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European Composers (page 1)

Women's Voices
Five Centuries of Song

Anne Boleyn (1507-1536). Anne Boleyn's father attained a high position under the young Henry VIII and spent several years as Ambassador to France. Anne lived at the French court from age 12-16. We know she was trained in music and dancing, owned a virginals, (a keyboard instrument similar in sound to a harpsichord), and played the lute. She had an excellent reputation as a composer and performer. She was the second wife of King Henry VIII and was the mother of Elizabeth I. This song is said to have been written by her when she was in the Tower of London facing execution for treason (though her only crime was probably her failure to produce a male heir).

Caterina Assandra (ca. 1580-after 1622), born in Pavia, became a nun in the cloister of Sant'Agata in Lomells. She studied counterpoint with one of the leading teachers of the day, Benedetto Rè. Her fame as a composer and performer extended beyond Italy during the first half of the 17th century and some of her works were published during her life.

Francesca Caccini (1587-between 1628 and 1640): Francesca Caccini's father Giulio, along with Peri, is credited with writing the first opera. Francesca sang and played lute, guitar and harpsichord, all very well, according to Monteverdi. She began composing major entertainments during her late teens. Although Francesca spent most of her life in Florence, she traveled widely, and made her singing debut at the wedding of Maria de Medici to Henri IV, King of France, in 1600. She became a musician for the Medici Court in 1607 and by 1613 was one of the highest paid musicians in Florence. In 1615 she published her first book of monodies, and with it gained respect as a composer. She then began to write large-scale operas, one of which was the first Italian opera to be produced outside Italy when it was performed in Warsaw in 1682. Caccini also wrote madrigals, canzonet as, musical settings for sonnets, variations and sacred works. Her music is very dramatic and uses unprepared dissonance, precisely indicated ornaments and word painting. As a singing teacher Caccini produced a whole school of disciples.

Barbara Strozzi (b.1619. Last published in 1664) composed some of the most extraordinary music of the 17th century and was considered the best singer and lute player in Venice. She was probably the illegitimate daughter of the poet Giulio Strozzi, who adopted her when she was nine. He saw to it that she received the best musical education and encouraged her to compose, publish and perform. The Strozzi home was the meeting place for groups of highly educated men who met to discuss the arts and sciences, which greatly influenced Barbara's development.

One group in which she was particularly interested was the Accademia degli Unisoni, or the "group of similar thinkers" founded in 1637. Their meetings were devoted to musical performances as well as to academic discourse, and Barbara played an important role as singer, lutenist, composer and collaborator. She commissioned poetry from members of the academy, set it to music, and performed and published it. At the time, there was no consensus that women had souls or belonged to the human race, and because of the role she played in a "man's world," she and the Accademia degli Unisoni gained much notoriety. Strozzi's music is similar to, but more lyrical than that of Cavalli, her teacher, and displays the wide variety of musical forms used in her day: full and partial da capo arias, strophic arias, strophic variations, and multi-sectioned cantatas using both free recitative and arias. Strozzi wrote arias, dramatic cantatas, madrigals and duets. She published eight volumes of works, including more cantatas than any other 17th-century composer.

Maria Theresia von Paradis (1759-1824): Paradis' father was the Imperial Court Secretary in Vienna, the cultural and political center of the Hapsburg empire. Maria Theresia was named after the Empress, who subsequently paid for her education. She went blind as a child, but because of her talent, had the best music teachers in Vienna, including Salieri for composition and singing. A keyboard virtuoso who was idolized by the public, both Salieri and Mozart wrote concertos for her. In the 1790s, Paradis stopped giving concerts, preferring to devote her time to composing and teaching. She spent the remainder of her life in Vienna where, in 1808, she founded an institution for music education for the handicapped. Since most of her music was not published, very little of it remains. This song was published in a collection of twelve songs from her European tour of 1784-86.

Anna Amalia, Duchess of Saxe-Weimar (1739-1807), the niece of Frederick the Great and daughter of Charles I, married at 16 and was the mother of two sons. She assumed the duties of regent for her underage son upon the early death of her husband. Apparently she ruled the duchy well and still had time to cultivate the arts and study composition and piano. She founded the German theatre in Weimar and is considered the founder of the Weimar museums. A very talented and cultured person, she surrounded herself with musicians and writers. Between 1788 and 1790 she traveled to Italy to study music and the visual arts. While there she met Paisiello who impressed her, as did the Italian vocal style.

Josephine Lang (1815-1880) came from Münich where her father was a court musician and her mother an opera singer. Lang was composing songs by age 13, and was only 15 when she wrote the song presented here. After meeting the young Lang in 1831, Mendelssohn wrote, "She has the gift of composing songs and singing them as I have never heard before. It is the most complete musical joy I have ever experienced." Lang responded to his enthusiasm by idolizing him. Robert Schumann wrote favorable reviews of her songs, including this one. Lang became a professional singer at the Münich court in 1836, but her career was cut short by marriage and a subsequent move to Tübingen in 1842. After her husband's death in 1856, Lang supported her family of six children by teaching voice and piano. Clara Schumann helped arrange for the publication of her Lieder. More than 150 were printed, establishing her as one of the most published women composers of the period. More than half of her songs date from the 1830s and 40s, and were influenced stylistically by Schubert, Schumann and Mendelssohn.

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1847) was a major talent, a better pianist than her brother Felix according to him, and the person to whom he took all of his compositions for criticism. Her father and brother discouraged her from having a professional career or publishing, but she was the musical director of one of the most important musical salons in Berlin in the 1830's and participated as a conductor, pianist and composer . In 1846 a small number of her works were published and she was planning more when she became ill and died. She composed songs, cantatas, oratorios and operas.

