantages of your name .. (Watson 214)

Watson notes that "Stein's literary reputation was jarringly out of scale with her self-

evaluation: she believed, quite simply, that she possessed the most creative literary mind

of the century" (Watson 14). It is possible then that Stein's imprudent belief in her vision

resulted in a negative backlash amongst her peers. Undeniably, there is a certain amount

of ego involved in making any art. But in the case of women artists, ego can be a form of

survival in the arts. Male artists receive institutional validation; women have to validate

their own existence and right to make art on a continual basis.

Stein's reception by Virgil Thomson and others was painted with the language of

infantile nonsense and inadequacy. Thomson observed that for Stein" an opera was a

different story She was not by nature what we would call musical" (Watson 41).

Thomson added in Watson's documentary on Four Saints, "For the most part you didn't

know what the words meant." The consistent label of "obscure" language by Stein was

felt by the cast more intimately, yet seemed to reflect the language of the critics. For

example, Eva Justice a member of the cast said, "I enjoyed singing those crazy lyrics"

while the rest of the cast simply described that the words "didn't have to make sense-

they were just beautiful words" (Watson, Prepare for Saints: The Making of a Modern

Opera). Stein's words were rhythmic, but not musical; beautiful, but without sound

"sense."

And this treatment by the initial camp of reception still resonates in contemporary

characterizations of Stein. For example, Cheryl Faver, artistic director of the 11-year old









Gertrude Stein Repertory Theater states, "Gertrude Stein is still a name to know, even if

you wouldn't touch Tender Buttons with a 10-foot buttonhook ... She's one of those

Hollywood Squares types of personalities "(Wren 1). Again, Stein's legacy of

obscurity finds its way into tokenized ambiguity for the sake of fame rather than artistic

legitimacy. Cynthia Wren summarizes the permanence of Stein's image amongst her

peers. "Whether one has actually read much, or even any of the writings tends to be

irrelevant-a forbidding aura hovers around Stein's very name." Stein's writing became

overshadowed by the weight of her reputation. Richard Foreman, whose early career was

heavily influenced by the Stein, said she was "Ruthless. Her heart had a kind of

ruthlessness that usually is not paid homage to"(Wren 3). Characterized as deliberately

obscure and ruthless, Stein's initial reception of "hysteria" still shapes her ongoing

reception.

Unlike the 19th century version of "hysteria," the composite of ruthless, calculating

and cold forges "crazy" and "out of control" into a new composite of "hysterical

woman." These women are simultaneously controlling, powerfully manipulative,

"troubled" (in terms of their sexuality) and "hysterically" insane in the end. When men

make brave innovations in art they are seen are courageous or "genius," but when women

make bold, experimental gestures in art they are seen as "unsound," crazy or troubled. In

addition to the many similar portrayals of powerful women, Stein and Ono contend to be

this contemporary archetype. However, in contrast to fictional characters like Eleanor

Prentiss Shaw or The Stepford Wives, Stein and Ono cannot literally be transformed or

killed in the end; they must be discredited.









But even within the antagonistic portrait that critics, peers, and receptors painted of

her, Stein had fans that defended her contributions within the avant-garde. Recent

contributions to the revision of Stein's reception, such as Watson's Prepare For Saints

documentary created a positive representation of Stein by bringing together all the critics

of Four Saints, not just the "true critics" reception. Members of the cast affirmed that

Four Saints "had the lyrics of liberation." It liberated the stereotype of the black

performer and "took them off their knees and out of their overalls" (Watson, Prepare for

Saints: The Making of An Opera). Carl Van Vechten, a novelist, critic and informal

supporter of Stein, said inl928 that "she is like yeast, the yeast that makes the bread."

(Watson 14) For her fans, Stein's innovations in writing represented freedom and

modernity for its liberatory nature.

Stein and Thomson's all African-American cast remains troublesome because it

was born into a framework that exoticized race from the start. Even though it was

Thomson's "own striking idea .. roles not specifically meant for blacks," Stein had her

own opinions on race and modern expression ("When. C.02). Originally, Thomson

wanted the "black voice," and before ever collaborating with Stein wrote, "The

extraordinary thing to me, however, was their aptness to the language." In the 1920s,

critics believed that broader cheekbones and a different facial structure gave birth to

different vocal qualities. Thomson considered a "black voice" to be "notably articulate."

