Filed under: activism, composers, women's history month. Tagged as: Amy Beach, Clara Schumann, Dame Ethel Smyth, Fanny Mendelssohn, Hildegard of Bingen, Lili Boulanger, Nadia Boulanger.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this month, every month is Women’s History Month at WPA, as it is in every feminist community. There are many concerns and mixed feelings about what it means to separate one month for the recognition of one group – and understandably so. If we remember the works of women in March, does that mean we get to go back to neglecting them in April? Certainly not – but that is more than likely the case in the general public.
This March there have been several notable “celebrations” of women’s work in music by different radio stations and publications.
WGBH in Boston has been featuring the contributions of women to classical music each weekday morning in the 7 o’clock hour. Shame that it isn’t featured in a later program when more listeners might be listening (though, I suppose there might be at least a few sitting in rush hour traffic….) WGBH also did a feature on Nadia Boulanger in honor of Women’s History month, though the cynic in me is quick to note that Nadia is mostly remembered as the teacher of many famous male composers.
Amanda Angel of WQXR in New York City compiled a list of the “Top Five Women Composers” to counter Tommasini’s list of top ten composers that neglected any women. On WQXR’s list are Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn, Amy Beach, Hildegard von Bingen, and Lili Boulanger. Though the effort is commendable, the piece lacks some careful fact checking and depth that is deserved on the topic. But, I am rather biased.
Certainly the best piece that I have (at least as of yet) seen featuring women composers in March is by Fiona Maddocks of The Guardian. The opening paragraph sets just the right mood:
Try this test. Write down all the women composers you know of. No, don’t run away. Given the nature of this column, stick to contemporary classical. Too hard? OK, include anyone, past or present, who has written religious, symphonic, chamber, vocal, choral, operatic, electro-acoustic works. To make it simple, film and TV scores are allowed too. Still zero? You’re in distinguished company. The Guardian‘s 100 Most Inspiring Women this week, marking the 100th International Women’s Day, featured not one.
Though, the candor that Maddocks shares with readers shouldn’t be surprising – Maddocks is familiar with the topic of women in music, having written a biography of Hildegard von Bingen. Her piece, which I highly recommend, not only recognizes the continued absence in programming (specifically in the UK), but also the efforts that are being made. For example, Sue Perkins, who won the reality-TV conducting competition several years back, conducted an all-women’s orchestra in a performance of Ethel Smyth’s “The March of the Women” as the final performance of the Women of the World conference held last weekend. Maddocks concludes her piece with a list of eight young composers to look out for.
Certainly, we are working towards a time where it is not necessary to highlight the gender (or race, or nationality, etc.) of the composers that are being performed. The challenge that Maddocks presented to her readers clearly demonstrates that we are not yet even close. Till then, our work continues.