How would Clara Schumann release her music today? Would Fanny Mendelssohn perform to thousands instead of only her immediate family? Would Florence Price’s manuscripts have ever been lost?
We want to celebrate the women in Classical Music whose careers you may not be familiar with but whose works deserve shouting about. So, without further ado, here are 6 female composers that you should know about!
1. Clara Schumann
We’re kicking it off with the formidable force of the Romantic era that is Clara Schumann. A 61-year long career filled with hugely successful concerts and performances essentially made Clara the touring QUEEN! Selling out venues is no mean feat, but Miss Schumann was doing so from the age of 9 and really never stopped until her death. She also combined this with a teaching career that encouraged students from around the world to come and learn from the best of the best. Being ever the prodigy and with technique that made the even the most accomplished of pianists quake in their boots, Clara’s compositions certainly reflect this. We love her “Impromptu (Le Sabbat)” but you may need some patience for this one! If you’ve never explored the music of Clara Schumann, then we would certainly implore you to do so.
2. Germaine Tailleferre
Another female composer who is definitely worth adding to your playlists and repertoire is Germaine Tailleferre. Though her career wasn’t off to be best start, with her father refusing to support her musical endeavours, Germaine still managed to forge a wonderful life in composition, becoming the only female member of the famous group of composers, Les Six. Meeting back in 1917 in the dimly lit art studios of Paris, with works by Picasso and Matisse adorning the walls and music by Erik Satie filling the air, it’s no wonder that Germaine found the inspiration to compose so much beautiful work. Our favourite of hers is the “Valse Lente”, part of her Deux Valses, for its stunningly melancholic, reflective feel. Do check it out if you haven’t already!
3. Fanny Mendelssohn
A prominent composer and pianist in the early Romantic era was our girl Fanny Mendelssohn. Unlike her contemporary Clara Schumann, Fanny rarely performed outside of her own family bubble, despite composing hundreds (yes, hundreds) of pieces throughout her career. Unfortunately, the opinions of her family and of society as a whole actually meant that many of her compositions were published under the name of her brother, another famous composer we’ve all heard of, Mr Felix Mendelssohn. Her father was even quoted to have said that music may become a profession for Felix, but for Fanny could only ever be an “ornament”. Thankfully, since the 1980s we’ve seen a renewed enthusiasm for her works, and a museum dedicated to the lives and musical works of the two siblings was opened in Hamburg in 2018.
4. Florence Price
If Florence Price is a composer that you aren’t aware of, then we’re about to change that. After competing and winning first prize for her “Symphony in E Minor” for the Wanamaker Foundation Awards, Price was thrust into the public eye for her talents in composition. It was off the back of this win that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered the work, making Florence Price the first African-American woman EVER to be recognised as a symphonic composer and have her piece played by a major orchestra. Wow. And in more recent years, an incredibly fascinating story has emerged regarding Price – a large collection of her manuscripts were found in an abandoned home in Illinois back in 2009, which would otherwise have been tragically lost forever. That derelict house can certainly serve us all an important reminder that a country can easily forget its cultural history if we don’t do the work to change that.
5. Zenobia Powell Perry
Quite unlike some of the other stories we hear about famous composers, Perry didn’t begin her serious journey into musical creation until she hit her forties! However, proving that it’s never too late to start, Perry left a lasting mark on the classical piano world, embodying a sound influenced both by tradition classical styles and her grandfather’s spirituals. Add to that a little dollop of jazz and folk styles that were emerging in the 40s and 50s, and you’ve got yourself a picture of Zenobia Powell Perry’s musical character. Her collection, Piano Potpourri, is a stunning collection for piano which truly embraces the distinctive Perry sound – slightly dissonant, a bit jaunty and with melodies that are full of life!
6. Errollyn Wallen
And last but by no means least, we’re dropping in on a composer who is thriving today, and that is the wonderful Errollyn Wallen CBE. After studying composition at Goldsmiths College, Kings College London and Kings College, Cambridge, it’s safe to say that Errollyn has worked hard to be where she is today. Taking inspiration from both the avant-garde classical works, along with the popular music of the present, Wallen has formed her own free-spirited approach to classical composition. Her first orchestral commission was a concerto for the well-known percussionist, Colin Currie, and was premiered by Colin himself for the first time at the finals of the BBC Young Musician competition in 1994. The success of this piece speaks for itself, as it was later performed at the 1998 BBC Proms, making Wallen the first black female composer to receive a performance at this festival. We think Errollyn deserves all the recognition for her truly fantastic career!
Thanks for reading today. If you’re interested in learning more about the world of Classical Music, be sure to read up on 10 Beginners Classical Piano Pieces!