Probably no two women in the history of music could be as different from each other as the 12th century abbess, Hildegard von Bingen, and the 20th century American musical theatre performer, Ethel Merman. Both women achieved major success in their respective fields, and although they worked in very different genres of music, there were similarities in the ways that they approached the business of music, managed their musical careers, and influenced others in their respective fields. The work of each of these women has been well-documented in print, audio, film, and video. Each part of this presentation will focus, respectively, on the life and musical work of each of these uniquely remarkable women and will also provide sample audio recordings and bibliographic and discographic information.
Although the names of Hildegard and Ethel Merman are well-known, their accomplishments, and the importance of their work, are not always readily recognized by musicians, researchers, or the music librarians who support that research. Thus, each part of the presentation includes information about primary and secondary source materials related to each of these women. The presentation also includes illustrations of the influence that each of these women had on composers: Hildegard’s influence, particularly on the work of 20th and 21st century composers, and Merman’s influence on musical theatre composers in the 1930s and beyond.
Each of these women achieved a unique status in life in her own time. Although they lived vastly different lifestyles in different eras, there are fascinating similarities in the ways that each woman carried out her professional duties, reached a high level of accomplishment that had significant influence on the world. Both women were involved in the creation of new music within their respective areas; both women were involved with the creation and performance of new work in music drama/musical theatre; and both women were highly adept business women.
As a unique feature of the session on Ethel Merman, a rare interview recording will be demonstrated to the audience. This recording was recently discovered in the collections of the Archive of Recorded Sound at Stanford University and was originally produced for radio stations in 1955. It contains Merman’s pre-recorded answers to scripted questions that were asked by the local radio announcer. The radio interview will be re-enacted as part of this presentation with the session presenter reading the interview questions, live, from the original script, and Ms. Merman answering the questions via the recording. Not only will this part of the presentation give clearer insight into the personality of Ms. Merman, but it will also demonstrate to the audience one of the fascinating commercial uses of sound recording in mid-century America.
It is the intention of this presentation to provide, or reinforce: an awareness of the important and long-lasting contributions of women to the field of music during the past 900 years, an awareness of the influence that the work of these two particular women had on the work of composers and performers, and a guide to additional information related to both of these women.