Women's Philharmonic Advocacy

A Look at Dame Ethel Smyth

by sarah - March 2, 2011.
Filed under: composers, women's history month. Tagged as: , , .

Remembered for her political work as well as her compositions, Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) was an inspiring and impressive figure in Britain throughout her lifetime. Though she received resistance from her family as she pursued a career in music, she was rather successful in her lifetime. Though her compositions include chamber pieces, a Mass, and symphonic works, she is remembered primarily as a composer of opera; her oeuvre includes 6 completed operas.

Though her most famous opera is The Wreckers, her Der Wald was the first opera composed by a woman performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Smyth conducted the historic performance, which occurred in 1903. Der Wald is also, to date, the only opera written by a woman to be heard at the MET.  You can read the NYTimes review here.

Though I wasn’t able to find an accessible recording from Der Wald, here is the overture from The Wreckers:

But, as I mentioned above – Smyth was also very politically active, taking a lead role in the women’s suffrage movement, joining the Women’s Social and Political Union, a radical group. She also wrote the anthem for the movement, The March of the Women. When she was imprisoned for two months at Holloway Prison for breaking the windows of anti-suffrage politicians, Smyth was reportedly seen leaning from the window and conducting her suffragettes with her toothbrush. (You can read more about that account here).

The video below includes the lyrics – so feel free to sing along!

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