(Watson 200) Thomson and Stein unconsciously participated in the institutionalized

racism that patronizes race by tokenizing and fragmenting the talents of Africa-

Americans as "exceptional," because they are "black" talents.









Even Carl Van Vechten was quoted as saying to Thomson in regards to the cast of

Four Saints, "Think how many opera stars have blacked up to sing Amonasro and Aida.

Why can't my colored singers white up for Four Saints?" Thomson was quoted divided

black actors into "objects" and "subjects" when he said, "Negroes objectify themselves

very easily ... They live on the surface of their consciousness" (Watson 202). The

confining of African-American actors and singers compartmentalized race into the

casting practices of the day. Stein and Thomson certainly inherited the institutionalized

treatment of race from the era, objectifying and exoticizing the cast of Four Saints; they

simultaneously presumed that the all African-American cast would lend a more spiritual,

musical, and modernistic edge to the production.

Yet, Stein possessed a more "detached" attitude toward the depiction of black

characters than Thomson. Stein wrote in 1927, "It is not because they are primitive but

because they have a narrow but a very long civilization behind them...their sophistication

is complete and so beautifully finished and it is the only one that can resist." (Watson

202) And years later, in mid-production conversation with Thomson, Stein racialized the

bodies of African-Americans:

I suppose they have good reasons for using Negro singers instead of white, there
are certain obvious ones, but I do not care for the idea of showing the Negro
bodies, it is too much what the English 'modernistic' novels call futuristic and do
not accord with the words and music to my mind. (Watson 207)

Although Thomson and Stein used an all African-American cast, the controversial

reception of Four Saints did not solely focus around race. Thomson and Stein's sexuality

were not absent from the reception and in fact played a key role in how Stein's work was

received by critics, peers and the press alike. The reception and this libretto are bound

within the critical framework of race and Stein's sexuality. Ono was not literally









queeredd" in terms of her sexuality; however, she was figuratively queered in her

reception by challenging the boundaries of women in popular music.

Although Thomson respected her work as an artist, he openly linked the

"obscurity" of her words to the "obscurity" of a being a lesbian at the time. Thomson

wrote, "The two things you never asked Gertrude, ever, were about her being a lesbian

and what her writing meant." (Watson 47) This is not to say that Thomson judged or

rejected Stein's sexuality, but rather respected and understood Stein's privacy in regards

to her work and her life.

The gendered labels assigned to women composers are often not based on their

actual work, but rather on the prescribed roles and cultural images of "woman" that they

continue to reform in their work. Through the use of repetition, rhythm and sound, Stein

and Ono use 'noise' and experimental composition to create a space for music that is

difficult to label 'women's music'. To this day, labels that support the strict binaries of

male/female and heterosexual/homosexual continue to create and maintain barriers to

interpreting and preserving the artistic contributions of those who challenge gender.

However, Stein was troubled by the focus of attention on her life rather than her

work. Stein wrote "There is no sense in it because if it were not for my work they would

not be interested in me so why should they not be more interested in my work than in me.

That is one of the things one has to worry about in America" (Wren 4). Stein was

pointing out that women have to be accounted for as women making art, rather than

artists making art. For Ono and Stein, the artist-self is shaped through composition,

through performance, on their own terms, and as women.









Stein's libretto negotiated compositional agency by dismantling the modernist and

the post-modernist canon. And this is also what ties her to the avant-garde composers

that succeeded her. There are many women composers that endured a similar reception.

Yoko Ono is one of the successors to Stein's infamous legacy of being ill received in the

avant-garde. Both women were consistently characterized as "frightening," but Ono was

considered manipulative because her avant-gardism robbed Lennon of his pop-genius

status.

Yet, despite a long list of contributions to conceptual art, film and music, Ono

experienced the same marginalized treatment of her work by the same contemporary

framework of criticism that is beginning to re-examine Stein. McClary positions Stein

and Ono as similar in their reception as "other":

The much-loathed Yoko Ono is now coming into her own as an avant-garde artist
rather than just the dragon lady who broke up the Beatles; and that weird opera
project by Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson, Four Saints in Three Acts, can
finally be grasped as the fundamentally queer text it always was, long before we
had words to label its deconstructive mischief ("Woman and Music. 1285).

McClary positions Stein and Ono in their contemporary reception, suggesting that their

receptions are not so different. Additionally, how images of Stein and Ono circulate and

how they are articulated is crucial to how they were, and in Ono's case still are, received.

