Why do we hear of so few famous female composers in the great Classical/Romantic Music eras?
The Male Chauvinist answers: ” Since Eve ate the forbidden fruit, she brought the curse upon the herself. She is therefore inferior to man and one should not expect her to excel in any endeavor.”
The Feminist reasons: “All women want is equality under the law to the same rights and privileges afforded her male counterpart. Given a level playing field, women are as capable as men academically or artistically.”
The Misogynist responds: ” Man is king – ruler of his domain. Women are mere chattels and were born to serve men. They are the weaker sex both physically and intellectually, and must stay within the confines of their limitations.”
An Intriging Answer
Undeniably, throughout the ages, women have not been afforded the same opportunities as their male counterparts. The fact is that, due to societal norms, women have encountered difficulties getting their works performed or produced.
One reason for this is that composers depend on orchestras or ensembles to perform, and historically such orchestras were overwhelmingly male. And which male orchestra would have been willing to champion the works of a woman?
Nevertheless, some women have been successful in breaking through societal barriers and have become trailblazers in the great classical and romantic periods and beyond.
Famous Female Classical Composers
…..Who Defied The Odds
Consider Clara Schumann (1819 – 1896)
Born to a middle-class family in Leipzig, Germany, Clara was influenced by her musically inclined parents. At a time when, female pianist and composers very rarely performed publicly, Clara did both.
A gifted composer, her skills were sharpened by the famous pianist Lizst, while touring Europe, and she became one of the most celebrated pianist of the 19th century.
Although overshadowed by her husband Robert Schuman and friend Johannes Brahms, she performed before sold-out audiences and received extravagant praise from the critics.
Her life was riddled with many personal tragedies, yet she had a long and productive career. A debilitating stroke in 1896 took her life, but she left behind a catalog of chamber pieces, compositions and concertos still performed today.
Fanny Mendelssohn (1805 – 1847)
Fanny came from a musical family, which included her brother Felix. Her talents were recognized at an early age and she performed in private family concerts.
recognized at an early age and she performed in private family concerts.
However, she was unable to continue her musical studies which, due to prevailing attitudes , was thought unfit for a woman.
Nevertheless, despite societal norms and a short 41 years of life, she wrote over 500 musical compositions including chamber music, cantatas and choral works. Who knows the what she may have accomplished had she lived much longer?
Amy March Cheney Beach (1867-1944)
- By aged 1, Amy had already memorized over 40 songs
- By aged 5, she began composing her own hymns and waltzes with simple symphonies
- At aged 6, her mother encouraged her to take piano lessons and
- At aged 7, Amy captivated audiences with her first performance by playing the works of Chopin, Beethoven and Handel among others.
Like a volcano erupting, Amy broke through the barrier of male dominated classical composers and defied traditional norms and conventions. She also became known as the first successful female composer of her time, and went on to shock the world with the complexity of her music composition and symphonies.
So, what do you think? Why do you suppose we hear so little of famous female composers?
I would greatly appreciate hearing from you. Your critique, opinions, questions and/or comments are welcomed. Thanks in advance.