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A very brief history of female composers


Many will remember the campaign last year of student Jessy McCabe, who petitioned her exam board to include more pieces by female composers in their A-Level Music syllabus. Out of 63 set pieces, 63 were written by male composers.



The work of female classical music composers has long largely been ignored, neglected, or stifled; and whilst today the works of composers such as Judith Weir and Jennifer Higdon are putting more music by women composers on international opera stages, according to the Operabase website the top 100 most-performed opera composers this year are all male.



There are certainly long-running historical factors at play in this tremendous imbalance. As with most positions in political and cultural life over the past centuries, the ambitions and talents of women were failed to be promoted and encouraged, leading even Clara Schumann to question the ability of women to be great composers:



"I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose — there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?"



There had been some female composers to emerge before Schumann. In Italy, Francesca Caccini and Barbara Strozzi were prolific composers of the early 17th Century, and Fanny Mendelssohn (a close contemporary of Schumann) is a central figure to the development of piano composition in the 19th Century (although it was often her brother, Felix, who was confused as the author of her work).



Through into the 20th Century classical music and opera continued to be the preserve of men - as both composers and conductors. Whilst one is still far more likely to see a man on the podium than a woman, it is perhaps here that greater strides have been made, with many notable female conductors emerging over the past decades - Sian Edwards, Marin Alsop, and Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla to name a few.



With the increase in public attention of the issue, and the efforts of organisations such as the Ambache Charitable Trust (one of the principal supporters of our production of ‘Cinderella’) to promote the work of female composers, we hope to see companies of all shapes and sizes look beyond the traditional musical cannon to unearth many more wonderful female composers and their works over the coming years ...



Find out more



Discover Viardot’s suggested daily vocal studies exercises!



There are the works of 408 female composers available to view on the International Music Score Library Project [IMSLP] website



A provocative article on women composers by Damian Thompson in The Spectator magazine



Classic FM have compiled a list of 21 female composers whose work is largely neglected



The Ambache Charitable Trust support the performance of music by women composers



Book tickets for Northern Opera Group's production of Pauline Viardot's 'Cinderella'



Pauline Viardot