Conditionally Ono

Lennon benefited from Beatles' fame; however, that fame simultaneously

positioned Ono as a secondary personality that served to disrupt Lennon's career, rather

than "compliment" it. Musically, women have been historically expected to "perform" in

ways that compliment others harmoniously. Between Ono's repetitions, violations of

melody and cacophonic vocal delivery, she challenged conventional interpretations of

women's composition. Ono encountered a significantly more odious reception because









she challenged the assumption that music is supposed to be an emotional and

performative expression for a woman, rather than an artistic one.

How we interpret women composers and their work contributes to how these

binaries and ultimatums are reinforced: sensual vs. tough, confessional vs. strong, sound

vs. unsound. The same binaries that constrain women sexually constrain women

musically. Over time, Ono's initiation into composition involved unlinking herself from

the cultural celebrity of John Lennon. And despite her lifelong history in musical

composition, professional piano and vocal training, she never received musical

legitimacy or agency when she began composing popular music.

Ono and Stein's tenacity upon breaking into art and literature on their own shaped

their subjectivity in regards to their transition to the world of music. Ono's artist-self was

shaped largely by her early success in conceptual art. And Stein wrote, "the theater made

me real outside of me" (Wren 6). This statement lends itself to all women in the arts who

are forced to negotiate themselves as "women artists," before being "artists," especially

in the prime of the creative progress. It gave women an identity outside of the identity

that was given to them by simply being born women. Moreover, the connective tissue

that links Ono to Stein is the labeling of their work as non-sensical and their syntactical

usage of repetition and sound. Those who are looking at the image frame the reception; it

is received as a personal affront to the comfortable definitions and clean categories of

gender in relation to music and composition.

If anything, Ono's treatment was significantly harsher due to her association with

the Beatles. A woman without a country, Ono straddled the unforgiving "high art" world

of the avant-garde and fielded the witch hunt carried out by the pop-music masses who









made up Lennon's fan base. Her treatment by the men of the avant-garde was not much

different, however her marriage to Lennon brought a wider-reaching aggression. Painted

as a black widow, a "child of Hiroshima" the task of challenging these institutions would

rest in applying the imaginative techniques of the avant-garde to her newfound celebrity

within a pop audience (Ryan 1). Ono's reception was doubly aggressive because of her

two-pronged celebrity; she was discredited in two worlds by trying to bridge them.

In an effort to separate himself from the constraint of the Beatles, Lennon drew

from Ono's background in the avant-garde. Ono's various biographies prove that Ono

was making a name for herself as a visual artist and experimental musician before her

marriage to Lennon:

In 1967 she moved to the center of public controversy with her Film No. 4,
Bottoms, in which 200 notable people appeared one at a time for ten seconds.
Their bare bottoms filled the frame... In London, she played a concert with Ornette
Coleman at the Royal Albert Hall-before she ever met John Lennon. (Wiener 4)

Contrary to popular belief, Ono's art suffered in some ways because of her

association with Lennon. The first moment that put Ono directly in the spotlight as equal

partners with Lennon was the beginning of Ono's negative reception. Upon her marriage

to Lennon in March 1969, the couple spent their honeymoon in the Amsterdam Hilton to

stage a bed-in for peace.

The newlyweds were eager to conduct interviews and give the media an alternative

to the anti-war demonstrations that were characterizing Vietnam protesters as anti-

patriotic terrorists. The anti-Ono image began gestating within the context of this protest

with Lennon and the establishment press picked Ono apart, imprinting her as a negative

influence on Lennon. During the bed-in for peace, one right-wing cartoonist, Al Capp,

conducted an inflammatory interview in which he coined the insult, "Madame Nu." Capp









was trying to paint her has the Oriental witch of elitism so that Lennon would be

provoked to break his peaceful demonstration on camera (McGrath, John and Yoko 's

Year of Peace).

From the beginning, Ono's negative reception as an artist was defined by the

establishment press. And by this I mean the popular music media received as Ono as

dangerous and "other"-the primary scapegoat for the transformation of Lennon. And

Ono's contemporary reception still resonates with this scapegoating. "She has had a

lifetime of upset and disputes, some venomous. The criticisms sting, such as Mick

Jagger's recent accusation that she "cut him off from his friend (Ryan 3). Despite

the time she put in as an artist and a composer, she still struggles with her infamy

received as a vehicle for her art.

