Is 2020 really just the year of Beethoven? 5 other important birthdays to celebrate this year

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.

  1. 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

 

 

Gender equality is for life, not just International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is upon us again and like every year there are tons of events, concerts and festivals going on all over the world to celebrate it.

The IWD website says this for 2019:

The International Women’s Day 2019 campaign theme of #BalanceforBetter is a call-to-action for driving gender balance across the world.

But what does IWD really mean?

Does it drive towards a more gender balanced world?

Or has the work been corrupted to create more inequality and more imbalance?

The IWD website states:

International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

IWD is full of events promoting equality. One example is Women of the World festival at the Southbank. WOW brings together thousands of people for talks, workshops, concerts and many other events about women. WOW also showcases dozens of amazing organisations working to promote equality all year round. Last year they had demonstrations from a women’s wrestling group, networking events for women and a camp for girls to study rock music.

So, IWD is not just about celebrating the achievements of women, it’s encouraging people to work on equality all year round.

Now let’s examine IWD in the classical music industry. In 2018:

BBC Radio 3 scheduled an entire day of music by women composers.

ABC Classic FM in Australia played an entire 24 hours of women composers.

Cadogan Hall scheduled a concert entirely of female composers.

In 2019:

BBC Radio 3 and ABC are again playing an entire day of music by women composers.

BBC National Orchestra of Wales is playing a concert of female composers.

International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

So says the IWD website. It’s no doubt that BBC, ABC, Cadogan Hall and others do a great job doing the first part, celebrating the cultural achievements of women.

But what about the second part? Accelerating gender parity?

Let’s have a look at the rest of the year.

On ABC Classic FM music by women composers makes up 6% of all music played. (up from 2% in 2015.)

The official BBC stats are not published but the world average for radio programming and concert programming is 2%. That’s 2% of concerts a year featuring a woman composer. The BBC Proms stats for 2018 compiled by Women in Music show women composers made up 15% (21/133) of the number of composers. This is not number of works composed by women or total amount of performance time, which would both be undoubtedly much smaller percentages.

For example Sarah Walker’s Sunday Morning show on BBC Radio 3 plays 1 woman composer a week, out of at least 10 composers in a 3 hour show. Being optimistic means that’s 10% of music every week composed by a woman. (The number is probably lower and doesn’t account for actual airtime.)

Cadogan Hall are putting on about 100 concerts this year, at my count 3 of these concerts feature a woman composer.

Clearly these organisations fall short on the second part and do almost nothing the rest of the year to accelerate gender parity.

IWD should be a jumping off point to encourage more work on gender parity throughout the year. It shouldn’t be an excuse to shove all the women composers in one day and then continue marginalising them the rest of the year. That’s not gender equality.

Forbes magazine said last year:

BBC Radio 3 will spend International Women’s Day righting wrongs.

Radio 3 is slated to celebrate female composers excluded from the narrative of musical history.

Bearing in mind that the BBC are one of the organisations doing the excluding.

For example, BBC Proms has performed Dame Elizabeth Maconchy’s music 13 times while her contemporary Benjamin Britten’s music has been performed 94 times at the Proms.

Righting wrongs would be performing Dame Elizabeth Maconchy at least as much as Benjamin Britten all year round. Not playing her music once a year. Dame Maconchy and all the other hundreds of female composers have been and are being marginalised every day for decades, centuries in some cases. One day of programming is not righting this wrong. It is a step, and a very small one in the right direction but these organisations need to programme more women composers consistently throughout the year.

Also at what point on IWD do the BBC programme Louise Farrenc’s Symphony No 3 or Amanda Maier’s Violin Sonata and not think ‘Wow, this is amazing, we should play this more often’?

It’s the same with Black History Month. In classical music composers such as W.G. Still, Florence Price and Adolphus Hailstork should be played all year round. These composers are marginalised due to to deep institutional prejudice that can only be changed through constant and consistent programming, not a token performance once a year.

(Plus just pointing out black people invented blues, jazz, rock and roll, soul, disco, gospel, RnB and hip hop. Yet somehow the inventor of rock and roll, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, is only ever mentioned during BHM. Funny that.)

IWD started with a noble and worthy purpose of highlighting the achievements of women and encouraging increased dialogue on equality all year round. IWD itself promotes equality every day of the year and does amazing work.

However, too many other organisations seem to use IWD as an opportunity to put these groups in their boxes, only programme them on this one day and call it progress whilst contributing further to the inequality in the classical music industry.

Then the next year rolls around again and we’re celebrating the same ‘underrated and excluded’ composers again, brushing over the fact that they’re still excluded because the powers that be didn’t play them in the whole year in between. They wouldn’t be marginalised if they were performed more often all year round. And so the vicious cycle continues.

This IWD let’s remember this and work on creating gender parity every day of the year

The Daffodil Perspective radio show is pleased to play equal numbers of women and men composers, with equal airtime, every single week.

What can you do?