What’s the point? A brief look at one of the problems faced to get women composers noticed.

Say you’re a world famous violinist. There’s a great violin piece you’ve heard by a historical woman composer. You think it’s brilliant and want to record it, it’ll be a world premiere recording or at least only once or twice so it’s totally groundbreaking.  You spend hours convincing a pianist to accompany you and spend even longer convincing the hopelessly conservative record label you’re signed with to release it.

It finally gets the go-ahead, you tell all your friends and get it released on all the major sites – Amazon, iTunes, PrestoClassical, everything.  You put out videos on YouTube, record the album, you’re really pleased with it and blag about it all over social media.

It gets released and you’re so pleased but then it comes to the gatekeepers, those people on the music websites with their hot-or-not lists of the “coolest” new releases. Yours has to be a sure thing right? It’s so new, so unique and interesting plus it’s on a major label and you’re super famous so everything you do should be noticed and adored right?

Wrong, the new release list doesn’t mention your recording, or anybody else’s recordings featuring women composers. They talk about yet more recordings of Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Bach and your brilliant, innovative labour of love is forgotten about quickly.

You think maybe I should have played it safe? Why bother playing the work of these amazing people at all if no-one will take notice, next time I’ll stick to the same, boring crap everybody’s heard a hundred times before. I’ll get the money and it won’t hurt if no-one picks it up.

You carry on with your career and the music of these women fades back into oblivion.

Sound familiar? We’re in the middle of this story right now. World famous violinist Tasmin Little OBE has just released a stunning new album of music by Clara Schumann, Dame Ethel Smyth and Amy Beach – 3 astonishing powerhouse badasses of the Romantic era. All three women venerated in their time. All three composers since obliterated from the white male dominated version of music history. All three composers hardly ever recorded or performed.

Little’s album was released last week on 1st February 2019 on major label Chandos records. Amongst the platforms it was released on was PrestoClassical. PrestoClassical’s new release round up didn’t even mention it. I’ll tell you what it did mention though – another recording of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, plus Schubert, Debussy, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky and recordings of a lot of other white male composers that are really well known.

Don’t take my word for it, see the link here.

So why is it that not even a world famous OBE musician on a major label playing women composers can make a dent on the stuffy, regressive release lists of these companies.

And why does it matter?

Well if a customer’s looking at the website and wondering what’s cool they’re not going to search through the whole 150 or so new releases this week. Part of the reason is just 150 is an overwhelming amount to scroll through, part of it is trust. The editorial teams behind PrestoClassical know more than the average listener about what’s coming out and what’s cool. If PrestoClassical give a nice short bite-sized list of 8 releases it’s much easier to digest.

This means if it’s not getting noticed by PrestoClassical editorial team it’s not get noticed by consumers, and if it’s not getting noticed by consumers it’s not getting bought.

If it doesn’t get bought the message clearly gets through to record labels and musicians that taking a chance doesn’t pay off, even if these composers are from the 19th century and playing music really similar to Brahms and Schumann et al, no-one wants to hear it so don’t spend money putting a release like this out there.

All this leads to women composers like Amy Beach not getting recorded again and we’ll go back to square one on the gender equality front in classical music.

This is why it’s so important for this not to happen. I grew up not knowing the names of these 3 women and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let another generation grow up without knowing the names of Clara Schumann, Amy Beach and Dame Ethel Smyth.

I love the album and I’m really excited to be playing the album on my show this week on Tuesday 12th February. 5pm on planetofsound.world plus it’ll be going out on Mixcloud later, more info to follow.

In the meantime here’s a sneak peek of this breathtaking album.

 

Please buy the album online from Presto, iTunes or Amazon or listen on Spotify. Mostly please tweet about it, Facebook link it and get people talking about this so the music doesn’t fade back into obscurity.

PrestoClassical are one of the worst culprits. This particular instance saw Tamsin Little’s album having major airtime on BBC and ClassicFM plus it featured on Spotify Classical New Releases Playlist.

Last week on Twitter I highlighted PrestoClassical’s failure to mention more releases of women composers on their January editor’s choice list. Out of 8 releases the only release of women composers was Florence Price’s new release by Naxos.

The CDs below were ones released in January that featured women composers.

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At the end of 2018 PrestoClassical published their list of 100 best releases of 2018. There was 1 woman composer release on the list.

This is a big music retailer. We need to hold them accountable for their influence on consumers and offer alternatives, there is a lot of music being created and while there are fewer releases of women composers there are actually quite a few releases coming out on a regular basis, both by major labels and smaller outfits too.

In the next few weeks there are several releases of women composers coming out. The ones below are available on PrestoClassical.

 

The Daffodil Perspective believes in positivity, there’s no point in just complaining, we like to show that there are positive alternatives that already exist to the white male dominated industry.

Change is possible and gender balance is not difficult to achieve.

 

 

 

 

The Daffodil Perspective 15th January 2018

This week exploring the work of early classical composer Anna Bon and her life in the European courts of Bayreuth and Esterhazy alongside contemporaries Haydn, Johann Stamitz and Bernard Hagen. Plus the awesome new release of Florence Price’s Symphony No. 1 and 4 from Naxos Records

Album Of The Week: Daughters of Earth by Durward Ensemble

New album of contemporary chamber music by Durward Ensemble featuring 5 phenomenal American composers including Laura Schwartz, Elizabeth Comninellis Foster and Lisa Neher. Compositions include a statement on the election of Donald Trump to the devastating yet awesome power of tornadoes. Buy now on CDBaby here.

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The Daffodil Perspective 4th December 2018

This show features an in-depth look at contemporary film and TV composer Debbie Wiseman, following her 25 year career including the soundtrack to Wolf Hall alongside other scores including Downton Abbey by John Lunn. Also on the show is music by Russians Nina Makarova and Khachaturian.

Organisation Of The Week

The first of a very special monthly event with Illuminate Women’s Music, an extraordinary organisation promoting music by women composers and performers. Set up by Angela Slater and including a concert series touring the UK playing living and historical composers. This week I am playing live recordings of the organisers and composers in residence Sarah Westwood, Blair Boyd and Angela Slater.

Discover more about Illuminate’s amazing work on their website.

 

Gender stats: London Philharmonic Orchestra

LPO are one of the resident orchestras at the Southbank Centre.

They are playing 32 concerts in the 2018/2019 season at the Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank.

2 out of 32 concerts feature 1 woman composer each.

2/32 concerts feature a woman composer, that is 6.25%. The proportion of playing time for women composers is smaller still.

The 1st concert is an evening of contemporary work – Helen Grimes is 1 woman amongst 5 composers. 1/5, that’s maybe 20% of the evening.

The 2nd concert is Alice Mary Smith’s Andante for Clarinet which is 7 minutes long. 7 minutes out of a 90 minute concert, that is 7.7% of the concert.

We’re looking at less than 1% of total performance time devoted to women composers.

https://www.lpo.org.uk/what-s-on/introduction-to-the-lpo-s-2018-19-london-season.html

 

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.

Gender stats: English Symphony Orchestra

English Symphony Orchestra tweeted that they support living composers. I checked out their gender stats to see if they support women composers.

13 concerts this season, 2 of which have 1 woman composer in them, 1 has Kapralova and 1 has Bacewic.

2/13 concerts with 1 woman composer, that is 15.3 % of concerts featuring a woman composer.

Also coincidentally the 2 concerts featuring a woman composer are in the Venus Unwrapped series at Kings Place.

https://www.eso.co.uk/whats-on/