Women's Philharmonic Advocacy

A Nobel Honor for Amy Beach

by Liane Curtis - December 9th, 2017

We are thrilled that the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, under the direction of Joana Carneiro, will be performing second movement, Alla Siciliana of Amy Beach’s “Gaelic” Symphony in E minor, Op. 32 (Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy Publications’ revised edition) for the Nobel Prize Awards Ceremony!

The Ceremony will take place on Sunday, Dec. 10 at 4:30 P.M. Central European Time (CET, which is 10:30 A.M. EST) and will be streamed live on the Nobel website.  The various events will be televised on a number of different channels around the world as well.

Please note that the Awards Ceremony is not the same as the Nobel Prize Concert on Dec. 8.  The Nobel Prize Awards Ceremony is where the laureates receive the Nobel Medal and Diploma from King Carl XVI Gustaf.

More information about the Nobel Prize events in both Stockholm, Sweden and Olso, Norway is here.  And for more information on the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, please visit their website We have been in contact with this orchestra for many months, since they performed the new edition of Beach’s Piano Concerto in August 2017 (the new edition of the Piano Concerto is available from Subito Music, although it is not yet listed in their catalog).  

More information on Amy Beach is here www.amybeach.org.  The new edition and the Amy Beach website are projects of Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy.

Germaine Tailleferre: The Effects of Critics and Historians on her Reception

by Liane Curtis - October 3rd, 2017

Distinguished Guest Blogger Timothy Diovanni joins us again with a sequel to his previous article about Germaine Tailleferre, Malicious Men: The Harmful Effects of Tailleferre’s Father and Husbands on her Life and Career.  

Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, 1913

 

Imagine yourself in Paris in late May of 1923. You stand in front of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, an ornate hall constructed ten years prior, in anticipation. Today’s performance includes the premiere of Le Marchand d’oiseaux, with music by Germaine Tailleferre, story, costume, and production by Hélène Perdriat, and choreography from Jean Börlin. The Eiffel Tower looms darkly to your left. You spot Darius Milhaud, here to see his close colleague’s opening night. Your friend leans over to say that they recently heard Ricardo Viñes solo in Tailleferre’s Ballade for Piano and Orchestra. They enthuse about Tailleferre’s musical style. You enter the theater, show your ticket to the steward, and take your seat.

That night, back in your six-floor walk-up, you write home to describe how much you enjoyed the ballet. You want to see it again, and do so a week later. You’re elated.

You live in Paris for the rest of your life. Yet, you never hear even a mention of Le Marchand d’Oiseaux again.

What happened to it?

Contemporary critics are notably to blame for the disappearance of Tailleferre’s Le Marchand d’Oiseaux. In response to the premiere, Raoul Brunel wrote in the Echo de Paris, “The hall applauded a long time and called back to the stage the two young authoresses, who were probably amused by their production of this fun spectacle, as much as we were to watch it.” [Emphasis added by the author throughout.] Brunel’s assessment makes it seem as if Tailleferre and Perdriat constructed their ballet casually, without care. His demeaning comment steered intellectual discussion away from the work.

Perdriat’s sketch of the bird merchant (Accessed from Heel’s dissertation)

André Levinson of Comœdia chimed on a similar note, “Le Marchand d’oiseaux has indeed the futile but coaxing charm of feminine things.” These trifles did not deserve respect, the critic suggests, so they were laughed away with the stroke of a pen. Most acidic, Charles Tenroc of Le courrier musical de France even suggested Perdriat and Tailleferre had “nothing better to do,” hence they “amused themselves by dressing up their dolls.” (See Laura Hamer’s Germaine Tailleferre and Hélène Perdriat’s Le Marchand d’oiseaux (1923): French feminist ballet? and Kiri Heel’s dissertation Germaine Tailleferre beyond Les Six: Gynocentrism and Le Marchand d’Oiseaux and the Six Chansons Françaises for more on these critics’ effects. I am indebted to both authors for these above translations.)

