Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


4 Comments

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/


Leave a comment

Schumann Goes to the Movies?

Robert Schumann, 1850

The other day I decided I would listen to some Mozart overtures.  DSO Replay has an “Outstanding Overtures” category, and there a number of overtures from their recent MozartFest.

I looked away for a bit, and suddenly, I realized it wasn’t Mozart I was listening to anymore.  The style was different.  In fact, it sounded like the soundtrack to an action movie, maybe one with a romantic plot line as well.  If you closed your eyes, you could imagine the credits rolling on the screen.  What was this?

It turned out it was Schumann’s Overture to Manfred.

Seeing that it’s an overture, you might be thinking, “Schumann wrote opera?” Well, he wrote one, Genoveva, that was poorly received at the time.*  Manfred is not an opera, it’s incidental music, that is, music that is intended to set a mood (or accompany a play; and if you look it up, it has now become synonymous with soundtrack).  The Overture to Manfred was written about the same time as Genoveva.  It is based on the poem Manfred by Lord Byron.  It includes an overture, choral and solo performances, and musical interludes.

If this is a soundtrack, here is the plot.  The poem Manfred tells the story of a man consumed by guilt for some sin which remains unnamed.  He grieves for Astarte (he may have had something to do with her death), and conjures spirits to help him forget. They can’t help him.  He attempts suicide and fails.  He sees Astarte, who tells him he will die the next day, and he does.  You can read and download the poem in a modern PDF file hereYou can read and download it as a scan of the 1817 publication here.

Byron was living with the family of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley at the time, and they entertained each other with gothic tales of ghosts and horror.  Mary Shelley was in the midst of writing Frankenstein.

When Schumann read Manfred, he was greatly affected by it, and immediately started writing music for it.  The poem is also the inspiration for Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony.

I hope you will enjoy the overtureIf you would like to see the entire work, it can be seen here.  The score may be found here.

_____

*One opera house turned it down.  When it was finally performed, there were only three performances.  There are occasional revivals.3  In 2008 Nikolaus Harnoncourt recorded Genoveva as a staged performance (it is available on DVD).4

 

References

  1. Manfred, Byron’s poem https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manfred and Manfred, Schumann’s composition https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manfred_(Schumann)
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Schumann
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genoveva
  4. http://www.operatoday.com/content/2010/08/robert_schumann.php

 

Image attribution: Photograph of Robert Schumann by Johann Anton Völlner, Hamburg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Schumann-photo1850.jpg


1 Comment

Advice to Not-So-Young Musicians

In case you missed it in my Twitter feed, I thought you might enjoy this humorous video, “How To Be a Classical Musician.”

Since you’re reading this, you are likely to be over five years of age, and (according to the video) too old to learn violin, so, if you don’t play an instrument already, which instrument would be best for you?  Again, more silliness to help you make your selection, a funny flowchart titled “Which musical instrument should I choose?”  It is too detailed to see small on this page, so the link takes you to the attachment page, where you can magnify it clearly (click the image, then click it again to magnify).

The long and short of it all?  It doesn’t matter–pick the instrument you love/can afford/can fit in your space/can play without getting evicted.  If that doesn’t work out, pick another one. And don’t let little things hold you back.

rit

Want more advice?  See the Robert Schumann essay from which my title is drawn, “Advice to Young Musicians,” which I have written about previously (see post here).  Cellist Steven Isserlis will release a new version of this classic soon that includes his own insights.

And then, to quote a more recent source of musical advice, “Rumble, young musicians, rumble.”1

References

  1. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/bruce-springsteen-gives-advice-to-young-musicians-at-sxsw/

_____

Image attributions: Musical instrument flowchart from the now defunct Sinfini Music, which has been absorbed by Deutsche Grammophon.  Ritardando illustration from https://flic.kr/p/bDbXTR


Leave a comment

Bell and Denk Play Brahms and Schumann on WQXR Webcast

I just finished watching WQXR’s webcast featuring violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Jeremy Denk, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It is available only today and tomorrow, so I hope you’ll get a chance to see it.  Here’s the program:

Robert Schumann: Romance No. 2

Brahms: Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108

Brahms: Intermezzo in B minor, Op. 119, No. 1

Brahms: Hungarian Dance No. 1

Clara Schumann:  Romance No.1

Bell and Denk, along with cellist Steven Isserlis, are releasing a new CD in September 2016, “For the Love of Brahms.”  The CD will include Brahms’s Trio in B Major, Op. 8 in it original formulation from 1854.  Typically, the 1889 revision by Brahms is performed.  It is said Brahms refined the trio and removed some of the less-reserved romanticism of his youth in the revision, so it will be very interesting to hear this original version.

 


Leave a comment

Haiku Wednesday: Träumerei

“It’s been overplayed!”
True.  That doesn’t mean it’s bad.
Be still, and listen.

There are pieces of music that occasionally, through no fault of their own, become afflicted with popularity.   They become the thing that must be performed, or learned.  And you start to think that you may need to scream if you hear it one.more.time.

Take a breath, it’s OK.  Sure, you could be patient and wait for it to fall out of favor again, which it eventually will, contenting yourself with eye rolling and smirks.

Or.

Or you could listen more deeply.  Focus on the non-obvious melody line, the phrasing, even the silences.  You may hear something you missed before.

Try it with Robert Schumann’s Träumerei from Kinderszenen.  I hope you will find something new, or at least savor a few minutes with an old friend.


Leave a comment

Free Berlin Phil Concert Now Available Online

If you happened to miss the Berlin Philharmonic’s concert for refugees, “Welcome among us,” you can now see it at your convenience, free.

The concert has been made available in the Berlin Philharmonic’s archive at digitalconcerthall.com.  Once you sign up for a free account, you may watch the concert, as well as an array of concerts for children (typically with a Christmas seasonal theme), and a large number of interviews with guest artists and conductors.  Also available for free is a concert of Symphony No 1 by Brahms and Symphony No 1 by Schumann.

Here is the trailer for the concert.


3 Comments

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!

References
1. http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/aug/18/female-composers-a-level-music-syllabus-petition

2. https://www.facebook.com/amightygirl/photos/a.360833590619627.72897.316489315054055/950929711610009/?type=3

3. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3230699/Teenage-musician-wins-battle-female-composers-sexist-level-syllabus-gets-personal-apology-Edexcel-boss.html
___
Image attribution: Drawing of Clara Schumann, artist unknown, public domain via Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clara_Schumann#/media/File:Clara_s.jpg