Susan McClary

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Born (1946-10-02) October 2, 1946 (age 73)
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
EducationSouthern Illinois University (BA)
Harvard University (MA, PhD)
SubjectMusic, feminism
Notable worksFeminine Endings: Music, Gender, & Sexuality
SpouseRobert Walser

Susan Kaye McClary (born 2 October 1946) is an American musicologist associated with the "New Musicology". Noted for her work combining musicology with feminist music criticism, McClary is Professor of Musicology at Case Western Reserve University.


McClary was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and received her BA in 1968 from Southern Illinois University. She attended graduate school at Harvard University where she received her MA in 1971 and her PhD in 1976. Her doctoral dissertation was on the transition from modal to tonal organization in Monteverdi's works. The first half of her dissertation was later reworked and expanded in her 2004 book, Modal Subjectivities: Self-fashioning in the Italian Madrigal. She taught at the University of Minnesota (1977–91), McGill University (1991–94), University of California, Berkeley (1993), and University of California, Los Angeles (1994-2011), before becoming a Professor of Musicology at Case Western Reserve University. She has also held a five-year professorship at the University of Oslo (2007–12). McClary is married to the musicologist Robert Walser.[1][2]


One of her best known works is Feminine Endings (1991; ISBN 0-8166-4189-7). ("Feminine ending" is a musical term once commonly used to denote a weak phrase ending or cadence.) The work covers musical constructions of gender and sexuality, gendered aspects of traditional music theory, gendered sexuality in musical narrative, music as a gendered discourse, and discursive strategies of women musicians.[3][4]

McClary suggests that sonata form may be interpreted as sexist or misogynistic and imperialistic, and that, "tonality itself – with its process of instilling expectations and subsequently withholding promised fulfillment until climax – is the principal musical means during the period from 1600 to 1900 for arousing and channeling desire." She interprets the sonata procedure for its constructions of gender and sexual identity. The primary, "masculine" key (or first subject group) represents the male self, while the allegedly the secondary, "feminine" key (or second subject group), represents the other, a territory to be explored and conquered, assimilated into the self and stated in the tonic home key.

McClary set the feminist arguments of her early book in a broader sociopolitical context with Conventional Wisdom (2000, ISBN 0-520-23208-9). In it, she argues that the traditional musicological assumption of the existence of "purely musical" elements, divorced from culture and meaning, the social and the body, is a conceit used to veil the social and political imperatives of the worldview that produces the classical canon most prized by supposedly objective musicologists. But McClary does not ignore the "purely musical" in favor of cultural issues, incorporating it into her analysis. She examines the creation of meanings and identities, some oppressive and hegemonic, some affirmative and resistant, in music through the referencing of musical conventions in the blues, Vivaldi, Prince, Philip Glass, and others.

While seen by some as extremely radical, her work is influenced by musicologists such as Edward T. Cone, gender theorists and cultural critics such as Teresa de Lauretis, and others who, like McClary, fall in between, such as Theodor Adorno. McClary herself admits that her analyses, though intended to deconstruct, flirt with essentialism.[5][6]

Selected bibliography[edit]

Works by Susan McClary

  • "The Blasphemy of Talking Politics during Bach Year." In Music and Society: The Politics of Composition, Performance and Reception. Ed. Richard Leppert and McClary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987. 13-62. ISBN 0521327806.
  • "Terminal Prestige: The Case of Avant-Garde Music Composition." Cultural Critique 12 (1989): 57-81.
  • Georges Bizet: Carmen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  • "Constructions of Subjectivity in Franz Schubert's music." In Queering the Pitch. Ed. Philip Brett, Elizabeth Wood, Gary C. Thomas. New York: Routledge, (1994, 2006). 205-33. ISBN 041597884X.
  • Conventional Wisdom: The Content of Musical Form. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000
  • Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, & Sexuality. 2nd. ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002 (1991).
  • Modal Subjectivities: Self-Fashioning in the Italian Madrigal. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2004.
  • Desire and Pleasure in Seventeenth-Century Music. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012.


  1. ^ "Susan McClary – Department of Music". Retrieved 2020-04-03.
  2. ^ "Susan McClary - MacArthur Foundation". Retrieved 2020-04-03.
  3. ^ Sayrs, Elizabeth (1993). "Deconstructing McClary: Narrative, Feminine Sexuality, and Feminism in Susan McClary's Feminine Endings". College Music Symposium. 33/34: 41–55. ISSN 0069-5696.
  4. ^ "Feminine Endings". University of Minnesota Press. Retrieved 2020-04-03.
  5. ^ Sayrs, Elizabeth. "Deconstructing McClary: Narrative, Feminine Sexuality, and Feminism in Susan McClary's Feminine Endings - College Music Symposium". Retrieved 2020-04-03.
  6. ^ Taruskin, Richard (2009). "Material Gains: Assessing Susan MCclary". Music & Letters. 90 (3): 453–467. ISSN 0027-4224.


External links[edit]