The responses to Le Marchand d’oiseaux responses demonstrate the pervasive style of the criticism used to reflect on Tailleferre. Critics discussed Tailleferre’s works using gender-coded traits, such as “sensitive,” “seductive,” and “pretty,” terms that relegated Tailleferre to a compositional niche based on an aesthetic of pleasure; they evaluated her music predominantly in reference to prominent male composers; and they described her appearance in order to thrust her into a satisfaction role. In taking these approaches, critics shaped the desire of and interest by musicians (from the time of their writings up to the present-day) to perform, record, or commission works by Tailleferre.

American critics of the 1920s tended to emphasize Tailleferre’s visual appearance. Deems Taylor, an American composer and music critic of The World, had the audacity to write that although he found Tailleferre’s music subpar, at least she was “decidedly the best looking” of Les Six.  A year later, an unnamed Boston Daily Globe critic, after seeing Tailleferre take her bows with Serge Koussevitzky for the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Jeux de plein air, evaluated Tailleferre’s beauty. “She has barely turned her thirties and they are kind; she is fresh and charming, modest and gay. Her dressmaker does a capital job, and she, like every onlooker, appreciates it… Music or no music, not often on a Friday afternoon does the stage of Symphony Hall proffer such a figure.” Olin Downes of the New York Times called Tailleferre “precociously gifted and pleasant to look upon” (He proceeded to question Tailleferre’s originality). Paul Rosenfeld, a New York music critic, suggested Tailleferre’s inclusion in Les Six was merely a byproduct of “a fine enthusiasm for the sex on the part of the five male members.” The New York Times announced Tailleferre’s arrival to New York City in February 1925 with a description of her as a 26-year old “attractive blond with slim graceful figure and blue eyes.” Not only did the New York Times shift the focus from her music to her body, but they also littered the clip with inaccuracies and inconsistencies.

Program advertising Tailleferre’s performance of her Piano Concerto in NY, April 1925 (Accessed from Hamer’s Women Musicians in France during the Interwar Years, 1919-1939)

These American critics focused on Tailleferre’s body in order justify the existence of a woman composer in the world of classical music composition. By focusing their attention on Tailleferre’s appearance, critics disregarded both the quality and the and reception of her work.  This is obviously a gender-specific problem.

In other cases, American newspapers chose to compare Tailleferre’s music to more famous (male) composers. In a 1925 clip in The Boston Daily Globe, an anonymous critic juxtaposed Tailleferre’s Piano Concerto (1924) against Stravinsky’s, “But his [Stravinsky’s] concerto has significant and beautiful melodic ideas, or themes in it and hers has not.” The critic did not describe what they heard in Tailleferre’s concerto, rather they compared in order to subordinate through unoriginality. This degradation not only ignored Tailleferre’s actual achievement, but also pushed the concerto out of the public’s recognition. Since (according to the critic) Tailleferre’s concerto was simply a poor imitation, why not just program the authentic Stravinsky to get the “better” version of the work?

Critics justified Tailleferre’s presence in the male-dominated field of composition by conflating the sound of her music with her gender. Her work was described as “pleasant,” “lively,” and “sentimental,” among other similarly feminine terms. Since the feminine has been historically devalued, the critics thus marginalized Tailleferre’s oeuvre.

When asked about the feminine aspect of her reception, Tailleferre responded:

The essential thing is that it be music. I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t write what I feel. If it gives the impression of being feminine, that’s fine. I was never tormented by explanations. I tried to do the best I could, but I never asked myself if it was feminine or not. If it is music, it is music. I find that I place myself more among the little masters of the 17th and 18th centuries. I have always been attracted to simple things like that. (Quote from One of ‘Les Six’ Still at Work, Laura Mitgang)

While Tailleferre attempted to compose unhindered by criticism, femininity’s traditional connection with triviality decreased the interest for her music. Moreover, the preceding quote exhibits Tailleferre’s routine degradation of her music (“I place myself more among the little masters.”). Her self-diminution—a performance of femininity—hurt her reception.

