10 of the best new releases in 2018 of women composers.

As usual at this time of year there’s a lot of reflection going on about the year we’ve just had. In music terms this means a round up of the year’s best new releases. The  Guardian’s Top 10 list featured all male composers, mostly dead white ones including ‘neglected composer’ Hindemith, plus Bach, Stravinsky, yada yada yada. See the list here which comes at the end of an article which only mentions releases with male composers.

And this is from a generally left wing newspaper, who have published at least 4 articles this year about the lack of female composers being performed, why they have been unfairly marginalised, looking at what is being done and should be done to change that. Way to support this stance, am I right?

Go round the internet and look at all the major sites about classical music and you see the same story pretty much everywhere. Major independent retailer Presto Classical picked their Top 10 recordings of the year. Also all male, including yet more recordings of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, yawn.

There have actually been some amazing new releases of women composers this year, both historical and living so here is my own list for you. A list of 10 great releases from 2018 to check out, all featuring exclusively women composers.

  1. Global Sirens – Christina Petrowska Quilico. Released 16th November 2018.

Various composers of piano music from the 19-21st century. A brilliant selection of everything from romantic to ragtime to post modern. Some more well known composers including Lili Boulanger and Meredith Monk with other maybe slightly less well known composers such as Ilse Fromm Michaels and Susanne Erding-Swiridoff. Listen here.

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2. Chaminade Piano Music – Mark Viner. Released 9th November 2018.

Selection of piano music by Cecile Chaminade, French Romantic composer. Great selection from the masses of piano music she wrote, some lighter music, some serious. Listen here

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3. Elena Ruehr – 6 String Quartets. Released 16th February 2018.

String quartets by contemporary composer Elena Ruehr. I love these quartets, simply amazing. I can’t do them justice in words so here is ArkivMusic’s notes on the recording:

“Elena’s Six String Quartets are a magnum opus, three of them commissioned by the Cypress String Quartet, two by the Rockport Chamber Music Festival, and one an ASCAP Award winner. “…sumptuously scored and full of soaring melodies and piquant harmonies.” (The New York Times) “Music with heart and a forceful sense of character and expression.” (The Washington Post)”

Listen to the album here.

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4. Louise Farrenc – Symphonies 2 and 3 by Naxos Records. Released 27th April 2018

Orchestral works by French Romantic composer. Symphony Number 3 was performed on 23rd November as part of Trinity Laban’s Venus Blazing series, definitely deserves to be performed by major orchestras on a regular basis. Listen here.

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5. Linda Lister – Pleas to Famous Fairies. Released 18th June 2018.

Song Cycles by soprano and composer Linda Lister, the title cycle features pleas to such fairies as Ariel, Titania and Tinkerbell. Listen here.

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6. Emilie Mayer – Symphony No. 4 and other major works by Chandos Records. Released 12th October 2018.

Major works from German Romantic composer Emilie Mayer. Absolutely gorgeous, forget Brahms, forget Mendelssohn. Just listen to Emile Mayer, this is Romantic music at its finest. Listen here.

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7. Jessica Krash – Past Made Present. Released 26th March 2018.

Fantastic collection of chamber music by contemporary composer Jessica Krash. Several pieces for various chamber combos including flute and piano, solo cello, and soprano and piano. Strangely haunting music exploring the emotional connections between old and new. Listen here.

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8. Ruth Gipps – Orchestral Works by BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Released 7th September 2018.

Prolific 20th Century composer. Symphonies 2 and 4 that feature on this disc along with the tone poems should be on every major orchestral programme at least once per year. Glorious music that’s just at that point between modern and contemporary. Music that’s melodic, intriguing and edgy but not too dissonant, wonderfully listenable. Listen here.

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9. Stories For Our Time: Music for Trumpet by Women Composers – by Thomas Pfotenhauer and Vincent Fuh.

6 contemporary composers, 6 pieces, 1 amazing album. Listen here

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10. Arlene Sierra – Butterflies Remember A Mountain.

Volume 3 of chamber music by Sierra composed between 1997 and 2013. The title piece was written for and played by the acclaimed Benedetti Elschenbroich Grynyuk Trio. Listen here.

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There we are, that’s 10 of the best new releases.

