The French string quartet Ebène just released a new CD pairing the work of Fanny Mendelssohn with her brother Felix.
Visit NPR to catch up on a story done by All Things Considered about the ensemble and their new CD release. The NPR page also has the Allegro molto vivace movement of Fanny’s String Quartet in E-flat available streaming—please have a listen!
And do make sure you listen to both the story and the track—it is of interest to hear how they “discovered” Fanny’s work through a friend and learned it first on a whim before considering it a serious composition, and then deciding to include it on their new album.
I also very much appreciate this NPR field recording of Ebène performing some of the other Mendelssohn in a bookstore in Brooklyn. (But who doesn’t love live music surrounded by books?)
I am always delighted to stumble upon the name of a historic woman composer in the daily news—and kudos to NPR for making my day!
Their classical music blog, Deceptive Cadence, highlighted new recordings of works by composer Florence Price (née Smith)—the first African American woman to have a symphony performed by a major American orchestra.
In discussing this set of works, Rutherford-Johnson says:
New music fans will probably head first for the rare cuts by better-known names in this collection: interestingly, most of these (Pauline Oliveros, Annea Lockwood, Meredith Monk, Eve Beglarian, Joan Tower, Augusta Read Thomas) are women – indeed women composers are very well-represented.
But out of 53 composers to have works included in the compilation, only 14 are women. This is “very well-represented”??
Regardless – follow the links above to find out more information about 25 Years of New York New Music and pay a listen to some of the examples of women’s contributions to the contemporary music community.
Another example of being fortunate enough to be born into a musical family lies with Josephine Lang (1815-1880). Her father, Theodor, was a violinist and her mother, Regina Hitzelberger, was an opera singer. They supported their daughter in her musical ambitions, including opportunities to become acquainted with Felix Mendelssohn who worked to have Lang’s music published. Robert Schumann also recognized Lang’s abilities as a composer by publishing one of Lang’s pieces in Neue Zeitschrift für Musik.
Though she was a talented and respected musician, her luck fell short in her personal life. Lang was often sickly, was widowed young, and had to support herself and her six children through her compositions and piano pedagogy. It was after a benefit concert of Lang’s work performed by Clara Schumann and some promotion by Ferdinand Hiller that Lang was able to achieve some success as a published composer. Sadly, her final years were filled with more illness, trauma after the death of her three sons, and loneliness. However, she continued to compose and teach until her death in 1880.
A new biography, Josephine Lang: her life and songs, was published in 2007. Harald and Sharon Krebs, the authors, present strong and well-research scholarship on her life and music. The text, published by Oxford, also includes a companion website featuring 30 songs by Lang as performed by Sharon Krebs, soprano, and Harald Krebs, piano. Harald Krebs, who is faculty at the University of Victoria and in 2010 was named the President of the Society for Music Theory, also edited two volumes of Lang’s songs which are published by Hildegard Press.
Below is Lang’s “Erinnerung” as performed by Dana MacKay:
The first American woman to have her orchestral work heard by a professional ensemble, Margaret Ruthven Lang (1867-1972) was a well known and well respected composer in her time. Born and raised in Boston, Lang’s orchestral works where heard by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Arthur Nikisch, as well as at the Columbian Exposition under the baton of Theodore Thomas. Though she reserved a place in the history books for being the first woman to have her works heard by an American orchestra, she destroyed all of her pieces for large ensembles. What remain are almost 200 songs and choral works, as well as piano pieces for children.
She was a fixture in the Boston music elite, thanks in part to her father, conductor and pianist/organist B.J. Lang, and her father’s connections. B.J. was a student of Listz’s, and a friend to Wagner – Dvorak spent time at the Lang home on Brimmer Street in Beacon Hill when he traveled through Boston, and even gave Margaret a lesson on her orchestral writing.
Though she destroyed her orchestral writing and her personal correspondence, she did leave invaluable scrapbooks as part of her family papers which are held at the Boston Public Library. You can also find more about Lang and her family through this website which provides excellent and well researched information.
Several of her songs were tremendously popular in her time, and continue to be published and recorded. In fact, a new recording of some of Lang’s songs has just been released – more information, and samples of her work, is available through the video below:
Florence Price (1887-1953) was the first black woman to achieve recognition and fame as a composer of large forms. After studying at the New England Conservatory, (she graduated in 1907) Price moved to Arkansas, and then settled in Chicago where her composing career gained momentum.
She was a prolific composer, composing in small and large forms, including four symphonies. Price was also deeply spiritual and often incorporated her faith in her work, as exemplified by the numerous spirituals that she arranged for chamber settings.
Though her name has largely disappeared from common knowledge, her life and works are still a topic of interest for scholars. More information can be found through AfriClassical.com. Her papers are held at the University of Arkansas. Price scholar Rae Linda Brown has edited the first and third symphonies, including a thorough biography, which can be viewed (if only in part) at Google Books.
Here is the first movement of Price’s fourth symphony:
You can also purchase a recording of Price’s third symphony as performed by The Women’s Philharmonic through the WPA store.
Geoffrey Norris of The Telegraph just reviewed a new recording of piano works performed by David Greilsammer. The concept for the album was a set of works that were connected, but led the composers in different paths. Included were Alexandre Tansman’s Second Piano Concert (1927), Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and Nadia Boulanger’s Fantaisie for piano and orchestra – which Norris refers to as the “biggest surprise” of the recording.
The work, which was premiered in 1913, is a rather conservative, and in that way a disappointment to Norris who was anticipating a progressive piece akin to the works of Boulanger’s most famous pupils. Norris states that:
While at time overblown and structurally loose-knit, it is well worth a listen.
It might also give a clue as to why Boulanger felt her main talent lay in teaching.
I recommend having a listen and deciding for yourself – the work is available as a download from Amazon.com.
Missy Mazzoli, whose music is described as being “indie classical”, “chamber rock” and “pseudo-classical”, created her own five-piece ensemble in 2007 to perform her compositions. Victoire consists of two keyboards, violin, double bass and clarinet – and all of the musicians are women.
Their new CD, Cathedral City, which is their first full-length album, is being released on September 28th. However, NPR’s First Listen series is providing the opportunity to listen to the full album online before it hits the stores.
Mazzoli has also composed in more traditional forms, including These Worlds In Us, premiered by the Minnesota Orchestra in 2006, also performed by the American Composers Orchestra, and winner of the 2007 ASCAP Young Composers Award. Steve Smith of the New York Times also featured her in an article in 2009, found here.
The video below is a profile of Mazzoli regarding her work and approach to music.
Last fall Hilary Hahn premiered Jennifer Higdon’s Violin Concerto, which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2010. Hahn’s recording of the work, which she made with Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic) is scheduled for release on September 21.
However, NPR is offering the album streaming online until the work is officially released next Tuesday. NPR is also hosting a Live Web Chat with Hilary Hahn and Jennifer Higdon on September 20 at noon (ET) for those interested in learning more and hearing directly from the artists.