As time passed and the memory of Les Six grew more distant, music historians determined that they needed to address the group’s legacy. The authors exhibited several main characteristics, all of which negatively shaped Tailleferre’s reception. The writers consistently:

  1.  Dismissed Tailleferre’s work as inconsequential.
  2.  Directly compared her to Louis Durey, one of Les Six.
  3.  Asserted the concept of pleasantness in her music.
  4.  Employed perceived-importance wording, i.e., wording that expresses ranking by placing the more important elements first.
  5.  Described her work only in comparison to more famous male musicians.
  6.  Labeled her as the “most in tune with” neoclassical ideals, thereby creating a false aesthetical narrative.
  7.  Omitted any discussion of her oeuvre post-Les Six.
  8.  Expanded upon Honegger’s, Milhaud’s and Poulenc’s career only.

The earliest textbook example was penned directly following the Les Six period. Cecil Gray in Survey of Contemporary Music (1927) created an awful metaphor: “Of Mlle Germaine Tailleferre one can only repeat Dr Johnson’s dictum concerning a woman preacher, transposed into terms of music. ‘Sir, a woman’s composing is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all.’” The quote stung with patronization. Gray condescendingly called Tailleferre “Mademoiselle,” then promptly dismissed her entire creative oeuvre.

Other textbooks written while Tailleferre was alive were summarily dismissive. Martin Cooper in French Music from the Death of Berlioz to the Death of Faure (1951) stated, “The music of Germaine Tailleferre embodies many of the more feminine characteristics of the new school….  It was indeed a happy time for the little talents.” Joseph Machlis in Introduction to Contemporary Music (1961) commented that “Durey and Tailleferre, after a brief taste of fame, passed into obscurity.” Peter Yates in his prematurely-entitled Twentieth Century Music (1967), asserted, “Two of ‘the six,’ Durey and Tailleferre, came to nothing.” Mosco Carner claimed in The New Oxford History of Music: The Modern Age 1890-1960 (1974), “Durey and Tailleferre are the least significant members of the group…Tailleferre wrote for the most part small-scale, unpretentious, and rather short-winded works possessing, however, a typically Parisian chic and elegance.” In 1979, Machlis slightly revised his negative assessment, “Of the six, two–Louis Durey and Germaine Tailleferre–soon dropped from sight.” Crucially, Tailleferre was still composing when these textbooks were published. In effect, the historians closed the book on her career before it ended.

Authors have continually written Les Six names in a priority-based order, with the composers that the writers deemed most important at the front of the list. Tailleferre was at the end of these rankings. From their hierarchies, historians chose Honegger, Milhaud, and Poulenc as the most important and devoted paragraphs to their music. Tailleferre was disregarded. Even when Tailleferre managed to appear in a textbook independent of her Les Six connection, the writer’s estimation of her emerged through word choice and sentence structure. In A Chronicle of 20th Century Music (1984), Richard Burbank described Tailleferre’s premiere of her Piano Concerto:

Serge Koussevitzky premieres the Piano Concerto, by Germaine Tailleferre, the female member of Les Six. The performance takes place in Paris, with the composer as soloist.

On the very same page, Gershwin’s premiere of his Piano Concerto is described thus:

George Gershwin is soloist at the world premiere of his Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra, as Walter Damrosch conducts the NY Symphony.

Burbank crafted these reflections on one page. However, the excerpts asserted different historicization priorities. For Tailleferre’s Piano Concerto, the hierarchy is 1. Conductor  2. Composer and soloist; while for Gershwin’s it’s 1. Composer and soloist  2. Conductor. Tailleferre was introduced by the more famous male, Koussevitzky: She needed his authority for inclusion. Conversely, Gershwin was considered a prodigious enough (male) composer to hold priority, with the conductor left in a tertiary position.

