Women Composers You Should Know About: Part Three

This Women’s History Month, we honor women of the past and present and acknowledge not only their accomplishments but also their struggles and hard work to attain sometimes the barest recognition from society.
The vast sheet music collection of Johnson String Instrument includes music by countless other past and present women composers, all available for purchase.

Photo by Javier Oddo

ANNA CLYNE (b. March 9, 1980) is an English composer currently residing in the United States, specializing in electroacoustic music. She has received numerous awards, and her double concerto Prince of Clouds was nominated for a Grammy in 2015. Many of her works involve a visual component, such as her orchestral poem Night Ferry. Her work The Violin is a suite for two violins and electronic backing track, with optional violin ensemble. It is paired with poems by her mother and a series of stop-motion animations by Josh Dorman. Rest These Hands is a movement from the suite arranged for solo violin and strings.

LILI BOULANGER (August 21, 1893 – March 15, 1918) was a French composer known for her colorful vocal, choral, and orchestral works, influenced by Debussy. Taught with her sister Nadia by Gabriel Fauré, she made it her mission to win the coveted Prix de Rome.  After years of study, she won it in 1913 with her cantata Faust et Hélène, becoming the first woman to have ever won the prize. She composed two somber violin pieces around this time: Nocturne (1911) and Cortège (1914). However, throughout her entire career, Lili struggled with what is thought to have been Crohn’s disease. She died in poor health at just 24 in 1918. Her sister Nadia then turned to pedagogy, teaching composers such as Copland, Glass, Bacewicz, and Piazzolla.

CLARA SCHUMANN (September 13, 1819 – May 20, 1896) remains one of the most esteemed musicians and composers of the Romantic Era. She had a 61-year long career as a concert pianist, touring with Joseph Joachim and championing the works of her husband Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and Felix Mendelssohn. She composed a piano concerto at age 14 and premiered it herself under the baton of Mendelssohn. Superb later works include her masterful Piano Trio (1846) and the popular Three Romances (1853) for violin and piano, inspired by her husband and dedicated to Joachim. Robert was committed to an asylum soon afterward, dying there in 1856. After his death, Clara focused on performing, and with Brahms edited her husband’s works for publication.

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Copyright © 2019 · All Rights Reserved · Nate Faro

Women Composers You Should Know About: Part Two

This Women’s History Month, we honor women of the past and present and acknowledge not only their accomplishments but also their struggles and hard work to attain sometimes the barest recognition from society.
The vast sheet music collection of Johnson String Instrument includes music by countless other past and present women composers, all available for purchase.

Credit: Kuandi Photos

CHEN YI 陳怡 (b. April 4, 1953) is an award-winning Chinese composer and violinist. As a young musician, Chen’s European-influenced education was cut short by the Cultural Revolution. She practiced in secret, before being sent to perform hard labor at a commune, where she became exposed to Chinese folk culture. When she returned to her hometown of Guangzhou at 17, she became concertmaster of the Beijing Opera Troupe. She became the first woman to receive a M.A. in composition from Beijing’s Central Conservatory for the Arts. Her music has been played by such artists as Yo-Yo Ma, Yehudi Menuhin, and Evelyn Glennie. As in Memory for Solo Cello, Chen blends Western classical elements with Chinese folksong.

AUGUSTA READ THOMAS (b. April 24, 1964) is a prominent American composer. Her music has been performed by Mstislav Rostropovich and played under the baton of Pierre Boulez. She has held teaching positions at the Eastman School of Music, Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago. Though her music is thoroughly notated, it has been characterized as organic and free, and described in her own words as “captured improvisation”. Her work Silent Moon for Violin and Viola embodies this style, with numerous passages containing rubato, cadenzas, and advanced rhythms.

Hear Augusta Read Thomas discuss her work in a May 2018 interview with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
Photo © Bernie Mindich

JOAN TOWER (b. September 6, 1938) is one of the most successful American composers today. Her music developed in the serialist tradition started by Schoenberg, before branching out into a more impressionist sound. She became the first woman to win the prestigious Grawemeyer  Award for her work Silver Ladders, and has won three Grammy Awards for her album “Made in America”. She is perhaps most renowned for her set of Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman. Her solo violin work Second String Force is an advanced work with visceral energy and technical challenges.

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Copyright © 2019 · All Rights Reserved · Nate Faro

Women Composers You Should Know About: Part One

This Women’s History Month, we honor women of the past and present by acknowledging their accomplishments, struggles and hard work to attain sometimes the barest recognition from society. Women composers are particularly absent from the spotlight; however, they have gained increased visibility in recent years. New Hampshire-born Amy Beach is perhaps the most prominent female composer in American history. She enjoyed a fair amount of recognition by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in her lifetime.

Our sheet music collection at Johnson String Instrument includes music by countless other past and present women composers. Below is our first installment exploring these pioneering women and their exciting compositions.

Rebecca Clarke

REBECCA CLARKE (August 27, 1886 – October 13, 1979) was an English composer and violist. Forced on to the streets by her father at age 20, Clarke supported herself as a performer and became one of the first female professional violists, in chamber and orchestral settings alike. Her compositions are known for their lyricism, lush harmonies, and intense emotion. She faced numerous difficulties as a female composer, and her work was largely forgotten at the end of her life. Today, interest in her music has soared. The Viola Sonata from 1919 is her best-known work and a gem of the viola repertoire, its bold opening melody instantly recognizable.

Adriana Figueroa Mañas

ADRIANA FIGUEROA MAÑAS (b. October 19, 1966) has enjoyed performances of works on four continents. She is a member of the International Alliance of Women in Music, as well as the Argentinian Foundation of Woman Composers. She also plays flute and is the saxophonist in the West Jazz Band of Mendoza. Her colorful compositions, such as Tres Piezas en Clave de Tango, evoke the music of her native Argentina.

Grazyna Bacewicz

GRAZYNA BACEWICZ (February 5, 1909 – January 17, 1969) was a prominent Polish composer and violinist. As a student in Paris, she studied composition with Nadia Boulanger and violin with Carl Flesch. She became the concertmaster of the Polish Radio Orchestra in 1936. During World War II, she lived in Warsaw, where she gave secret underground concerts featuring her music. Her violin-centric works display interest in folksong and show the modernist influence of Bartók. Her Concertino for Violin and Piano is a fantastic student-level work of intermediate difficulty.

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Copyright © 2019 · All Rights Reserved · Nate Faro