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Posted on February 28, 2019

Portraits of Women throughout history
Article by Intern Ava Price.
Women’s History Month was decreed a national celebration in 1981 when Congress passed a law which sanctioned President Ronald Reagan to declare the week beginning March 7, 1982 as “Women’s History Week.” In 1987 after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed legislation which elected March as “Women’s History Month.” Since 1995, Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have issued annual announcements designating the month of March as “Women’s History Month.” All Classical Portland will be joining the celebration of “Women’s History Month” by highlighting the musical contributions of women composers. Although we are putting a special focus on female composers and performers throughout the month of March, these composers have long been a regular part of All Classical Portland’s playlist. Here are some of the women composers who are being featured this month.
Louise Farrenc (1804-1875)
Photo of composer Louise Farrenc.Louise Farrenc was a French composer and pianist. She began piano studies at an early age and later studied at the famous Conservatoire. She started taking composition lessons at the age of fifteen from Anton Reicha. From 1820 to 1830 she exclusively composed solo piano works. These piano pieces received high praise particularly from Robert Schumann. In her later life she composed vocal works, symphonies, and chamber music. In the 1830s she garnered great praise as a performer. In 1842 she became the piano professor at the Paris Conservatory. She held this position for thirty years. After her death, her compositions were largely forgotten until the late 20th century when there was a rediscovery of her works. In 2013, Farrenc was the subject of the long-running BBC Radio Three program Composer of the Week.
Clara (Wieck) Schumann (1819-1896)
Photo of composer Clara SchumannClara Schumann was the wife of famous Romantic composer Robert Schumann. However, she is also considered one of the most notable composers and pianists of the Romantic era. She was born in Leipzig, Germany and was a piano prodigy. She met Robert Schumann when he became a pupil of her father, Friedrich Wieck. She performed 1300 concert programs all over Europe for more than 60 years. She had a close relationship with composer Johannes Brahms and was the first person to publicly perform his compositions. She composed a huge body of work including piano concertos, choral works, and songs. Some of her most famous pieces are her Piano Trio in G minor, Drei Romanzen, and her Three Romances for Violin and Piano.
Ethel Smyth (1858-1944)
Photo of composer Ethel Smyth.Ethel Smyth, later dubbed Dame Ethel Smyth, DBE (Dame Commander of the British Empire), was an English composer and activist. She was one of eight children and her father John Hall Smyth was a major General in the Royal Artillery. She studied at the Leipzig Conservatory for one year and was able to meet Dvořák, Grieg and Tchaikovsky. Her large body of work includes a Concerto for Violin, Horn, and Orchestra and a Mass in D. Her opera, Der Wald, was the only the opera by a woman composer to be produced at the Metropolitan Opera for more than a century. Smyth was involved in the women’s suffragette movement and gave up music for two years to devote herself to the cause. Her “The March of the Women” (1911) became the anthem of the women’s suffrage movement.
Amy Beach (1867-1944; also known as Amy Marcy Cheney Beach, and in her time, as “Mrs. H.H.A. Beach”)
Photo of composer Amy Beach
Amy Beach was an American composer and pianist. Like Clara Schumann, Amy was a child prodigy. Her family nurtured her musical talent but struggled to keep up with her musical interests. She rose to prominence when her “Gaelic” Symphony became the first symphony composed and published by an American woman. In 1896 it was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She composed a wide variety of works including chamber music, symphonies, choral works, and solo piano compositions. Though she received fame and recognition during her lifetime, after she died her works were largely ignored until the latter half of the 20th century. She is now acclaimed as one of the greatest American composers of her era.
Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979)
Photo of composition teacher Nadia Boulanger
Nadia Boulanger was a French composer and conductor. However, she is arguably known as the most renowned composition teacher of the 20th century. She grew up in a very musical family. Both her father, Ernest Boulanger, and her sister, Lili Boulanger won the coveted Prix de Rome for composition. In 1921 she started teaching at The American School at Fontainebleau. She taught an entire generation of composers. The well-known students who were taught by her were known as the “Boulangerie.” Some of the most famous composers she taught were Aaron Copeland, Phillip Glass, Elliot Carter, Thea Musgrave, and Quincy Jones. She was also the first woman to conduct major orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony.
Dame Myra Hess (1890-1965)
Photo of pianist Myra Hess.
Dame Myra Hess was a British pianist. She was born into a Jewish family and started piano lessons at the age of five. She studied at the Royal Academy of Music. As a pianist she was most known for her musical interpretations of Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach. She garnered fame for her performances during the Second World War. All concert halls in England were blacked out at night in fear of being a target of German Bombers. During the London Blitz she started organizing lunchtime concerts. She organized 2,000 concerts over a period of six years.
Jennifer Higdon (1962-)
Photo of composer Jennifer Higdon.
Jennifer Higdon is an American composer and composition teacher. Her father was a painter and exposed her to a multitude of different types of art. However, she had very little musical training in her early years. She attended Bowling Green State University for Flute Performance. She wrote her first composition, Night Creatures, at Bowling Green. She later studied at the Curtis Institute of Music under the guidance of Ned Rorem. Her compositional style is considered neoromantic. She received numerous awards for her compositions including the Pulitzer Prize for Music for her Violin Concerto. She has won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition twice and once for her Best Classical Compendium.
Missy Mazzoli (1980-)
Photo of Composer Missy Mazzoli.
Missy Mazzoli is an American composer and pianist. She was born in Pennsylvania and attended Boston University. She later received a master’s degree from the Yale School of Music. She has written numerous works including operas, chamber music, and orchestral pieces. She is most known for her operas which have received critical acclaim. Some of her most notable operatic works are Songs from the Uproar and Breaking the Waves. She has also written and performed pieces for the television show Mozart in the Jungle.
Other female composers that will be highlighted this month are Hildegard von Bingen and Lili Boulanger.
References:
https://womenshistorymonth.gov/
https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/latest/great-women-composers/louise-farrenc/
https://www.musicacademyonline.com/composer/biographies.php?bid=51
https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/suffragette-ethel-smyth/
https://www.americancomposers.org/beach_article.htm
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/Boulanger-Nadia.htm
https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/hess-dame-myra
http://jenniferhigdon.com/
http://www.missymazzoli.com/
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