Disclaimer: These are not specific rankings, not a Top 10, just 10 OF THE best releases of 2018. There are so many more awesome recordings out there. Recordings that are not on the list were not deliberately excluded, it’s not a judgement on other work merely an exploration of some of the brilliant and still unjustly neglected work that is out there.

I didn’t include above any of the fantastic albums I’ve played on the radio show on my album of the week section. 5/6 albums I featured since I started the show were new releases this year and are all phenomenal. Check these out below too.

 

  1. Nasty Women: Piano Music in the Age of Women’s Suffrage by Joanna Goldstein and Centaur Records.

Just the title alone demands a closer look. Love this album, it’s broad look at piano pieces by 14 American women composers in the first half of the 20th century. Something for everyone including late Romanticism, impressionism, American spirituals to ragtime, including works by Florence Price, Amy Beach and May Aufderheide. Available to listen and buy at Presto Classical here.

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2. In The Theatre of Air from NMC Recordings and champions of women composers Marsyas Trio. Featuring 5 contemporary British composers and one historical American composer including legends Thea Musgrave and Judith Weir with rising stars Georgia Rodgers and Laura Bowler. Available to listen and buy on Presto Classical here.

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3. Four Women by pianist Samantha Ege, featuring music from 4 spectacular women composers including the American Florence Price and Margaret Bonds, Vitezslava Kapralova and a world premiere recording of Ethel Bilsland’s The Birthday Party, written 100 years ago. Available to listen and buy from CDBaby here.

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4. Homage by Drama Musica, featuring soprano Susie Georgiadis and pianist Angiolina Sensale. This amazing new release brings to life songs by women composers from Italy and Brazil including Chiquinha Gonzaga and Geni Sadero. Some of the pieces are over 100 years old and are only just receiving their world premier recordings on this album. The album also features a protest song from contemporary Brazil composer Catarina Domenici. Overseen by founder Gabriella Di Laccio this is a spectacular record. Listen and buy here.

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5. Magic Lantern Tales by contemporary English composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Magic Lantern Tales is a beautiful collection of choral music. Listen here

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Happy listening everyone and here’s to a more gender balanced 2019!

17 Great Women Composers You Need to Know.

Chief t**t, I’m sorry chief classical music critic at the New York Times Anthony Tommasini just published a book of the 17 greatest composers ever. The entire list is comprised of the usual suspects of long dead white male composers: Monteverdi, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Verdi, Wagner, Brahms, Puccini, Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Bartok.

With a few minor variations this is the same list you see in most music books and most websites all over the world. The New York Times article says this represents a

“rounded understanding of classical music at its peak.”

  1. Rounded? Omitting every female composer and composer of colour? Hmm.
  2. Also “at its peak”, really? The most recent composer on there died nearly 50 years ago, so what? Classical music has been declining ever since? Such a terrible way to sell classical music, a genre which like every other is living, breathing and evolving constantly to create new and exciting music.

I’m sick of the utter white patriarchy of the classical music industry so here is my own list of 17 indispensably great composers to counter Tommasini’s and they all happen to be women, each with an amazing composition to check out. (Disclaimer: This is just 17 amazing composers, there are so many which I couldn’t include, so it’s just a starting point, not a definitive list with specific rankings).

  1. Florence Price – American – 1887-1953

Florence Price mixes African American spiritual and American folk idioms with Western classical music. The first African American to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra in 1932 with Symphony in E minor. She also wrote over 300 pieces including orchestral suites, string quartets, solo piano and choral music.

2. Dame Ethel Smyth – English – 1858-1944

Composer and suffragette, she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1922, one of the highest honours in the UK, and the 1st female composer to be awarded the honour, I think that makes her pretty great. Wrote 6 operas, a ballet, orchestral suites, string quartets, and violin concertante. The Mass in D was written in 1893.

3. Vitezslava Kapralova – Czech – 1915-1940

Inter war composer, child prodigy and conductor. 1st woman composer inducted to the Czech Academy of Sciences and Arts. (Posthumous appt in 1946, she was 1 of only 10 woman inducted up to that point). Contemporary of Martinu, she guest conducted Czech Philharmonic and BBC Symphony Orchestra playing her own Military Sinfonietta, written in 1937. Also wrote songs, string quartets, orchestral Suite Rustica, April Preludes for piano.

