Touch table exhibition | Music, Sexology, and the Art of Listening: Exploring Edward Prime-Stevenson's Repertory


Music Building (New) Elizabeth Wirth Music Building, Marvin Duchow Music Library, 3rd floor, 527 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montreal, QC, H3A 1E3, CA

Despite being relatively little-known today, American expatriate music critic and amateur sexologist Edward Prime-Stevenson (1858-1942) presents a unique case study in the histories of sexuality and listening practices during the early decades of the twentieth century.

His pseudonymous history of homosexuality, The Intersexes (1908/9) treats symphonic music and opera as “the ultimate expression of homosexual experience in music,” drawing upon psychological theories of musical emotion (largely inspired by the theories of aestheticians Walter Pater and Vernon Lee), biographical speculation about the private lives of canonical composers, and sexological observations of queer musical subcultures.

While his writings on music are often more circumspect about sexual subtext, it is notable that the same composers and genres discussed in Intersexes are also the focus of his two later works of music criticism, Long-Haired Iopas: Old Chapters from Twenty-Five Years of Music Criticism (1927/8) and A Repertory of One Hundred Symphonic Programmes (1932/3). Repertory, a collection of “playlists” (which he called “auditions”) of symphonic recordings interspersed with poetry and excerpts from composers’ letters and Prime-Stevenson’s criticism, provides a useful record of Prime-Stevenson’s preferred music and listening practices.

The touch table experience gives a multifaceted look at these practices through an introduction to Prime-Stevenson’s biography and major works, excerpts from his musicological and serological writings, and historical recordings for three sample auditions.

Access the touch table exhibit during the library's opening hours.

The experience was created by McGill PhD candidate and Blue Scholar, Kristen Franseen. Her dissertation, supervised by Lloyd Whitesell, is entitled “Ghosts in the Archives: The Queer Knowledge and Public Musicology of Vernon Lee, Rosa Newmarch, and Edward Prime-Stevenson.” She has an MA in music history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a BA in music (double bass) and women’s studies from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Kristin has presented at meetings of the American Musicological Society, the Société québécoise de recherche en musique, and the Society for American Music, as well as themed regional conferences on biography, British queer history, women’s suffrage, public music discourse, and music and sexuality. Kristin's other research interests include Enlightenment philosophy in the operas of Antonio Salieri and the early promotion of the metronome.

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