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Mar. 01 2020

Women’s History Month in the evenings

By John Scherch | Posted in Host Blogs, New Music, WBJC News | No Comments

(As with last month, I won’t be expressing much of my opinion on the merits of programming music by women here, but I am happy to discuss it with you privately via email. In short, I am very much for it.)

Last month, and a little bit late, at that, I made a post with all of the music by black composers that I’d programmed, one for each day of Black History Month. This month is Women’s History Month, and keeping to that standard, I will be programming a different female-identifying composer’s work on every day that I program (excluding Listener’s Choice, as that’s your call), and two different composers every Sunday afternoon!

Because the list I have is so long, I may (read: may) not get to some composers that I programmed last month, so if you find that I’ve missed someone, check my playlists from February; these are all composers you should check out, whether or not I get around to playing them for you this month.

3/1: Isabella Leonarda, Sonata duodecima; Clara Schumann, Piano Concerto. Yup, getting Clara Schumann right out of the way this month; certainly deserving of her spot as one of the most famous women composers, and certainly not because of her famous husband. Isabella Leonarda, on the other hand, is not nearly as famous, but was very prolific and respected as a convent composer.

3/2: Augusta Holmès, Andromede. A French composer of Irish descent, Holmès composed in the beginning of her career under the pseudonym of Hermann Zenta, but is now known by her proper name, which she added the accent grave to after becoming a French citizen in 1871.

3/3: Margaret Bonds, Troubled Water; Joan Tower, Fanfare #1 for the Uncommon Woman. Yes, two today, because today is Margaret Bonds’s birthday! This piano piece is one you likely heard last month, and I highly recommend looking up more of her music; I look forward to when there is a commercial recording of her Montgomery Variations, which she wrote around the time of the bus boycotts. Tower’s Fanfare, the first of a six-part work, is of course named after Copland’s famous androcentric fanfare, each part dedicated to “women who are adventurous and take risks.”

3/4: Pauline Viardot, 6 Morceaux. Pauline Viardot (or Pauline Garcia) was a composer of the Romantic era of many different forms; she has an opera, a fair few song settings of existing piano works, particularly those of Chopin, and she received the praise of Liszt who declared that “the world had finally found a woman composer of genius.” Always the tone of surprise…

3/5: Marianne Martinez, Sinfonia. Martinez was a Viennese composer of the Classical period, who was well known in her time and never had the oppression of a husband to restrict her career. As a child, she lived in the same building as a struggling composer by the name of Joseph Haydn, as well as the dowager princess of the Esterházy family (you can see where this is going).

3/7: Mélanie Bonis, piano music. Known as Mel Bonis in the interest of hiding her gender from prospective patrons, she was a student of Cesar Franck. Her parents disapproved of a singer and student she had fallen in love with, instead marrying her off to an old man who didn’t like music, but Bonis would later return to her former love, at which point her career took off.

3/8: Louise Farrenc, Symphony No. 3; Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Piano Trio. Farrenc was a prolific composer of most of the standard forms of her time, with the exception being opera; it is suggested that the reason is unknown that nobody had ever presented her with a libretto, but nowadays one might be able to uncover a simple explanation. That explanation is also why Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, while one of the most famous female composers, isn’t as well-known as her famous brother; both said brother and Hensel’s husband were of the opinion that a woman’s station was in her house tending to the children and not composing.

3/9: Cécile Chaminade, Konzertstück for piano and orchestra. Chaminade, a French composer and pianist, was the first female composer to win the Legion d’Honneur. Ambroise Thomas commented (as male composers were wont to do in this regard) that “This is not a woman who composes, but a composer who is a woman.”

3/10: Amy Marcy Cheney Beach, Piano Quintet. Amy Beach holds a lot of firsts in American music, being the first female composer of large-scale works, the first female composer and publisher of a symphony, and one of the first composers of any gender to be successful in America without training in Europe. She was a member of the Second New England School, which welcomed her upon hearing her symphony. Though her life as a pianist was restricted by her husband (she was known while married as Mrs. H.H.A. Beach), she did continue to compose and had most of her successes before her husband’s death in 1910.

3/11: Clarice Assad, arrangement of Piazzolla’s Tango Etudes; Lili Boulanger, D’un matin de printemps. You may recognize the name Boulanger from Nadia Boulanger, the famous teacher who worked with many composers of the 20th century. She herself was a composer, but never composed after the death of her sister Lili, only at 25; D’un matin de printemps was Lili’s final work. Clarice Assad is a very active composer of today, daughter of guitarist and composer Sergio Assad; the two collaboratively arranged the performance of Piazzolla’s tango etudes on the program this evening.

3/12: Henriette Renié, Harp Trio. Renié is best known to harpists, as she codified a method for the instrument that is still in use. She won second prize in the Paris Conservatoire’s harp competition at age ten, only because director Ambroise Thomas wanted her to be able to study there and first prize would have meant she was beyond the conservatory’s reach. At eleven she won first prize, and she began teaching at age twelve.

