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Celebrating Women Composers Through History

As we celebrate Women's History Month, it's crucial to shine a light on the often-overlooked contributions of women composers in classical music. From Hildegard von Bingen in the Medieval era to contemporary composers like Errolyn Warren, women have played a pivotal role in shaping the landscape of classical music with their innovative compositions and resilience in the face of gender-based barriers.

We frequently programme the music of women composers in our concerts, and dedicated a whole programme to women's music in our Music She Wrote concerts in 2023 - coming up, hear Emilie Mayer's Faust Overture in June.

Emilie Mayer (1812–1883)

As one of the most prolific female composers of the 19th century, Emilie Mayer's journey into the world of classical music was nothing short of remarkable. After her father's death, Mayer found solace and purpose in music, eventually studying composition and theory under the tutelage of Carl Loewe. Despite the societal constraints of her time, she carved out a significant place for herself in the music world, composing dozens of works that spanned symphonies, chamber music, lieder, and opera. Her contributions laid crucial groundwork for future generations of women in music, pushing the boundaries of what was considered possible.

Highlight: Mayer's Faust Overture, a powerful and dramatic work, showcases her mastery of orchestral color and her ability to convey deep emotional narratives through music. It's a testament to her skill and a piece that remains compelling to modern audiences.

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)

One of the earliest known female composers, Hildegard von Bingen was a German Benedictine abbess and a visionary who composed over 70 musical pieces. Her compositions, like "O Virtus Sapientiae," are characterized by soaring melodies that were revolutionary for her time.

Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847)

Whilst her brother Felix may be more well-known, Fanny Mendelssohn was a prodigious talent in her own right. Her "Overture in C" showcases her lyrical style and emotional depth.

Clara Schumann (1819-1896)

A virtuoso pianist and composer, Clara Schumann balanced her career with a large family. Her "Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 7," written at age fourteen, displays her mastery of the Romantic style even at such a young age.

Florence Price (1887-1953)

As the first African-American woman recognized as a symphonic composer, Florence Price's "Symphony No. 1 in E minor" combines classical forms with African-American spirituals, making a significant contribution to American music.

Errollyn Wallen CBE (Born 1958) Errollyn Wallen – Belize-born British composer, pianist, and singer – has been changing the landscape of contemporary classical music with her innovative and eclectic compositions. Wallen's work transcends traditional boundaries, incorporating elements from a wide range of musical genres, from classical to popular music. She was the first black woman to have her work performed at The Proms and continues to be a powerful voice for diversity and inclusion within classical music.

Highlight: Among her extensive catalogue, Wallen's Concerto Grosso stands out for its vibrant blend of classical and contemporary styles, performed by an ensemble that includes both soloists and ensemble musicians. This piece reflects Wallen's commitment to breaking new ground and engaging with audiences in fresh and meaningful ways.

The contributions of these women, among many others, have enriched classical music immeasurably. By exploring their works and stories, we pay homage to their creativity and resilience, inspiring future generations of musicians regardless of gender.

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