Ground breaking female composers marked International Women’s Day in our June edition of Tutti
Updated: Apr 26, 2022
Cellist Naomi Adelson researched works by well known and less familiar female composers, creating a playlist of her highlights. We published her article in our Tutti Newsletter, and it’s now shared here for your enjoyment.
Be sure to listen to the playlist alongside reading about each composer.
1. Clara Schumann (1819-1896): Piano Trio in G minor, op.17
Clara is well known as the wife of Robert Schumann but was also a famous pianist and composer in her own right. The piano trio is one of her best-known works. It was written around a year before Robert completed his piano trio. Their two trios were often performed together and hers is seen to have had significant influences on his.
2. Alice Mary Smith (1839-1884): Andante for Clarinet and Orchestra
Alice was a British composer who wrote many large and small scale works and completed her first symphony at the age of 24. I find this Andante both uplifting and relaxing.
3. Dame Ethyl Mary Smyth (1858-1944): Serendade in D Major II. Scherzo: Allegro vivace – Allegro molto
Ethyl was a British composer and a prominent member of the suffragette movement. She studied at the Leipzig Conservatory where she met Dvorak, Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Clara Schumann and Brahms. This scherzo for orchestra is rousing and fun.
4. Louise Farrenc (1804-1875): Cello sonata, op.46
Louise was a French composer, pianist and teacher. She was the only woman appointed as a professor at the Paris Conservatory in the 19th century, and she had to protest for nearly ten years to be granted equal pay to her male colleagues. She wrote many orchestral works but became especially well known for her chamber music, such as this beautiful cello sonata.
5. Amy Beach (1867-1944): Romance, op.23
Amy was the first American woman to compose and publish a symphony. She wrote many successful large scale works and also became well known for performing concerts of her own piano music. Here I have included her passionate Romance for Violin and Piano.
6. Margaret Bonds (1913-1972): Troubled Water
Margaret was an African-American composer and concert pianist. She wrote many famous vocal compositions as well as writing music for the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Louis Armstrong and radio and television specials. This piano piece is a fantasia on the spiritual ‘Wade in the Water’.
7. Florence Price (1887-1953): Dances in the Canebrakes, I. Nimble Feet; Symphony No. 1 in E minor, III. Juba Dance IV. Finale
Florence was born in Arkansas and studied at the New England Conservatory of Music. She was Margaret Bonds’ teacher and friend. Both composers’ works incorporate influences from traditional spirituals and folk tunes. Florence’s piano suite ‘Dances in the Canebrakes’ has joyous ragtime flavours – I can recommend listening to other two movements if you enjoy the first! In 1933 her First Symphony was performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra – the first time a work by an African American woman had been performed by a major symphony orchestra. I’ve included the final two movements here; the Juba Dance has a real party atmosphere (listen out for the slide whistles) and the Finale is sure to get your toes tapping while the notes fly past.