Recent textbooks have treated Tailleferre more fairly. But, writers still employ techniques that discourage inquiries about Tailleferre. They continue to order Les Six names according to their perception of success and assert pleasantness in Tailleferre’s music. Despite increasing Tailleferre recognition, Robert Shapiro evaluates Tailleferre’s oeuvre using the latter methodology. He ends his chapter on Tailleferre in Les Six: The French Composers and Their Mentors Jean Cocteau and Erik Satie (2011) thus:

“…Tailleferre was successful as a composer of music because she was able to translate her intriguing interior life into a form of expression that is at once deceptively simple but to which are attached threads of human insight too compelling and characteristically too pleasing to ignore or to dismiss.”

In Shapiro’s view, pleasure is yet again the byproduct of a woman composer’s work. Some scholars argue that feminine terms, like pleasure, were used to describe music by French composers en masse. However, Shapiro emphasizes pleasure only in Tailleferre’s music; he does not do so for any other member of Les Six. Furthermore, critics and historians have historically labeled the music of the rest of Les Six as “masculine” because of jazz influences. Tailleferre’s work has evidently been valued with different gendered terms than her compatriots.

Given the work of critics and historians, how can contemporary writers and musicians respond? It is paramount for authors to reevaluate their treatments of Les Six. It is simply historically negligent to list then promptly dismiss Tailleferre without a consideration of the actual significance that she achieved. Authors can highlight Le marchand d’oiseaux, which was performed by the Ballet Suédois more often than any other Les Six work. I like the direction of Taruskin’s survey, which acknowledges prejudices against women composers and describes Tailleferre’s “Quadrille” from Les mariés de la Tour Eiffel (1921) (The Oxford History of Western Music, 2005). I prefer Bonds’s textbook, which analyzes the finale of Tailleferre’s Harp Concertino (1927) (A History of Music in Western Culture, 2010). Bonds’s study stirred my interest in Tailleferre’s music, which demonstrates the impact that textbook writers can have on their audiences.

In the concert hall, Tailleferre’s work can be integrated into a variety of genres, from chamber to ballet to solo piano recitals. Score location remains an obstacle, as orchestrations of Jeux de plein aire and Le marchand d’oiseaux, have gone missing. It is exciting to find a recording of the latter on Youtube, but it provides no information about the sources for the recording (apart from naming the conductor). Is it a reconstruction?  How can score and parts be accessed?

While advocates scour for Tailleferre’s music, there is still plenty to play. I, for example, will perform Arabesque pour piano et clarinette (1973) in October as part of a chamber recital. I will preface the recital with a synopsis of Tailleferre’s career, in which I will highlight the social agents that caused her current obscurity.

Despite over 100 years of written neglect, I see new Tailleferre perspectives blossoming. I highly recommend research by Laura Hamer and Kiri Heel, whose assessments have guided my pursuits. Because of the recent re-thinkings, increase in performances, and uptick in recordings, I am hopeful that audiences and musicians will learn and care more about Tailleferre.

With persistence and energized support, you—the imagined Parisian—might even one-day see Le marchand d’oiseaux at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées again.

Conference Report: American Women Composer-Pianists. By Timothy Diovanni.

by Liane Curtis - September 21st, 2017

The recent international conference “American Women Composer-Pianists” named Amy Beach (1867-1944) and Teresa Carreño (1853-1917) as focal points, in celebration of the notable anniversaries connected with them (the 150th anniversary of Beach’s birth, and the 100th anniversary of Carreño’s death).  But the conference expanded to cover a wide range of other composer-pianists, including the British — Arabella Goddard,  Chilean — Josefina Filomeno, and Mexican — Guadelupe Olmedo.

The conference was a mind-expanding and fascinating two days, and the host – the University Archives of the University of New Hampshire (Durham), together with help from the Music Department — deserve hearty applause for their efforts.

Applause, also, to the intrepid Timothy Diovanni, for attending and providing his insights in this conference report.

