Quick - name five female composers. Time’s up.
Pretty tough, isn’t it? That’s the point of “Women Composers Part II: The Untapped Source,” a two-part musical and cultural perspective on American female composers: increasing our awareness of women as creative artists.
There was Maria Anna “Nannerl” Mozart, sister of the other Mozart. The evidence indicates she had as much talent as her brother, but after the duo took the child prodigy routine all over Europe, she was relegated to the parlor piano. In his correspondence, Wolfgang commends her composition skills, but not a scrap of her work survives.
Then there was Cacilie “Fanny” Mendelssohn, also said to be as musically gifted as brother Felix. She actually had a couple of her songs and a piano trio published. But wise Felix told her that it was “unfeminine to compose.”
And how could we forget Clara Wieck Schumann, also known as Mrs. Bob. She was an accomplished pianist and a creative influence both on her husband and Johannes Brahms. In spite of the fact that she published a number of compositions in her lifetime, she wrote: “I once thought that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose - not one has been able to do it, and why should I expect to? It would be arrogance, although, indeed, my father led me into it in earlier days.”
Let’s hope no one believes any of these ideas. It is undoubtedly true many talented women were left untrained, and were locked in the home and out of the publishing houses by bygone beliefs.
Yet, where are all the famous women composers today? In writing, dance and the visual arts women have broken into the old boy network, but musical composition is still the bastion of the Dead White Guys. Things are gradually changing, and this two-evening symposium should raise awareness of the contributions of some gifted women.
Sunday evening, Travis Rivers, chair of the music department at Eastern Washington University (and classical music correspondent for The Spokesman-Review) will discuss the advancing role of women in music as perceived by the editors and readers of Etude Magazine.
Etude, published from 1883 to 1957, was written for the musical community with a particular focus on piano teachers and students.
Rivers says that, by and large, the magazine was male-dominated. Most of the articles and musical selections included in it were written by and about men. But because a great number of subscribing piano teachers were women, women as composers and performers were topics which were probably better-received in this publication than elsewhere.
Rivers says: “The stereotypical role of women has meant that the musical community as a whole has looked upon compositions by women as something of a wonder - somewhat bizarre and not always desirable. Much as the view of women as lawyers and doctors has undergone a change in recent years. So has that of women in the creative professions.”
Tuesday evening, Judith Schoepflin, associate professor of music at Whitworth, along with vocal faculty member Tom Tavener and other local musicians, will give a recital. All of the selections will be compositions by women from the pages of Etude.
Schoepflin will perform three selections by Amy Beach, whose “Gaelic” Symphony was the first major symphony written by an American woman, and who in 1892 was the first woman to have a work performed by the New York Philharmonic.
Also included on the program will be Three Dances by Florence Price. Price’s Symphony in E minor was played by the Chicago Symphony at the Chicago World’s Fair, making it the first work of an African-American woman to be performed by a major orchestra.
xxxx “Women Composers Part II: The Untapped Source” Location and time: Whitworth College Music Building Recital Hall, Sunday at 8 p.m., lecture/presentation by Travis Rivers; Tuesday, 8 p.m., lecture/recital by Judith Schoepflin Admission: Free