Rachel Watson (KCL) - 2020-21 Students

‘Outside the Charmed Circle’: Professional Female Orchestral Musicians in Britain, 1883-1918

This project will be an exploration of the careers of British female orchestral musicians from the founding of the Royal College of Music to the end of the First World War. Women had access to orchestral training at conservatoires, but were denied access to professional symphony orchestras until 1913. What did it mean for women to be professional musicians at this time, and how did they create their own careers and opportunities? Through archival research I will explore the careers of women such as Rosabel Watson (a professional double bassist, French horn player and conductor) in areas such as philanthropic music societies, amateur orchestras, theatre and cinema orchestras and so-called ‘Ladies’ Orchestras.’ In doing so, I will examine what were the specific factors which meant that women were excluded from the symphony orchestra but not from other areas of professional music performance and what this can tell us about how music, gender and the developing musical institutions intersected at the turn of the twentieth century.

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