 

We wielded our umbrellas for the damp walk between the Music Building and the Library. A brook scurried underneath our steps. The New Hampshire torrent diminished to a drizzle.  Was the drama of the weather a parallel to the excitement of the discoveries of new musical worlds?

“Mrs. Beach belongs to us here at UNH,” Peggy Vagts, professor of flute at the university, touted. She’s right: from the rich source collection in the Dimond Library Archives, to the honorary master’s degree bestowed to the composer-pianist in 1928, and now the exhibition to celebrate her life and achievements, Amy Beach is a symbolic light for the institution to uphold.

As such, there couldn’t be a better place for a Beach conference.  (The full program of the two-day event can be seen here.)  Leading scholars featured several papers on important themes in the musician’s life. In the session on Beach’s relationship to nature, presenters explored how Beach interpreted her world – especially bird songs — through composition.

(photo by Anna Kijas)

William O’Hara labeled the process in the “Hermit Thrush” pieces as a simultaneous act of documentation and artistry.

Some papers focused on Beach as a disruptor in the male-dominated realm of music composition.

 

Sabrina Clarke analyzed how Beach subverted gender conventions in musical form, particularly through her synesthetic key relationships. Beach had synesthesia, meaning that she related certain keys with specific colors.

Susan Borwick exposed how Beach in fact turned the woman subject of Robert Browning’s poem into the object, complete with inherent agency, in her Op. 44 No. 2. Beach did so through omitting the ultimate stanza.

Sarah Gerk’s presentation

Sarah Gerk demonstrates that scholarship can be fun! (photo credit Anna Kijas)

Sarah Gerk questioned the romantic conception of male genius to explore how Beach’s genius was treated in textbooks and newspapers. Gerk emphasized how Beach’s favorable circumstances – her social class, her family’s move to Boston, diligent work early in her life – shaped her genius reception.

 

Hsiang Tu, UNH piano professor, and Jenni Cook, soprano and UNH music department chair after their performance of the Four Songs (Op. 14) (photo credit: T. Diovanni)

Lecture-Recitals complemented paper readings; they provided new insights from the performers’ perspectives. Friday night, several faculty members of UNH performed a concert of some of the smaller-scale works by Beach, such as her Four Songs (Op. 14) and A Hermit Thrush at Morn (Op. 28 No. 2).

To correlate the importance of scholarship with performance practice, the concert included a spoken tribute to Adrienne Fried Block, the foremost Amy Beach scholar, whose book, Amy Beach. Passionate Victorian: The Life and Work of an American Composer 1867-1944, has functioned as a vital resource.  Jennifer C.H.J. Wilson, who worked with Block on The Gotham Project and presented on Beach’s “Morning Glories” (Op. 97 no. 1) in the conference, explained how Block acted as a positive role model for her academic career.  Block passed away in 2009, and more tributes to her are here.

After the concert, Peggy Vagts’ CD, Persistence: Works by Women, 1850-1950: Music for Flute and Piano was available for purchase.  It includes Beach’s Romance (Op. 23) which Vagts transcribed for flute and included in the evening’s performance. The CD’s title demonstrates the perseverance which women composers like Beach exuded in order to achieve success.

(photo credit: T. Diovanni)

Artifacts from Beach’s life in the newly-opened exhibit, “A Brilliant Life: The Musical Career of New Hampshire’s Amy Beach,” provided further context. Viewers walk through Beach’s life, from her childhood as Amy Marcy Cheney in Henniker NH, to her concert tours throughout Europe. Compelling personal affects, such as Beach’s notation books and her portable silent piano keyboard, to practice while on her travels, gave us physical insights into Beach’s experiences.

 

Teresa Carreño as a child

The other focus of the conference was Teresa Carreño, a Venezuelan virtuoso pianist-composer. Presenters emphasized Carreño’s position as a world-renowned pianist, composer, opera singer, and impresario in the late-19th century. She performed in five of the seven continents, a remarkable feat considering transportation means at the time.

