The weekend will draw attention to music written by female composers throughout history. Join us now for a whistle-stop tour of five major female composers spanning the last two hundred years to highlight some of the wonderful music you might not be familiar with.
Fanny Mendelssohn (1805 – 1847)
Like her younger brother, Fanny Hensel (nee Mendelssohn) wrote many short character pieces for piano as was to become typical of Romanic piano repertoire. She was inventive (her own Lieder ohne Wörte likely pre-date Felix’s) and prolific, with a flowing stream of music from the age of 14 until her early death less than 30 years later. Her inspiration drew from many contemporary sources including Goethe. She wrote in the major compositional forms for chamber including Piano Sonata, Trio, Song, Piano Suite (The impressive Das Jahr) and String Quartet with the notable exception of any large scale Symphonies or Concerti.
Clara Schumann (1819 – 1896)
14 years younger than Fanny Hensel, Clara was raised on a diet of daily one hour music lessons. As a pianist, many of the finest works of the early Romantic era were written for her, and as a composer, she began early with a piano concerto at 14(!) and later concentrated on shorter forms such as her numerous Romances and the wonderful Soirees Musicales, Op 6. Lauretta will play Clara’s “Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann” to open the course. She is probably the most widely known female composer.
Amy Beach (1867 – 1944)
The American composer Amy Beach is truly a stand alone figure in American muscial history, just as her contemporary Dame Ethel Smyth (1858 – 1944) is in British. Both composed in every major form – with Concerti, Symphonies, Choral music, Songs, Masses and even opera. Beach’s large number of piano pieces are in the late Romantic style of her contemporaries and range from the miniature Children’s Album op. 36, via song transcriptions up to the challenging Variations on Balkan Themes. Her music is confident and has the craftsmanship expected of a composer of the highest order. Smyth’s piano music equally rewards investigation, which although more conservative than Beach’s, spans a double disk set and features three sonatas and the wondefully titled “Variations on an Original Theme (of an Exceedingly Dismal nature) in Db Major”!
Sofia Gubaidulina (b. 1931)
A composer between eras, Gubaidulina’s music uses traditional forms (Toccata, Suite, Sonata and Chaconne) but she presents them with a refreshing modern approach. She often writes for unusual instruments or combinations, including saxophone quartet, 12 celli, music with tape and the waterphone. She makes use of new sonorities with occasional extended techniques to a musical, rather than gimmicky, effect. Her most well known work for piano, Musical Toys is a suite of 14 charming pieces imitating at various times a musical sleigh, a mechanical organ, a woodpecker and musicians in the forest. A vast quantity of her music is still unrecorded, but there are several wonderful CDs of her complete piano music available.
Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952)
Still active Kaija Saariaho has written three operas to date, as well as numerous large scale works for orchestra. Her piano concerto includes a tape of recorded birdsong and the wonderful Piano Sonata employs Debussy-like textures and beautiful sweeping arpeggios, far from the aggressive and hostile modern sonorities one might expect of a post-war composer. Her output for piano also includes her Prelude and Ballade, both written within the past 10 years, which make delightful contemporary additions to any pianist’s repertoire.
Lauretta has been to Jackdaws before, and received this wonderful, warm write up from one participant…
“We were a small group, so we each received a lot of attention. Lauretta was generous, caring and detailed in her teaching, and now that I have has a week to assimilate the work into my practice, I think it has made a genuine difference to my pieces. I think Lauretta managed the different needs and standards of the participants well, giving equal time to each person. The group session on warm up exercises was also very helpful. I understand that this was a new course, so I very much hope that it was a positive experience for Lauretta too! With best wishes, and thanks to Lauretta.”