Ono's upbringing in Japan suggests she was interested in music from an early age.

Her early desire to compose was met with her father's derision, "I don't want you to

struggle in vain.. .Women may not be good creators of music, but they're good at

interpreting music." (AIU: A Yoko Ono Biography intro) As a trained pianist and

vocalist, Ono studied the various techniques of composition in Eastern and Western

classical music. Upon arrival in New York as a young woman, she studied music at

Sarah Lawrence College and often held loft concerts in New York City as a young artist.

After being blamed for breaking up the Beatles, Ono's musical endeavors made no

attempt to conceal her avant-gardism. The various labels attached to her future endeavors

would be a catalyst to further separate herself from the traditional Beatles' audience.

Even though Ono was active in the avant-garde music scene, the popular music

scene knew nothing of her work, outside of negative referential comments in Lennon's









press. Yet the elements that led to the "hysterical" characterization in her reception

carried over from the avant-garde. Early in her days she was dubbed as the "High

Priestess of the Happening,' throwing dried peas at the audience while whirling her long

hair to provide 'musical accompaniment" (AIU: A Yoko Ono Biography 3) Clearly, this

would not qualify to the establishment press as Lennon-worthy musicianship.

However, interviews with Ono suggest that she and Lennon were early

collaborators, although they did not write that many songs together (AIU: Jody Denberg

series: Yoko in 1992). When Ono and Lennon would record together, Ono would initially

experienced the sexism of the industry in regards to her own contributions:

Lennon would finish laying down his tracks and it was her turn But the engineers
would all suddenly have to go to the bathroom. Even Apple producer Phil Spector
treated her this way. 'He was the worst,' Yoko said, 'He would come back from the
men's room and say, like, 'I just threw up,' to let me know how he felt.' (AIU:
Yoko Ono in the Soho News).

Yoko's three-fold reception as a woman, an Asian in the time of Vietnam and an

experimental artist alienated her from the avant-garde and pop-music. Ono recalled how

her reception changed tones from disdain of an experimental artist to international

infamy:

... in those days I was an easy target and a scapegoat; they just wrote about me in
a very unflattering way.. .but I think that the press carved the image. I'm sure all
the DJs were saying, 'Oh dear, that woman again', but you get used to that and
people get to think, 'She's just a punch bag'. I was the safest bet. And also it's very
interesting to make a woman into a kind of evil person who has strong evil powers,
or something. It's a dichotomy in a way in their minds-strength even. It's a very
interesting twist, and that's what they loved about it.' (AIU: A Yoko Ono
Biography 6)

Women artists clearly receive a different perception on their careers as musicians.

In light of the "hysterical" label attached to women composers and compositional agency,

Ono was being intimidated by the establishment press; she was, by this time, aware of her









own alienation and marginalized reception. Although, Ono had been involved in music

and composition for sometime now, the height of critical attention fell on the double

album Plastic Ono Band put out by Lennon and Ono, each contributing their own

version.

Jody Denberg, a supportive and consistent interviewer of Ono, asked Ono in 1997,

"What do people talk to you about in terms of your albums?" She replied, "Plastic Ono

Band, surprisingly enough (AIU: Jody Denberg series: Yoko in 1997). A great departure

from the "Give Peace A Chance" bed-in, Ono's version of the record was a collage of

sounds, screams, repetitions and vocal experimentation:

... it was very interesting because that area I felt was not explored at all, in a
way... And when I was screaming and all that kind of thing I think that they-in
fact, somebody commented that, this is too theatrical or dramatic. You know,
that's how it was perceived. Too animalistic. But we make those noises when we
give birth to children. And so I was more interested in the kind of-the sound of
turmoil, inner turmoil kind of thing. (AIU: Jody Denberg series: Yoko in 1997)

Lennon's companion record was still primarily pop-oriented and somewhat reminiscent

of his signature sound. The rhetoric surrounding Ono's reception was dismissive and

alarmist at the same time. But Ono's use of feminist humor to accentuate this rhetoric

was misinterpreted.

It is no wonder that Ono received a backlash toward her feminist stance; she was

unapologetic about her ownership of these songs, their titles and their feminist impact.

