One of the ongoing Twitter hashtag groups I participate with is #ClassicsaDay. The idea’s pretty simple: post a link to a classical work, and – in the body of the tweet – provide a little info about it. For March 2017, some of the participants decided to include a theme.
In honor of Women’s History Month, we would only post links to works by women composers. We used an additional hashtag #WomensHistoryMonth to ensure a wider audience. It seemed to work. I received many comments on my March #ClassicsaDay posts.
And I believe we helped make the case that the concept of “women composers” is hardly a late-20th-century phenomenon. Women have been writing music as long as there has been a notation for it. Here’s the list of women composers and their works I shared during #WomensHistoryMonth
Part 4: The Modern Era (1910 – present)
Ethel Smyth (1858–1944) – String Quartet in E minor
– Smyth was a ground-breaking composer and a champion for women’s rights. Despite the quality of her compositions, she had to go abroad to get them performed.
Amy Beach (1867–1944)- Piano Concerto
– Mrs. H.H.A. Beach (as she preferred to be addressed) is considered one of the most important American female composers of the modern era. Although her output was relatively small, each piece is a well-crafted and melodically beautiful (at least I think so).
Jennifer Higdon (b.1962) – Percussion Concerto
– Jennifer Higdon is a Pulitzer-prize winning composer and one of the brightest stars on the contemporary music scene.
Mary Finsterer (born 1962) – Angelus
– Australian composer Mary Finsterer has a multi-faceted catalog of works. She’s written for traditional chamber and orchestral forces. She’s composed electronic and acousto-electronic pieces as well. And she’s also written film scores.
Victoria Poleva (born 1962) – Null for orchestra
– Victoria Poleva’s early works were decidedly avante garde. Over time, this Ukranian composer has moved to more of a mystical minimalist style.
Lera Auerbach (born 1973) – Symphony No. 1, Chimera
– Russian-born composer Lera Auerbach has an impressive catalog of compositions, including four symphonies, and four violin concertos.
Tansy Davies (born 1973) – Wild Card
– Davies won the BBC Young Composer’s award in 1996 and has gone on to work with the London Symphony Orchestra and other major ensembles.
Kati Agócs (born 1975) – Supernatural Love
– Kati Agócs is an accomplished music writer and critic as well as being a composer. Her catalog has over 20 major works for solo, chamber and orchestral forces.
Raminta Šerkšnyte (born 1975) – De Profundis for String Orchestra
– Lithuanian composer Raminta Šerkšnyte is known for her orchestral and choral works. She’s also written music for children, and in impressive body of chamber works.
Svitlana Azarova (born 1976) – Outvoice, outstep and outwalk for bass clarinet
– Azarova is a Ukranian/Dutch composer with a decidedly unique style. Her first major works were published in 1999, and she continues to build on their success.
Britta Byström (born 1977) -Persuasion
– Like Malcolm Arnold, Britta Byström is a trumpet player as well as a composer. This Swedish artist is best known for her orchestral works and concertos.
Anna S. Þorvaldsdóttir (Anna Thorvaldsdottir) (born 1977) Aeriality
– Thorvaldsdottir is originally from Iceland. She’s attracted a great deal of attention in the United States, and her works are available on the Innova label.
Karola Obermüller (born 1977) – Helical for Chamber Orchestra
– German composer Karola Obermüller writes in what she calls a “hyperkinetic” style. In addition to four operas, she’s written electronic music, chamber, orchestral, and choral works.
Agata Zubel (born 1978)-Cascando
– Agata Zubel is a Polish singer and composer of international renown. Not surprisingly, most of her works incorporate the human voice.
Dobrinka Tabakova (born 1980) – Concerto for Cello and Strings
– Tabakova was born in Bulgaria, but has spent most of her professional life in the UK. Her compositions are evenly balanced between orchestral, chamber, and choral genres. Recently there’s been an upsurge in her recordings on major classical labels.
Cheryl Frances-Hoad (born 1980) – From the Beginning of the World
– British composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad is best known for her ballet scores. Her choral work “From the Beginning of the World”
was featured in a BBC Proms concert.
Anna Clyne (born 1980) – Masquerade
– Born in the UK, Anna Clyne works in the United States, where she’s won several major awards for her music. Most of her chamber works involve electronic instruments.
Abbie Betinis (born 1980) – Song of the Pines
– American composer Abbie Betinis studied with Mary Ellen Childs, and Judith Lang Zaimont. She’s best known for her choral compositions.
Hannah Lash (born 1981) – Harp Concerto
– Lash joined the faculty of the Yale School of Music in 2013. Most of her works are for chamber ensembles.
Helen Grime (born 1981) – Violin Concerto
Charlotte Bray (born 1982) – At the Speed of Stillness
– Charlotte Bray is a cellist as well as a composer. She received her premier at the BBC Proms in 2012, and has since gone on to compose for several major orchestras and artists.
Brigitta Muntendorf (born 1982) – Shivers on Speed
– German composer Brigitta Muntendorf is also the founder and director of the contemporary music group Ensemble Garage.
Cristina Spinei (born 1984) – From for SQ
– Spinei studied with Christopher Rouse and is most noted for her ballets. In a short amount of time, she’s built up an impressive catalog of works.
Alissa Firsova (born 1986) – Bergen’s Fire
– Firsova is a Russian-British composer with over thirty published works. One of them was a commission from the BBC Proms.
Kathryn Salfelder (born 1987) – Cathedrals for wind ensemble
– American composer Kathryn Salfelder currently a lecturer at MIT. Her music is performed with increasing frequency
My list of women composers through the ages was too long for one post — I had to break it into four. But there’s more. When I looked over my notes, I still had over 900 names I had yet to share. While a significant number were contemporary composers, there were still plenty from before 1900.
Here’s my takeaway: women composers are neither a historic anomaly or a uniquely modern phenomenon. Talented musicians throughout history have created beautiful and wonderful works. Women, like men, wrote music for the performance opportunities they had.
Look for an entirely different list next year for #WomensHistoryMonth