Eight female composers, succeeding against odds through the centuries

Posted on: March 22, 2016

“What did it take to be a great classical composer?” asks Anna Beer in Thursday’s (3/17) Smithsonian. “Genius was essential, of course. So too was a sustained education in composition. Usually, the great composer needed a professional position … and the authority, income and opportunities provided by that position.… There is, of course, a simpler answer: be born male. The good news is that, although it might have been easier to achieve as a man, there are many painfully underappreciated female composers who were undoubtedly great. These forgotten women achieved artistic greatness … despite working in cultures which systematically denied almost all women access to advanced education in composition; despite not being able, by virtue of their sex, take up a professional position, control their own money, publish their own music … and despite having their art reduced to simplistic formulas about male and female music … Many of these women continued to compose.… That’s often where their true courage lies.” The article profiles Francesca Caccini, Barbara Strozzi, Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Fanny Hensel, Clara Schumann, Lili Boulanger (sister of Nadia), Elizabeth Maconchy, and Amy Beach. Anna Beer is the author of Sounds and Sweet Airs, which tracks these composers from the seventeenth to twentieth centuries.

Posted March 22, 2016