"With songs titled, "What A Bastard the World Is," "She Gets Down On Her Knees," "I

Felt Like Smashing My Face in a Clear Glass Window," "I'm a Witch," or "Women like

Catman," Ono clearly knew she was going to be received with an "extreme" label and did

this to illustrate the absence of a feminist voice and make a parody of her reception." To

this Ono says, "That's something that women laugh at but I don't think men would laugh,









you know (laughter). It's a funny thing." (AIU: Jody Denberg Series: Yoko in 1992) Ono

clearly wanted to strike a chord with women and use her humor in the way that Stein

used humor syntactically in her work.

Ono's recollection of the Plastic Ono Band Yoko Ono reception is summed up this

way: "The whole world hated me and my music" (AIU: Yoko Ono Biography intro).

Ono knew that she was triply marginalized from what was successful at the time; she was

an experimental composer and an Asian woman that symbolized an invasion of popular

music. Furthermore, Michael Bracewell wrote that Ono became, "a kind of psychic

lightning-conductor for other people's hostility" (Grant 1). Once Lennon was

assassinated, Ono's reception took a particularly hostile turn and everything she made

became characterized as an act to capitalize on Lennon's death or a tasteless act of

exploitation for her own self-promotion.

The combination of the music industry's commodification of artists and its infra-

structure of masculinity painted Ono as a "corruptor" of true music, rather than a

composer of music. Lennon's reception in regards to their collaborations was considered

"John's Yoko problem" and the works themselves were unlistenablee mistakes." Lennon

became tainted with Ono's infectious experimentalism. She caused his "true art," his

"natural sound to be pitted against his "unnatural" sound as the product of "disordered

minds." (Hasted 1) Avant-Garde in its purity aims to negate the commodification of

artists, but in the past fifty years since Stein's era the media has learned to co-opt the

rebelliousness of the avant-garde.

The reception of Ono's Plastic Ono Band record is one perspective from which to

gauge her "hysterical reception." However, given the energetic fan base that surrounds









Ono's reception over the decades, within the culture of blogs and consumer websites, the

everyday consumer holds as much cultural weight in shaping the image of "hysteria" as

the "true critic." One of the largest consumer websites on which to evaluate and purchase

music today, Amazon.com, offers an open forum for fans to critically review albums and

artists. One reviewer wrote of Ono's first solo album:

Universally, Yoko's P.O.B. album was seen as an extreme affront against propriety
and possibly civilization! Something so revolutionary should have been applauded
by the free-thinking radicals, but they were not as free as they pretended to
be... Originally released to almost universal disdain in 1970, critics now declare
this album as laying the groundwork for the punk revolution of 1976." (Yoko
Ono Plastic Ono Band, June 24, 2000)

Positive in its tone, the "extreme" weight the reviewer puts into the review is not so much

a critique of the text as it is of the cultural context surrounding the text. Using this forum

to contextualize Ono to Lennon, one reviewer compared Lennon's version of Plastic Ono

Band to its companion record by Ono:

But compare it to Yoko's masterful companion: nothing on Earth can possibly date
this life-affirming torrent of mad eyed, bare toothed crying rage... She unfurls her
voice like it was a great creature rising from the throat, so organic that it swamps
the entire album in its presence and threatens to dissolve the music itself." (Yoko
Ono Plastic Ono Band, July 20, 2004)

The reviewer intends a positive reception, yet seems to reaffirm the "hysterical"

image through an inherited script used to describe Ono for decades.

One might think that this reviewer is describing a horror film itself: "mad eyed,

bare toothed crying rage," "a great creature," "it swamps" and "dissolves." Ono becomes

so horrifically, relentlessly hysterical, she devours her own creation; she becomes a

monster capable of eating her young.

And then of course, there are those who staunchly believe that Ono ripped Lennon

from the bosom of greatness. Moreover, where Stein's "hysteria" was linked to the "non-









sensical," Ono's hysteria was rooted in the racist characterizations of the native, "primal"

Dragon Lady image. Yoko wrote of her reception, "There's relentlessness in my music

which is precisely what people used to dislike-now, when a lot of energy has been

lacking in recent music, maybe that relentlessness is welcome" (AIU, Gurney).

As a result of this relentlessness, Ono became a corruptor, a co-optation, a

capitalist, linking Asian women, communism and patriotism to the racist images of the

Vietnam war. Without even addressing the text critically, the intention is to create an

image of inadequacy and disdain.

