Modernism's handmaid: dexterity and the female pianist
Modernist Cultures, 8, (1), . (doi:10.3366/mod.2013.0050).
Modernism lingers with a malevolent fascination on women’s hands. Celeste M. Schenck has uncovered a striking series of metaphors from reviews of the period which use the female body to represent poetic form, and find it subject to a series of violent dismemberings. Yet the hands of the concert pianist Harriet Cohen (1895-1967) trouble these readings, transforming the female hand from object of speculation to agent. She made a virtue of her famously small stretch, prompting commissions from Bartok and Bax for which she retained sole performance rights. Drawing on fictional and poetic depictions of Cohen by D. H. Lawrence and Rebecca West alongside contemporary debates about hands and the pianist's touch, this paper will examine how the female pianist's hand repositions ideas about agency, autonomy and gender, and consider the implications of this work for our understanding of literary-musical modernism.
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