Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Haiku Wednesday: Women in Music

music note with feminist symbol (ankh) below

They threw away half
Of all the great music that
Might have been written.

They threw away half
Of all of the great music
That could have been heard.

No time to write for
The hand that rocked the cradle
And maintained the home.
No baton left for
A matron, mom, or maiden
On the podium.

For lack of training
And of opportunity
We lost their voices…
Nearly—just a few
Managed to break down the walls
And make themselves heard.

Today is more than
Women’s Day—it’s time to rise,
Conduct, play, compose.

Today is International Women’s Day.  You may see any number of articles on Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, maybe even Hildegard von Bingen or Amy Cheney Beach.  You can follow the links to articles on each of these remarkable women in this blog.

Women were traditionally underrepresented in classical music.  What’s the situation now?

If you look at an old photograph of any orchestra, you’ll see a sea of tuxedos, and not a woman in sight (wait…maybe there’s one hidden behind the harp).  Look at a current photo, and you’ll see some women in the orchestra.  So, progress is being made.  But you’re still unlikely to find an equal distribution.

When we turn to the topic of female conductors, everyone first thinks of Marin Alsop—and then perhaps there is a long pause.   However, journalist Jessica Duchen has compiled a list of over 100 female conductors.  Duchen includes links to the conductors’ websites as well as brief bios, and these are fascinating.  But if we can name only one out of a hundred, there is still a long way to go.

Sadly, a search using the words “women classical music soloists” yields articles with titles containing the words”hottest,” “sexiest,”  and “pin-ups”…and I’m going to be ill now.

While there may be more women composers now than in previous times, a 2014 study11 found that women constitute only 15 percent of composition faculty in the top 20 music schools in the United States.  More than half of these schools have no women among the composition faculty at all.  Women constitute less than 15 percent of living composers whose works are presented by orchestras and in new-music series.11

So…

Are things better than they were?  Yes.

Has the problem of underrepresentation been solved?  No.

We still have a long way to go, but the progress that has been made is somewhat encouraging.

Below you will find a number of articles on this topic that may be of interest.

References

  1. Gregory, Alice, “A History of Classical Music (The Women-Only Version),”  The New York Times, December 2, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/12/02/arts/music/01womencomposers.html?_r=0
  2. “The Great Women Composers,” Classic fm, http://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/latest/great-women-composers/
  3. Rivera, Jennifer, “Where Are All the Women in Classical Music?” The Huffington Post, September 21, 2016 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jennifer-rivera/where-are-all-the-women-i_1_b_12095342.html
  4. Tsioulcas, Anastasia, “What is Classical Music’s Women Problem?” NPR Classical Deceptive Cadence, October 9, 2013 http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2013/10/09/230751348/what-is-classical-musics-women-problem
  5. Pentreath, Rosie, “9 of the Best Contemporary Female Composers,” Classical-music.com, March 8, 2017 http://www.classical-music.com/article/six-best-contemporary-female-composers
  6. Cooper, Elinor, “10 Female Composers You Should Know,” Classical-music.com, March 8, 2016 http://www.classical-music.com/article/10-female-composers-you-should-know
  7. Duchen, Jessica, “Why the Male Domination of Classical Music Might Be Coming to an End,” The Guardian, February 28, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/feb/28/why-male-domination-of-classical-music-might-end
  8. Tilden, Imogen, “’This is not a woman’s issue’—Tackling Conducting’s Gender Problem,” an interview with Marin Alsop. The Guardian, February 6, 2017 https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/feb/06/this-is-not-a-womans-issue-tackling-conductings-gender-problem
  9. Beer, Anna, “The Sound of Silence: Classical Music’s Forgotten Women,” The Guardian, April 2, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/02/sound-silence-classical-musics-forgotten-women-caccini-strozzi
  10. Elizabeth, Jordannah, “10 Black Female Women Composers To Discover,” https://bitchmedia.org/post/10-black-female-women-composers-to-discover
  11. “Her Music: Today’s Emerging Female Composer,” WQXR, August 20, 2014, http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/her-music-emerging-female-composer-today/


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Haiku Wednesday: Amy Beach

Photograph of Amy Beach, American composer

Amy Marcy Beach,
Mrs. H. H. A. Beach,
Are one and the same.

A child prodigy,
A talented composer,
Brilliant pianist.

Her music constrained
By society’s standards;
Yet she persevered.

Once gone, her music
Languished for many a year.
Times changed; she’s now hailed.

American born,
Forward-looking Romantic,
Extraordinary.

In recent years, Amy Beach (1867-1944) has again begun to receive recognition for her great talent.  In her lifetime she was lauded by audiences, her peers of the Second New England School of composers (the “Boston Six”), and by critics, although sometimes grudgingly so.  She brought a thoroughly American voice to music.

It must have been frustrating for her sometimes though.  She was allowed to perform in public for the first time only when she was nearly an adult, although she had been playing and composing since her childhood.  Her musical activities were circumscribed by her mother, then by her husband.  Her performances were limited (a concession to her husband), so she concentrated on composition. But she did not have access to professional instruction, so she taught herself what she did not know and immersed herself in the study of music theory, translating for herself texts by Berlioz and Gevaert.1

After the death of her mother and husband, her performances resumed, and her composition activity again flourished.

The BBC has an hour-long podcast on Amy Beach’s life and music.  A blog has been established to coalesce information about Beach and her work, and can be found at amybeach.org. Scores of her music may be found in the Petrucci Music Library.

Despite the obstacles, Beach created a phenomenally rich body of music.  Here you can find videos of some of her key works, the Piano Concerto in C Sharp Minor, Grand Mass in E Flat Major (Kyrie), and Symphony in E Minor Op 32 “Gaelic”. The Piano Quintet (Op. 67) reflects Beach’s incorporation of distinctly modern elements. The Quartet for Strings (Op. 89) uses Alaskan Inuit melodies as themes.

There is much to discover:  a symphony, songs, chamber music, and even an opera.  But for now, let us relax and enjoy Beach’s Dreaming from Four Sketches for Piano.

References

  1. Block, Adrienne Fried, Amy Beach, Passionate Victorian. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998 p 55.

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Image attribution: Photograph of Amy Beach from the George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAmy_Beach_01.jpg and http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3b12657/