Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

Haiku Wednesday: Yes, women write music


Clara Schumann

Clara Wieck Schumann

Gentlemen, move o’er,
We’re taking our rightful place
–Clara Wieck Schumann

When UK student Jessy McCabe realized there were no women among the 63 composers on the level A music exam syllabus, she decided to do something about it.

She contacted the publishers of the syllabus, who said, “Given that female composers were not prominent in the western classical tradition (or others for that matter), there would be very few female composers that could be included.” [1]

McCabe started a petition campaign, and noted that BBC Radio 3 featured programming by female composers all day on International Women’s Day. The petition got 3,300 signatures (including some top composers). [2]

The syllabus has now been changed to include five female composers: Clara Schumann, Rachel Portman, Kate Bush, Anoushka Shankar, and Kaija Saariaho. The works of 12 other female composers have been added to the listening selections [2].

She also received an apology. [3]

It should be noted that the Classical 100 list discussed in Monday’s post includes works by the female composers Hildegard of Bingen, Elena Kats-Chemin, and Clara Schumann.

Thanks to reader Eric C. for bringing this story to my attention.

Want to learn more?  See BBC Radio 3’s set of webpages, Celebrating Women Composers, which includes biographies, sound clips, playlists, and programs.

And now, Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Op. 22 by Clara Schumann.

Anassa kata!



Image attribution: Drawing of Clara Schumann, artist unknown, public domain via,

3 thoughts on “Haiku Wednesday: Yes, women write music

  1. I’m excited to see Kate Bush on this list. A fabulous musician who I have loved listening to for decades.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good for you! Lots of us M.C.P’s have been really aware of the long, long history of women composers, and teaching and performing them- but the balance and awareness are still not what they need to be among teachers, audiences, performers. There’s not a lot of accessable-to-us choral music- but I continue to hunt. We do perform Elizabeth Alexander and Betsy Jo Angebranndt and Pepper Choplin and Joyce Polay, among others. Too bad Clara was not a choral composer… The last couple of editions of one of my anthologies/textbooks have done better; and the upcoming edition (8th) of this particular book will be better yet. This is a non-issue in my other books, I feel. Some rough chronology: – Hildegard is not only the first major one, but an amazing composer/administrator/mystic. – There were great women madrigalists in late Renaissance Italy, Barbara Strozzi for one. – To be a woman composer in those days, and later, you had to be upper-class or noble, have some power and education; the impediments were always money and power and culture- not talent. – There turn out to be rather few wonderful woman composers in the 17th and 18th centuries; but quite a few talented ones. It appears to take a critical mass of talent-plus-opportunity to raise one great artist to the top in any field, IMO. For every Mozart or Haydn, there were hundreds of Dittersdorffs and Wanhals and Salieri’s- all worthy composers indeed. It’s a pyramid. – Even among the fine 19th century women composers, there wasn’t the cultural “permission” nor the numbers to make the critical mass. Clara was head-and-shoulders the best of the lot in the early century; Fanny was a nice, smaller talent- though who knows what might have happened if she hadn’t been in Felix’s shadow, and been encouraged more. – IMO, Amy Cheney Beach was a marvelous composer- her best work is as good as anyone’s at her time. – Ditto Lili Boulanger- a truly fine talent, with serious health issues. – In the 20th century, women began to be able to open more doors as artists, of course; academe helped a little, as did a few patrons and foundations. Too many really good women composers to name, I feel. though I could if you wanted. A much-improved situation. Must stop- got work to do!



    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.