4. Marianna von Martines – Austrian – 1744-1812

Grew up downstairs from her piano teacher Haydn and became good friends with Mozart. 1st woman to be admitted to the Accademia Filharmonica of Bologna, society to which Mozart also belonged She was at the centre of the classical music scene in Vienna. Ran an influential salon which everybody who was anyone attended. Wrote tons of amazing music including Dixit Dominus, oratorios, keyboard sonatas and an orchestral Sinfonia. The aria Berenice ah che fai is set to a text of Metastasio, famous librettist back in the 1700s.

5. Maria Szymanowska – Polish – 1789-1831

One of the first professional virtuoso pianists of the 19th century. Also ran an influential salon and toured all over Europe. Wrote mostly piano pieces, lots of cool nocturnes and etudes long before Chopin turned up later in the century.

6. Barbara Strozzi – Italian – 1619? – 1677

Prolific Baroque composer of secular vocal music.

7. Ina Boyle – Irish – 1889-1967

Ina led a sheltered life in Ireland but took lessons from Vaughan Williams. She composed 2 symphonies, orchestral rhapsodies, an opera, ballets and choral music.

8. Germain Tailleferre – French – 1892-1983

Only female member of Les Six, the Parisian group of composers that included Poulenc and Milhaud, plus she was good friends with Ravel. She wrote masses of music including music for radio, film and TV when they came along. Played about with different instruments including oboe, clarinet and violin. Lots of dreamy modernist chamber music including this Concertino for harp and piano.

9. Amy Beach – American – 1867-1944

1st American woman to compose and publish a symphony. Beach’s Gaelic Symphony premiered in 1896 with Boston Symphony Orchestra. Child prodigy pianist, she also wrote a piano concerto and over 100 songs. Member of the Boston Six with Edward Macdowell.

10. Emilie Mayer – German – 1812-1883

Romantic composer – Associate Director of the Berlin Opera Academy. Wrote 8 symphonies, cello sonatas, piano trios and Faust Overture, written in 1880.

11. Nina Makarova – Russian – 1908-1976

Russian composer influenced by Russian and Mari folksongs.

12. Dora Pejacevic – Croatian – 1885-1923

Prolific composer, wrote 1st modern symphony in Croatian music with Symphony in F sharp minor in 1917. Other works include a piano concerto, songs and chamber music.

13. Alice Mary Smith – English – 1839-1884

Classical music history makes it look like there were no English composers in the 200 years or so between Thomas Tallis and Edward Elgar. Alice Mary Smith falls into that supposed void with 2 symphonies, vocal music, concert overtures and clarinet music.

Her Andante for Clarinet is the only piece by a historical woman composer being played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra this season.

14. Judith Weir CBE – English – born 1954

First woman appointed as Master of the Queen’s Music in 2014. Known for choral music and operas.

15. Michiru Oshima – Japanese – Born 1961

Composer of film, video games, TV and straight up classical music.

16. Chen Yi – Chinese – Born 1953

1st Chinese woman to receive an MA in composition from Beijing Central Conservatory of Music, Pulitzer Prize finalist. Written for a variety of mediums including concert band.

17. Odaline de la Martinez – Cuban – Born 1949

1st woman ever to conduct the Proms in 1984. Founded Lontano Records to champion music of living composers, women composers and Latin American composers. Fellow of Royal Academy of Music.

There we are, just a tiny fraction of amazing composers who deserve greater recognition. Hopefully this will be a good jumping off point to discover a broader range of music beyond the dead white males that currently fill the concert halls and airwaves. Again this was not a ranking, just a list of 17 like Tommasini’s for conceptual symmetry, in no particular order.

Listen to my weekly radio show The Daffodil Perspective to hear more brilliant composers, over 50% of which are women. I discuss their lives, music and context in standard classical music history.

The Daffodil Perspective 13th November 2018

This show features an in-depth look at late 18th Century composer Marianna Martines, a woman at the heart of the classical music scene in Vienna and good friend of Mozart, Haydn and Salieri. We are going to find out how they were all connected. Also on the show is Swedish composer Helena Munktell and Sibelius.

Album Of The Week

In The Theatre of Air from NMC Recordings and champions of women composers Marsyas Trio. Featuring 5 contemporary British composers and one historical American composer including legends Thea Musgrave and Judith Weir with rising stars Georgia Rodgers and Laura Bowler.

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Available to listen and buy on Presto Classical here