The Sappy Schumanns

September 15, 2016 at 10:30 am

The Schumanns are probably the most famous pair of married composers, and most definitely the sappiest. Romantic sensibilities simply drip from nearly every note they wrote. Robert‘s sappy high-point is probably Dichterliebe (poet’s love); Clara‘s might be her Three Romances for Violin & Piano.

Clara was an all-around musical powerhouse with an extensive performing career and a long list of compositions to boot. Thanks to good-old-fashioned-19th-century sexism (not to mention the 20th and 21st centuries), her music is overshadowed by her husband’s – though I would argue that only an expert could pass the “pepsi challenge” and tell their music apart. Even more unfortunate is the fact that her music is overshadowed by inferior male composers of her time (Jacques Offenbach, for example, was born the same year as Clara …)


International Women’s Day

March 8, 2016 at 9:55 am

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of women throughout history.

Gender inequality certainly exists in music. And while the field of performance (solo and ensemble performers) has become considerably more gender balanced than it was in the past, composition still remains a male-dominated career.

Today I want to celebrate Amy Beach, who was the first American woman to have a successful career as a concert pianist and composer of Art Music.

women's day

Despite being a female composer at a time when composers simply weren’t supposed to be female, Beach was revered as a member of the Second New England School – the elite, first group of highly educated American composers. Their music is fabulous, but they get overshadowed by their European contemporaries, and nowadays, their music is considered to be not truly “American”. (whatever!)

Anyway, Beach is one seriously strong person. After she married in 1885, her husband asked (ie, demanded) that she limit her concert performances, an donate all her earnings to charity. Nevertheless, she persisted. Her 1896 “Gaelic Symphony” was a monumental success. Critics tried to find weaknesses in the composition and attach them to her sex, but to no avail. Audiences and her colleagues lifted her up as one of America’s finest.

The whole symphony is fabulous. If you have the time, I’d highly recommend listening to the rest of it – check the sidebar on Youtube, and follow the roman numerals. And if you don’t have the time … come back when you do 🙂


Clara the Riveter

December 12, 2015 at 10:00 am

Throughout history there have been numerous female composers; their place in society prevented nearly all of them to remain obscure and their music unheard. Even with all the progress made in modern society, women composers (living and dead) still are unjustly considered second-class. Just consider this – the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra did not accept female musicians until … ready for it? … 1997.

1997! Seriously?
It took them that long to join the 20th century?!?!

I need not go into great detail on this issue because there are plenty who already have done it far better than I can. What I can do is encourage you to listen to Clara Schumann. (Clara’s husband, by the way, was also a composer. Not surprisingly, his Wikipedia article is longer – but not by much.) In a way, she is the figurehead for the advancement of women composers. Her writing was so good, so much better than most of the schlock that was being pumped out by many of her male contemporaries, that she simply could not be ignored. And since her, things have been steadily improving for female musicians and composers, albeit slowly.

clara riveter
I’m not a photoshop wiz. best I could do. sorry.