Tuesday 6 March 2018

Reviving unjustly neglected women composers for International Women's Day

Louise Farrenc
Louise Farrenc
Thursday is International Women's Day, which means that women composers are also rather coming into focus. 

At the Barbican Centre, Laurence Equilbey is conducting her Insula Orchestra in Symphony No. 3 by Louise Ferrenc. Over at the BBC, the BBC Concert Orchestra and conductor Jane Glover are performing works by five historic, unjustly neglected women composers, Leokadiya Kashperova, Marianna Martines, Florence Price, Augusta Holmès and Johanna Müller-Hermann, at LSO St Lukes (and also live on Radio 3). 

Whilst both these concerts are admirable and exciting, these works are just the tip of the iceberg and we must hope that the events spur other organisations on. 

In addition the Southbank Sinfonia's Rush Hour Concert at St John's Waterloo, conducted by Jessica Cottis, features music by three contemporary composers Thea Musgrave, Judith Weir and Kate Whitley.  Three different generations, each distinguished and hardly neglected, but the concert is a welcome opportunity.

Louise Ferrenc (1804-1875) studied with Hummel and Anton Reicha and was professor of piano at the Paris Conservatoire for 30 years. Her piano works and chamber music are her some of  her finest pieces, but the third and final of her symphonies. Written in 1847 it is music which is clearly influenced not only by Mendelssohn and Schumann but also Berlioz. And writing a symphony in mid 19th century Paris was certainly bucking the trend.

Leokadiya Kashperova, Marianna Martines, Florence Price, Augusta Holmès and Johanna Müller-Hermann
Leokadiya Kashperova, Marianna Martines, Florence Price,
Augusta Holmès and Johanna Müller-Hermann
Marianna Martines (1744-1813) was an Austrian composer, singer and pianist, where her family played host to Pietro Metastasio, and Joseph Haydn. A keyboard virtuoso, Martines wrote extensively for her instrument, as well as in other genres and the concert will feature two arias from the oratorio Sant' Elena. Augusta Holmès (1847-1903) was a French composer of Irish extraction, famous for being close to Cesar Franck (though their rumoured affair was probably just that, a rumour). She had a large circle of artistic friends and admirers, including Liszt, Rossini, Saint-Saëns and César Franck (who she studied with), and had five children with the poet Catulle Mendés. Her music is vibrant and was castigated in her lifetime for being too 'masculine'. The BBC Concert Orchestra will be playing her Allegro Feroce. Leokadiya Kashperova (1872-1940) was a Russian pedagogue best known as Stravinsky's piano teacher! Kashperova married one of her piano students, a twice-arrested and exiled Bolshevik revolutionary and the couple was forced to flee to the Caucasus and then to Moscow, where she continued to compose in secret. Her role as a composer is almost completely unknown today and the concert will be reviving her Symphony

Johanna Müller-Hermann (1868–1941) was an Austrian composer and pedagogue. She studied composition under Alexander Zemlinsky and Josef Foerster, and took over as a theory and composition tutor at the New Vienna Conservatory in 1918. Despite teaching there for more than 20 years, she is relatively unknown today and there are only a handful of recordings of her work. The BBC Concert Orchestra will be playing three songs with soprano Ilona Domnich. Florence B Price (1887-1953) was an award-winning symphonist from an affluent African-American family who studied at the New England Conservatory yet constantly had problems because of her skin colour. Notwithstanding, in 1925 and 1927 Price won the Holstein prize, and her Symphony No. 1 in E minor was performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1932. The concert includes here Concert Overture No. 2.

Details from the Barbican website the BBC website. and the Southbank Sinfonia website.

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