And in juxtaposing Ono's modern reception against her initial receptors, a

continual re-evaluation of Ono appears. Mainly this is because she is still alive and

making art, which puts her in the headlines and forces critics and the media to draw upon

thirty years of reception. The modern re-evaluation reinforces the stigma even if the

article is intended as pro-Ono. The critic has to address the stigma in order to establish a

context from which to review the new work. A journalist for Soho News opens his article:

I always hated Yoko Ono. I didn't hate her for breaking up the Beatles. If indeed
she did, because by that time I didn't care anymore the 60s were finished and I was
already a jazz snob. Besides, anyone who had the power to undermine the most
popular band of all time must have had something going for her...Now in 1980,
here was an even more palpable reason to distrust her. After having gotten John to
trade in his guitar for an apron. .. (AIU: The Soho News)

Ono must have had a lot going for her if the tension in her early work still resonates

in the tension of her reception. Lennon trading in his "genius" for an apron clearly

projects how Ono emasculated him, thus continues to emasculate his legacy by making

art.

Another example from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explains, "When it comes to

Yoko Ono's recorded music, a listener has to take the good with the bad. Ono's songs









tend to be either high art or pure garbage." Ono's work continues to be categorized by

extremity, polarized between the avant-garde and popular music which translates into

"high art" (avant-gardism) and "pure garbage" (art by a woman). However, similar to

Stein's reception, Ono's ego informed her this particular reception "Ono is once again

saved by her best asset, an endless self-confidence that permits art so daring that even the

missteps make for captivating listening." ("Get Out. 14) Equally, no matter what

arena Ono is evaluated in, the image of inadequacy, illegitimacy and "other" is solidified

in the tone of the reception. The question of legitimacy over time remains questionable in

the ongoing reception of Stein and Ono, even in our desire to sanctify their rights as

women composers.

How does the language of reception position "hysterical" woman as the central

metaphor for Ono? Jody Denberg, a consistent interviewer of Ono over the years,

inquires in his 2000 interview of the motivation behind the technique in Plastic Ono

Band, "How did the primal scream therapy that you and John did with Dr. Janov affect

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band?" She replied, "Very much so. It is true and right to be

called Primal Therapy or Primal Scream Album. Most of the songs were either written or

inspired when we were in L.A. going to the sessions, primal therapy sessions." A

woman composer open to exploring her psyche to find a new sound might be the single

most obvious link to Ono's "hysteria." There were compositional and contextual reasons

for the album's use of 'noise' aside from the "hysterical" reading the press gives Ono.

Less obvious are the stories and characterizations of "hysteria" that surface in

between the lines of her reception. A writer for the Independent London characterized

Ono in 1998 as someone who is "not likely to model or host society parties-but she









might steal your children and exhibit them in a glass case." (Ryan 2) And when John

Lennon died, she spent some time at their Dakota property, which was characterized in

the language of Grimm's Ono-Tale:

Understandably, she was locked away in the towering Dakota mansion block while
crowds below chanted 'Woman' until they were hoarse. 'Woman' was the song
Lennon had written especially for her, and which was re-released posthumously by
public demand and went to No. 1 on both sides of the Atlantic. It was destined to be
part of the soundtrack for any Lennon mention of soundbite for evermore. Whether
Yoko could bear it or not." (Ryan 1)

Framed in this context, she is no longer the confident artist that is ill received; She

is the embodiment of the "hysterically" doomed widow who is haunted and painted with

morbidity (Lennon's death). However, Ono transcended Lennon's death with whom her

art was forever linked by continuing to make music regardless of her reception.

Stein and Ono challenged the ritual ceremony of composition and created meaning

by distorting the traditional distinctions of male/female and by confronting linear

narratives with new approaches. Stein and Ono's compositions provided a liberating

opportunity for the transformation of assigned gender roles by going outside of the

expected contributions of women in music. This transformation of options opened

avenues for women to experiment with sound. And no one benefits more in this

transformation than those who have been historically excluded from making art and

receiving legitimized credit for their contributions.