3/14: Germaine Tailleferre, La nouvelle Cythère. Tailleferre was the only female member of Les Six; she changed her last name from Taillefesse to spite her father, who would not support her music studies. La nouvelle Cythère is an unfinished ballet by the composer that only exists in a two-piano format.

3/15: Dame Ethel Smyth, Symphonic Serenade; Jennifer Higdon, Viola Concerto. Smyth was the first female composer to earn the title of Dame, though her music was often judged based on her gender than its quality. Higdon is one of today’s most prominent composers, and in my opinion, her music, especially her later works, is a great introduction to new music for someone who might be more used to canonical works. She has won the Pulitzer for her violin concerto that she wrote for Hilary Hahn, and just picked up her third Grammy for best new classical composition for her harp concerto (the viola concerto won the award as well).

3/16: Rebecca Clarke, Rhapsody for Cello and Piano. An English composer and violist, Clarke’s compositions are definitely worthy of inclusion alongside the best of the early 20th century, and edge in its more dissonant direction, though without ever losing its tonality. Her Rhapsody is as of yet unpublished, but is her longest work and one of her most powerful.

3/17: Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre, Violin Sonata No. 6. One of the best-known female composers of her time, particularly for composing in multiple forms. She wrote many vocal works and pieces for harpsichord; this is her final violin sonata.

3/18: Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Episodes. Zwilich was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music, for her Symphony No. 1 in 1983. Episodes is one of two of her works with that title; this one is for violin and piano, and the other is for soprano saxophone.

3/19: Dora Bright, Piano Concerto. Bright was an English composer; she studied under Walter Macfarren and Ebenezer Prout, and was a classmate of Edward German.

3/21: Hildegard von Bingen, instrumental pieces. One of the earliest known composers with music written down, Bingen is of course known for her sacred works, these instrumental works are interludes for performances of her choral works.

3/22: Margaret Ruthven Lang, Petit roman; Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Three Gymnopedies. Lang was associated with the Second New England School (though not an official member) and was the second woman to have a work performed by an American orchestra. Glanville-Hicks was an Australian composer who studied composition with Ralph Vaughan Williams.

3/23: Florence Price, Symphony No. 1. This work has the distinction of being the first by a black woman to ever be performed by a major American orchestra; it was premiered by the Chicago Symphony in 1933. In the past decade, there has been a renewed interest in Price’s works after many of her unpublished manuscripts were discovered in her former home outside of Chicago.

3/24: Roxanna Panufnik, Four World Seasons: Autumn in Albania. Roxanna Panufnik is the daughter of Sir Andrzej Panufnik; if you frequent Handel Choir’s performances, you may remember hearing her Heav’nly Harmony. This cycle was written in celebration of the 2012 Olympics for violinist Tasmin Little, playing and conducting on this recording.

3/25: Maddalena Sirmen, Violin Concerto No. 5. Sirmen was a Venetian composer of the Classical period; she was granted leave from the orphanage in which she lived as a child to study violin with Giuseppe Tartini, and received the title of “maestra” at twenty-one.

3/26: Madeleine Dring, Three Fantastic Variations on “Lilliburlero”. Dring was a composer and an actress; her favorite composer as a child was Rachmaninoff, and she studied with Herbert Howells and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Little of their influence is found in her music however; she disliked Howells as a person and was drawn more to the style of Francis Poulenc as well as George Gershwin and Cole Porter.

3/28: Camilla de Rossi, Sinfonia from The Sacrifice of Abraham. Camilla de Rossi’s date are unknown, but she did live in the late 17th century and composed four oratorios, all commissioned by Emperor Joseph I.

3/29: Caroline Shaw, Limestone & Felt, Mlle. Duval, Suite from Les Genies. Caroline Shaw is one of today’s most well-known composers; she won the Pulitzer for her Partita for 8 Voices and I get requests very frequently for her Entr’acte, which appears on the same album as Limestone & Felt. Mlle. Duval’s first name is unknown, but she was the second woman to ever have an opera performed at the Paris Opera.

3/30: Elfrida Andrée, String Quartet. Andrée was a Swedish organist and composer; she studied with Niels Wilhelm Gade and her organ symphonies are still performed today. Like many composers of organ music, she also has a small assortment of chamber music, much of which appears on the same recording as this string quartet.

3/31: Jessie Montgomery, Strum/arrangement of the Goldberg Variations. Jessie Montgomery is a member of the Catalyst Quartet, the founder of PUBLIQuartet, and the composer-in-residence for the Sphinx Virtuosi. Strum is the title track of an album of her works, and she collaboratively arranged the Catalyst Quartet’s edition of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which appears alongside a recording of a quartet by Glenn Gould.

That’s it for this month’s celebration, but certainly not for the celebration of women composers! Stay tuned!

About

The newest announcer and WBJC's evening and Listener's Choice host, a former heavy metal program director and erstwhile enthusiast, and Peabody graduate in voice and pedagogy, both of which he still practices. Full bio here.

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