Classical music as genre: hierarchies of value within freelance classical musicians’ discourses

Anna Bull, Christina Scharff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In music studies, genre theory has primarily been used to study popular music rather than classical music. This article demonstrates how genre theory can be applied to studying classical music production in order to understand how its value is negotiated and reproduced. Drawing on data from interviews with early career female classical musicians in London, it explores discourses of classical music as a genre in order to understand how genre shapes working lives. We identify three themes within the data: first, genre hierarchies contribute to the (re-) production of divisions of labour, in ways that reaffirm gendered hierarchies. Second, many research participants actively portrayed themselves as being interested in different musical genres, both as listeners and as performers, but identified other classical musicians as having pejorative attitudes towards non-classical genres or practices such as playing in a band. Third, genre hierarchies were (re-)produced in institutional settings, in musicians’ working practices, and in social interactions. Overall, analysing classical music as a genre through examining the perspectives of freelance musicians shows that subgenres within classical, as well as classical music itself, are understood relationally to other genres in a hierarchy of value that reaffirms existing inequalities in the cultural labour market.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)673-689
JournalThe European Journal of Cultural Studies.
Issue number3
Early online date28 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

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