Principally portrayed as women that have either lost their sense or their other half,

Ono and Stein endured a similar reception as women writing in a time of war and as

women making art. Chiefly, the institutions of war and art do not want "hysterical"

women artists troubling the categories and forgetting their roles, inside or outside of

music. The discourse of marginality surrounding "woman" is doubly categorized within









the margins of music as "woman composer." By focusing on the popular discourse

surrounding the ways Stein and Ono approached sound, this paper explores the gendering

and conceptualizing of sound or "noise." By examining Stein's Four Saints and Ono's

Ono Plastic Ono Band, the popular reception surrounding "meaning" in both works

reinforces a consistent pattern of gendering two women working in music from two

different eras. It poses questions of how the works themselves question language, sound

and conventional interpretations of music by disunifying the avant-garde from the

masculine.

Historically, women's significance in music has been relegated to the roles of muse

and performer; as central focal points in great works of musical composition, however,

insignificant to the compositional process. Only recently have women's voices in music

become more subjective and less objective to the paradigm. Correspondingly, the

representation of the "hysterical" woman composer emerges in this comparison because

Stein and Ono's reception reveals a pattern of consistent effort by the establishment press

to label women composers as crazy, non-sensical and unsound. Hence, the divergence of

sound versus unsound transforms artists back into women; the patterns in reception

removes the contributions altogether and gauges the work of women artists as a gimmick.

Aligned in their "novice" as women composers, Stein and Ono were characterized

as engaging in artifice and deceit, somehow "tricking" the music world into letting them

in. Women's compositional agency is a term I use to illustrate how women in music

must contend with these obstacles before their art is considered valid; without it,

women's art is presumed as counterfeit, trickery, or enterprising for the sake of attention.









The press relayed the idea that somewhere underneath the fixture of their womanhood,

lies stratagem that Stein and Ono used to deceive or surprise the music world.

The limited set of options given to women in music is possibly the source of Stein

and Ono's original compositional style. The confidence that infuriated critics is

simultaneously responsible for the widespread fascination with Stein and Ono's

personalities; it allowed them to trouble categories and straddle multiple disciplines.

Characterized as primal and naive, Stein and Ono created compositions that were stripped

free from narrative constraint; they used experimental approaches to text and sound to

separate from what we expect words and music to mean. Behind each sound, rhythm and

syllable is meaningful and mindful composition that was created by women artists on

their own terms; the concept of discontinuing from the masculine in the avant-garde

created a cultural impact upon women composers and feminist scholarship.

Music is neither language nor opposed to language; it can easily be dismissed as

an unsound, invalid form of communication, a threat to any established order. Stein used

the same poetic techniques in her libretto as she used in her other works. She used syntax

as her instrument, using the natural rhythms of the words as music on the page. Like

Stein, Ono's unexplained "noise" was never received as serious, successful composition

because there was no element of submission in her work. Critics put Stein and Ono in the

hysterical box because as women they were suspect for deviating from the status quo.

Stein and Ono were self-contained muses within a limited set of options.

What linked these two artists together in my own research is the consistent question

of legitimacy and artistry and how using the rhetoric of Stein and Ono's reception

resonates with women artists on all levels, including myself. I found myself using the









rhetoric of their defense in everyday conversations about women artists and how the

media treats them. At the root of this paper is what every woman artist wants, validation

of her contributions and ideas.

It is a confusing time for women and a transformative time for women artists.

More aware than ever of a lack of consciousness, increase in guilt, and internalization

absorption of the masculine artist rhetoric, women artists are watching their contributions

get elevated, distorted and co-opted by the media. Women musicians' contributions are

negated because their media presentation fragments their work.

For example, if Britney Spears wanted to become an experimental composer in the

coming years, she would have to spend twice the time it took to get famous as a sexual

pop icon negating this image and legitimizing her work to "make up" for her previous

image; which then would consistently reinforce the cycle of women's guilt in artistic

elitism. What links Ono to Stein is the forced awareness of their legitimacy before it is

even in question. In the prime of creative progress, Stein and Ono are forced to evaluate

themselves and expend energy and time in negotiating their future as "women artists"

versus simply being accepted as "artists."

It is not surprising then, that an emerging history of women composers and feminist

music scholarship has proved an invaluable and empowering inspiration to contemporary

women composers, as they see their struggles for compositional agency in the struggles

of their predecessors.















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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH


Laura Minor received her B.A. with honors in English/ creative writing from

Florida State University in 1997. She also received her M.F.A. in poetry from Sarah

Lawrence College in 1999. This is the graduate thesis for an M.A. in Women's Studies

from the University of Florida in May 2005.