Carreño’s reception was shaped by her gender and ethnicity, as demonstrated in press reactions. Laura Pita illustrated how critics focused on Carreño’s God-given talents. She was considered a vessel of divinity, serious at the piano, boisterous and child-like away from it. Pita argued that this rhetoric ignored the actual work that Carreño completed to obtain her skills (She trained with an intensive, four-hours-a-day schedule starting as a small child.)

Anna Kijas

Scholarly research on Carreño has been hampered by the diaspora of relevant primary sources. Because of recent database compilations by Anna Kijas, accessibility to Carreño documents will dramatically increase.

Much of the same phenomena that affected Carreño influenced other Latin American women pianist/composers of the period. José Manuel Izquierdo constructed the life of Josefina Filomeno, who, although received positively in newspapers, did not enjoy the same success as Carreño. Izquierdo attributed her alleged “failure” to her transition from child prodigy to grown-up artist — a transformation that diminished her appeal as an “exotic and erotic object.”

Alejandro Barrañón (photo credit: Anna Kijas)

Alejandro Barrañón introduced the Mexican composer Guadalupe Olmedo (1856-1889). Barrañón explained that Mexican composers like Olmedo tended to eschew European forms, like the sonata and symphony. Instead they forged their own paths to create a unique Mexican sound, “a process of national identity.” Barrañón gave a brilliant performance of Olmedo’s works that he unearthed in the National Conservatory of Mexico’s special collections. In one case he had to construct part of a piano transcription by using the orchestral version of the same piece that he discovered there. In effect, he was a mystery detective — a sleuth for forgotten music.

Peggy Vagts, flute; Babette Hierholzer, piano; Robert Osborne, bass-baritone; Anna Tonna, mezzo-soprano (photo by T. Diovanni)

To conclude the conference, four musicians presented a dramatized portrayal of musical scenes from Carreño’s life.  The program began with her visit (as a nine-year-old child prodigy) to Abraham Lincoln in 1863. The pianist Babette Hierholzer read from Carreño’s memoir – which painted her as fiery and determined – and then performed “Listen to the Mocking Bird,” which Carreño played at her meeting with Lincoln.

(photo by Anna Kijas)

The program proceeded in a similar manner, with works that Carreño performed or composed as well as music by her teachers and mentors (Rubinstein, Rossini, and Gounod). Carreño’s own words and her critic’s responses functioned as spoken interludes between the numbers. They provided an engaging total picture of Carreño’s personality and experiences.

 

As I look back at the conference, the word tenacity buzzes in my ears. The women pianist-composers featured this weekend experienced invariable prejudices due to their gender as well as (in some cases) ethnicity. Yet, they overcame these obstacles to establish their lives as artists. As Izquierdo’s presentation illustrated, the process was undoubtedly risky: not every performer composer had the same recognition and success as Beach and Carreño. It is therefore with an informed eye that we are astounded by their accomplishments, magnetized by a love for their music and music-making. Nevertheless, they persisted – and now it is our responsibility to tell their stories.

 

The exhibit at the University Museum, “A Brilliant Life: The Musical Career of New Hampshire’s Amy Beach” continues through Dec. 1 and is worth a trip in itself, or pair it with one (or several!) of the upcoming concerts featuring Beach’s music at the campus.  Info on the exhibit is here, Beach events on the campus are listed here, with more details here. 

 Press coverage of the conference is here (NYTimes) , here (Concord Monitor), and here (NHPR).

HAPPY 150th BIRTHDAY, AMY BEACH!!

by Chris Trotman - September 4th, 2017

As this year marks Amy Beach’s 150th birthday, much is being done in celebration about this remarkable woman’s life and work! Numerous orchestras, choral ensembles, chamber ensembles and soloists around the world have performed or will be performing works by the pioneering American composer/pianist this year and next in celebration.  There are new recordings available this year featuring her works and new scholarship has and will be written about her.  Additionally, new musical editions, both revised and published for the first time, are available by a variety of publishers, such as Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy Publications!