Clara Wieck Schumann (1819-1896), the daughter of a progressive music educator, received the best musical training, was groomed to become a professional musician, and was encouraged to compose. By the time she was 18, she was second only to Franz Liszt among European pianists. She was the first to introduce Chopin's music to Germany, the first to play Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata in Berlin, and the first to introduce many works by Johannes Brahms and her husband Robert Schumann. She managed to continue her piano career while bearing eight children. At 59 she accepted a full-time teaching post at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt where she remained for fourteen years. When she was 20, she wrote, "I once thought that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up the idea. A woman must not desire to be a composer, not one has done it, and, why should I expect to? It would be arrogance, though indeed my father led me to it in earlier days." These attitudes were a reflection of the society in which she lived, which questioned women's ability to produce works of art or intellect. Clara composed little after marriage. She wrote piano works, songs, a piano concerto and three chamber works.

Pauline Viardot-Garcia (1821-1910) and her sister Maria Malibran were the reigning divas of their day. Daughter of Manuel Garcia, a Rossini expert and famous voice pedagogue, Pauline studied piano with Liszt and composition with Reicha. A very intelligent woman, she was always in the company of artists and intellectuals, and she aided the careers of Gounod, Massenet, Saint-Säens, and Fauré, while Chopin and Liszt apparently admired her music. Pauline's own operatic career began in 1839 and lasted until 1862. From 1861 to 1872 she made most of her appearances on the recital stage, and in her later years taught at the Paris Conservatoire. Her little-known compositions include piano pieces, about 100 songs, and three operettas.

Agathe Backer-Grøndahl (1847-1907), a Norwegian pianist/composer, studied in Norway, Berlin, Weimar (with Liszt) and Florence (von Bülow). Following her debut as a concert pianist at seventeen, she toured throughout Europe, but marriage in and a family eventually kept her in Norway, where she became a very influential teacher and the most important Scandinavian woman composer of her time.

Lili Boulanger (1893-1918). Lili Boulanger's mother was a talented singer and her father, who was 79 when Lili was born, taught composition and voice at the Paris Conservatoire. Lili began to go to music classes with her sister Nadia at the age of three and at age six she sight-read Fauré's songs with the composer at the piano. When she was 16 she could play piano, violin, cello and harp and she composed long before she studied composition formally. At 19 she became the first woman to win the Prix de Rome, the greatest recognition a young French composer could attain. The prize provided a year's study in Rome, but Lili's stay was cut short by illness, and she died of tuberculosis at the age of 25. She was able to complete more than 50 works during her short life.

Poldowski (Irene Wieniawska Paul) (1880-1932) was born in Brussels of an Irish mother. Her father, who died before she was born, was the famous Polish violinist/composer Henryk Wieniawski. Because of her gender and the fame of her father, she opted for a pseudonym. Irene studied in Brussels, England, and in Paris with d'Indy. She was always restless and dissatisfied under any scholastic influence, however, and her most important study was undertaken alone when she returned to England, forming her own style by studying works she liked. Her oeuvre includes 29 or more songs, an operetta, a work for piano and orchestra, two works for orchestra, a woodwind suite, eleven pieces for piano, and two violin/piano pieces. A number of other pieces remain in manuscript.

Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983): Germaine Tailleferre's parents considered music an improper career, but were finally persuade to let Germaine enter the Paris Conservatoire when she was 12. She studied with Koechlin and Ravel and won first prize in solfege, harmony, and counterpoint. She joined with fellow students to form "Les Six," followers of the French composer Erik Satie, who represented a new, more radical style. Tailleferre's music is immediately appealing, reflecting the philosophy of "Les Six," who valued simplicity and unpretentiousness. The music is light and elegant, avoiding the heavy harmonies and repetitive forms of the German music which had dominated the nineteenth century. Tailleferre wrote music for film, radio and television; stage works (one with Cocteau); chamber music and vocal music.

Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944) had already composed several sacred works by age eight. Bizet advised her parents to give her a good musical education, so she studied piano, harmony, counterpoint and fugue with various teachers and composition with Godard. At 18, she gave her debut as a pianist and toured France and England, often performing her own works. She wrote a great number of agreeable pieces in salon style which attained extraordinary vogue in France, England and America. Her large works were less successful, although her piano concerto was performed at the Gewandhaus, Cologne, Lamoureaux and London Philharmonic concerts. France bestowed the Legion of Honor on Chaminade for her 350 works in all genres. She performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1908 and also made appearances as a conductor.

Alma Schindler Mahler (1879-1964) studied counterpoint and composition with Zemlinsky and had written about a hundred songs by the time she was 22, when she married composer Gustav Mahler, director of the Vienna Opera. He made her promise to quit composing, something he deeply regretted in 1910 when he took a second look at her music following a marital crisis. "What have I done?" he exclaimed. "These songs are good!...God, how blind and selfish I was in those days!" He went so far as to help his wife edit them for publication, and got five of them published that same year. Nine more were published by 1924. After Mahler's death in 1911 and an affair with the artist Oskar Kokoschka, Alma married architect Walter Gropius. After their divorce, she married Franz Werfel in 1929. During the Third Reich they fled Vienna leaving everything behind, including her manuscripts, which were destroyed when the house was bombed. They eventually settled in California to be near their friends, Bruno Walter, Thomas Mann and Arnold Schoenberg.

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