Fashionably rather late for Women’s History Month, the Anderson Room cases are now exhibiting works by some of the female composers represented in the University Library’s collections.
Working in roughly chronological order from the cases in the Anderson Room foyer to the cases inside the reading room, we start with a facsimile of music by Hildegard of Bingen. Leaping a few centuries, we then have facsimiles of pieces by Barbara Strozzi and Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre. It was cheering that, as we reached the nineteenth century, there were many more works by female composers in the collection to choose from, and more reassuring still to see the number of composers grow quite significantly as we got to the 20th century. By the time we reached the present day we were faced with having to leave out very many composers that we would have liked to include in the exhibition!
Read on for a taster of the exhibition…
Clara Schumann (1819-1896)
Born Clara Wieck, she was described by Grieg as “one of the most soulful and famous pianists of the day”. Clara was a child prodigy, performing her first solo concert at the age of 11, and went on to a long career as a concert pianist. Clara also composed, though this was hampered somewhat by her marriage to Robert Schumann, who once wrote that “to have children, and a husband who is always living in the realm of imagination, does not go together with composing.”
Ethel Smyth (1858-1944)
A composer and suffragette, Ethel Smyth studied initially at the Leipzig Conservatory and later privately with Heinrich von Herzogenberg, through whom she met Brahms and Clara Schumann. Smyth was made a dame in 1922 in recognition of her musical and literary works, making her the first composer to receive a damehood.
Alice Mary Smith (1839-1884)
The daughter of a London lace merchant, Alice Mary Smith showed an early talent for music and studied composition with William Sterndale Bennett, publishing her first piece in 1857. A review of a performance of her first symphony in 1863 remarked that it was “striking proof of the sound studies and high attainments of the female votaries of the art in this country.” She was elected Female Professional Associate of the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1867, and became an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music in 1884.
Have a look at pieces by these and other composers in the exhibition cases if you are passing by the Anderson Room!