Here are a few highlights of what is happening for her birthday celebration –

1) The City of Boston will be declaring September 5th as Amy Beach Day! (a separate post will be made with more information!)

2) The upcoming Amy Beach/Teresa Carreño Conference at University of New Hampshire on Sept. 15 & 16

3) An article entitled “Amy Beach, a Pioneering American Composer, Turns 150” by musicologist William Robin featured in the NYTimes!

4) An article entitled “Amy Beach First Female Composer to Have Her Music Played by a Major Orchestra” by Troy Lennon, Classmate and History Editor of The Daily Telegraph in New South Wales, Australia!

5) A number of orchestras have and will be performing Beach’s monumental “Gaelic” Symphony in E minor, Op. 32 Bal Masqué, Op. 22, and others (some using Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy Publications’ revised editions) as well as choral ensembles performing her Grand Mass in E-flat, Op. 5! (Keep watching our news feed as we post about upcoming concerts!)

Composers You Should Know: Undine Smith Moore

by sarah - August 23rd, 2017

This week we remember the life and music of American composer and educator Undine Smith Moore (1904-1989).  Born in Jarratt, Virginia the granddaughter of slaves, she began to study piano at age seven.  After attending Fisk University she attended Juilliard on scholarship.  Her first career was in music education, as supervisor of music for the Goldsboro, North Carolina school system.  She went on to receive a Master of Arts in Teaching from Columbia University.  Smith Moore became a faculty member of Virginia State University in 1927 and remained on staff until 1972.

Over her lifetime she wrote over 100 compositions, though only 26 were published during her lifetime.  Known as the “Dean of Black Women Composers”, her compositions include a range of genres – from piano, chamber ensembles, and choral works.  She is largely remembered for her spirituals.

Smith Moore was honored at the First National Congress on Women in Music in 1981.  Her keynote address was printed in the International Alliance for Women in Music Journal, and is available online in full.  In it she discusses her upbringing, education, and the opportunities and challenges she has experienced throughout her career – as well as her insights on the future of music.  Her words continue to be relevant and powerful:

I was asked to comment on the role and the position of the Black artist. I would speak firstly of position, and this is not related just to Blacks, it’s everybody:

The artist is not highly valued in American society. And from what I read in the newspapers from day to day, now, I don’t think it’s being advanced. Of this group, Blacks are at the bottom. The Black will have less time to write, to create. The Black will find greater difficulty getting his work printed, recorded, performed. The Black will be omitted from so-called serious texts of books and lists of music, will get comparatively little money, which means that while the position may be very slowly improving, in general, the lot is not very different from that of others of his kind in any comparative scale.

I may say that though I have stressed [the Black artist], because I was asked…to talk about Blacks, I think that for certain reasons for a while it will continue to be true of women. With regard to the role of the artist, I had written:

The primary function of any artist in any period is to convey as honestly and as sincerely as he can his personal vision of life. Since the artist belongs to the most sensitive segment of any society, a Black composer in contemporary America, aware of his own plight and that of his people, can scarcely avoid some expression reflecting these conditions. Without positing a social purpose as a requirement of art, he cannot really escape expressing his heritage somewhere in the body of his work. This expression in the hands of the gifted artist can be powerful.

I think of the powerful social change in a work like Picasso’s Guernica. I think of the refusal of Pablo Casals to play, though courted by dictators. And I think of Marian Anderson not marching and joining ordinary protest movements, but, nevertheless, opening up the doors of Constitution Hall. I think of a woman like Natalie Hinderas who by the very perfection of her playing is an agent of social change. And I think that a meeting such as this, and such as the activities which have gone before, these are tremendous forces for social change, and they should be kept in the minds of musicians.

 

Smith Moore’s papers, including manuscripts, are held at Emory University.  Listen to a sampling of her works below: