Super excited to officially announce my new commitment to include more music by black and minority ethnic composers in the show every single week. This includes both men and women, composers that are not white are incredibly marginalised in the classical music industry.
People of all skin colours have been composing throughout history, there is vast amounts of incredible repertoire written by people of colour/BAME composers yet none of it is performed enough. So I’m redressing the balance, actually over the last 5 weeks I’ve programmed at least one piece by a black male composer on every show including music by Ulysses Kay, William Grant Still, George Walker, and Adolphus Hailstork but now it’s officially official.
Still a work in progress regarding specifics but from today every show will contain at least one piece by a male BAME composer/person of colour, guaranteed. And that’s in addition to my gender equality commitment and any awesome music by women of colour as well which will continue to be on the show.
In terms of women composers of African descent, apart from Florence Price who I program at least once a month, including my Fun With Florence segment, I’ve only programmed Margaret Bonds, Regina Baiocchi and Eleanor Alberga so far. I’ve programmed Chinese composer Chen Yi and Japanese composer Keiko Abe once so there’s a lot of room for development and improvement, as I say still working out the kinks, I’m looking forward to making the show better and more interesting, more diverse and inclusive.
I’ve already discovered and programmed a ton of new repertoire so I’m excited to keep it going, continue to showcase awesome marginalised music and keep programming for justice.
Think you know the 1st Viennese School?
Think again with this guest blog Elizabeth de Brito, producer of The Daffodil Perspective, wrote for the awesome site Cross Eyed Pianist.
Meet the Vienna 10 here.
The Daffodil Perspective is moving from Sunday mornings to Friday evenings. The next show is available from Friday 9th August at 8, as always it’s available to stream online on-demand, to listen when it suits you.
This Friday sees the start of my Divine Art Recordings monthly residency, showcasing some of their amazing releases of women composers.
In the meantime, catch all my past shows on Mixcloud here.
Post any article championing women or calling for diversity in classical music on one of the various classical music groups on Facebook and you’ll likely get a slew of sexist comments and narrow minded conversations.
One common sexist argument is that no-one is actively avoiding programming music by women.
The classical recording retailer Presto’s Recording of the Week is a brilliant example of an active, conscious decision to do exactly that.
Guess what Presto Classical’s recording of the week is?
Yet another recording of Beethoven complete symphonies!
Seriously, how can this pass for the most exciting recording this week?
James Longstaffe at Presto who chose the recording said:
“With a plethora of recordings of Beethoven’s symphonies currently available, any new performance that wishes to stand out from the crowd must have something pretty special to bring to the table.”
At this point the only way to make a recording of Beethoven symphonies in any way pretty special is to have the flutes play the violin part, bassoon play the cello part, euphonium play the double bass part and vice versa.
Or screw it, why not just get the BBC Singers, divide them all up and get them to hum each part. At this point that is the only way you can get a recording of Beethoven’s complete symphonies worthy of being Recording of the Week.
Really James? You couldn’t find anything in the past decade, hell, even the past century that’s worth shouting about?
The Presto team also do a New Release Round up every week. This week they have: Mahler’s 4th, Wagner, Schumann, Schutz and Cavalli. Basically nothing composed in the past 70 years and everything composed is by a well known, well recorded white male composer.
In picking the Recording of the Week James Falstaffe would have looked through the exciting new releases featuring women, the cool contemporary music and deliberately ignored them all to feature the most well known classical music on the planet.
And they do this every single week. Every week there is a deliberate choice between exciting and perpetual, new and old, diverse or patriarchal, change versus stagnation, heard or unheard.
The recordings that caught my eye on Presto this week were:
- Piano Miniatures by Female Composers – Viviane Goergen. A brilliant cross section of piano music from the past 150 years. Everything from Mel Bonis and Marie Jaell in the 19th century, Germaine Tailleferre and Vitezslava Kapralova in the early 20th century to living composer Alicia Terzian. All immensely talented composers and stunning performance from Viviane Goergen.
- Kaleidoskop: Works for Contrabassoon – Hans Agreda. Contrabassoon is one of these instruments lost in the sea of violin repertoire. It has a gorgeous sound and is not performed enough. So exciting to see a great musician showcasing works for this underrated instrument.
There have been over 60 recordings of exclusively women composers released on Presto so far this year (pales in comparison to the number recorded by men but still), there’s been at least one new recording every week, sometimes many more (see week of 8th March). Many of these releases were world premiere recordings and all are absolutely brilliant. The only one Presto took any noice of was debut release by latest hotshot pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason, she released a CD of Clara Schumann’s piano music.
There’s all this talk of classical music dying, orchestras getting shut down but what can we expect when the mainstream industry is entirely based on obsessively championing overplayed, over-recorded music from nearly 200 years ago?
There are legions of brilliant women composers from the past two centuries and more musicians than ever are championing these great women composers, creating many wonderful albums that are redefining our entire knowledge of classical music history. All these recordings are being completely ignored by the classical music establishment. You can check out all the amazing recordings made this year alone here.
Then there are hundreds of really amazing contemporary composers creating new music all the time and some people are willing to put it out there. NMC Recordings have been putting out great recordings of British contemporary music for 30 years, plus record labels Navona Records and Divine Art are putting out high quality recordings of amazing contemporary music all the time.
But what is going to happen to all these recordings if they aren’t talked about?
What’s the incentive for new composers to keep creating when all the music industry wants to talk about is the same few composers from the 18th century?
Composer Stephen Hough wrote a recent article in the Evening Standard talking about the Proms saying:
“The composers whose works we play were often radicals and outsiders”
Note the past tense. It’s so common for people to think of classical music as past, all the music got created long ago and it doesn’t exist anymore.
Mozart and Beethoven together make up just over one third of all classical performances (statistics from Bachtrack here). Add the next 4 most played composers – Bach, Brahms Schubert, Tchaikovsky and they make up 78% of classical performances. Over 400 years and hundreds of amazing composers but nearly 80% of all performances are of just 6 white male composers that all died over a century ago?!
Is the past tense any wonder if that’s the only music being performed?
There’s a current call for more audience diversity, and talk of dwindling ticket sales, people saying they should do things to attract new audiences but what’s the message you are sending them? Come and hear the same 6 dead male composers at every concert. There are almost no women composers, no black composers, hardly any living composers. It’s an entirely monochromatic experience of a stagnant art form.
That’s what is currently being shouted at through current programming.
If you want to attract new audiences, new people from all walks of life you will have to change the message.
Classical music is not just written by a handful of dead, white male composers. It never has been but that is the message that people are being sent.
So how do we change this?
Do we either need to get through the current gatekeepers or do we need to create new gates?
Elizabeth de Brito
Producer of the The Daffodil Perspective.
The Daffodil Perspective is pleased to be completely gender equal. On the show this year I’ve played 16 of these new releases of women composers as well as playing contemporary music every week. Also in 8 months of doing the show I’ve played Beethoven once, Mozart twice. Every week I make the choice to find as much exciting, varied, previously unheard music out there. Head to the Listen page to see the full tracklist. Classical music is alive and kicking on my show with a vibrant, diverse range of awesome music.
While the majority of the classical music world is losing their s**t over Beethoven’s upcoming 250th birthday, let’s remember there are 5 other very important birthdays we should be celebrating this year.
- Barbara Strozzi’s 400th birthday
Barbara Strozzi, baptised 6th August 1619, was one of the first women to publish under her own name. Strozzi was said to be the most prolific composer of secular vocal music in Venice at the time, she was also an accomplished singer. Her music is simply stunning, full of poise and precisely written.
2. Clara Schumann’s 200th birthday
The infinitely cooler member of the Schumann family turns 200 on 13th September 2019. Clara Schumann was a brilliant composer and one of the first virtuoso pianists in the world. She toured all over Europe, was at the very epicentre of the European music scene, knew anyone who was anyone and was hugely influential, Brahms was said to be madly in love with her. For much of her life she was the chief breadwinner in the Schumann family. She maintained a busy concert tour schedule all while being pregnant most of the time and caring for an increasingly ill husband. Her compositions, while comparatively few, are masterpieces of the Romantic era, full of drama and passion. Her output includes a piano concerto, piano sonata, tons of songs, trios and romances.
3. Galina Ustvolskaya’s 100th birthday
Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya (17th June 1919 – 22nd December 2006) would be 100 this year. Dubbed ‘The Lady with the Hammer’ her music was said to have “the concentrated light of a laser beam that is capable of piercing metal.” Ustvolskaya wrote immensely heartfelt pieces which initially seem brutal and harsh but are deeply moving. Her teacher Shostakovich said of her: “It is not you who are under my influence, it is I who am under yours.” She publicly acknowledged 21 pieces she wrote from 1944 to 1988, disregarding the Soviet patriotic pieces she was grudgingly forced to write. These 21 pieces include 6 piano sonatas, 5 symphonies and chamber music with various unusual but effective instrument combinations. This Composition No. 1 was written for piccolo, tuba and piano.
4. Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata turns 100!
The poor viola is the middle child of the string family, stuck between the ever popular, (overused?) violin and the low, mellow cello, somewhat the hipster instrument of the orchestra. Rebecca Clarke was a violist though so it was only fitting for her that she write a true masterpiece for her instrument. I give you her Viola Sonata, premiered at the Berkshire Music Festival in 1919.
5. Dorothy Howell’s Lamia turns 100!
Dorothy Howell’s symphonic poem Lamia was premiered by Sir Henry Wood at the Proms on 10th September 1919, he liked it so much he conducted it at the Proms 4 times in the next 8 years. In this centenary year get down to the Proms on 22nd August to hear it performed live by CBSO and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla.
So there you have it – 5 other important birthdays we should be celebrating this year.
And that’s just the historical composers. Groundbreaking film score and electronic composer Wendy Carlos turns 80 this year and Eleanor Alberga celebrates her 70th birthday.
One final note – celebrating means a special occasion, doing something out of the ordinary. Beethoven is the most performed composer every year, along with Mozart and Bach. Most concert seasons feature around 10% Beethoven. In 2017 out of 17,741 performances, 3,000 of those were Beethoven (according to Bachtrack, full stats here.) That’s 16%! Hundreds of incredible composers across the world and Beethoven makes up 16% of all performances! 2019 is the same boring percentage of Beethoven they trot out every year, hardly extraordinary.
It’s like when your parents take you to McDonalds for your birthday as a child. It’s such a rare treat and it tastes so good. Then when you leave home you get Maccy D’s every Friday night at 1 o’clock on the way back from the pub. Suddenly it doesn’t taste that good. It does the trick alright, I mean it fills you up but that lovely taste, that memorable connection just isn’t there anymore.
Let’s bring back that loving feeling. 8 months into The Daffodil Perspective radio show and I’ve played Beethoven once. There’s so much other awesome music out there. let’s celebrate it all.
Elizabeth de Brito
The Daffodil Perspective Producer