Sometimes I stop and ask myself, among the stacks of Chopin and Debussy and Bach and Beethoven (not to mention Scarlatti and Mussorgsky and Copland and Glass) I’ve been playing for most of my life, why every single one of the classical composers I’m familiar with is a man? I’ve often thought that I’d like to start playing works by women composers—I know such works have existed for centuries, but none of them are popular enough to have recognizable melodies or a body of common knowledge to guide me.
[list][li]Mélodie, Op. 4, No. 2, Fanny Mendelssohn[/li]
[li]Thème Varié, Cécile Chaminade[/li]
[li]A Maiden’s Prayer, Tekla Bądarzewska-Baranowska[/li]
[li]Theme of Aya, Yoko Shimomura[/li]
[li]“Slow Dancin’” and “A Winsome Waltz” from The Way We Danced, Eugenie R. Rocherolle[/li]
[li]Sakura-Fantasy, Naomi Hobbs[/li]
[li]Le Lac de Come (Lake Como), 6th Nocturne Op. 24, Giselle Galos[/li]
[li]Scarf Dance, Cécile Chaminade[/li]
[li]Romance No. 2, Op. 11, in B-flat Major, Clara Schumann[/li]
So I was thrilled when I heard about the Women Composers: Masters of the Piano recital organized by the AmateurPianists group in San Diego. In honor of Women’s History Month in March 2014, the recital featured amateur pianists performing works composed by women from the 19th century to the present day.
The theme of the recital raised awareness for performers and audience members alike. Amateur pianist Lulu Hsu, who performed Cécile Chaminade’s Thème Varié in the recital (video above), said, “It made me think about why there are not more well-known women composers, and even the little bit of research I did made me realize how they were marginalized just because of gender, regardless of their talent.”
Besides the typical learning and growing experience of preparing for a piano performance, Lulu Hsu reports that she “learned about other women composers and the common thread of balancing career with family expectations, which persists even in our ‘enlightened’ 21st century!” For example, Clara Schumann (spouse of Robert Schumann) was an accomplished concert pianist and composer who faced tension in her marriage when her successful career began to overshadow her husband’s—a situation that’s still not uncommon today.
Amateur pianist Bob Lasher, who brought Clara Schumann’s Romance No. 2 to the program, told me, “It was a great opportunity to perform a piece that I thought quite beautiful and relatively unknown.” He pointed out that, at best, he had very rarely heard the music on any classical music station.
“Women composers were always around, but they were often limited in what they could write—often only solo works that could only be played in the living room. Due to their gender many women composers produced work under male names,” said another amateur pianist, Monika Meszaros, who performed Le Lac de Come by Giselle Galos. The composer of that piece published under the pseudonym “C. Galos” or “C. Galas” in the 19th century, and is so obscure that historians can’t agree on what her first or last names actually were or whether she was Italian or French. In fact, Meszaros had originally started playing Galos without knowing whether the composer was male or female.
Some of the performers chose more contemporary works, such as a piece by Yoko Shimomura, a present-day Japanese video game composer. And one member of AmateurPianists, Naomi Hobbs, performed an original composition, Sakura-Fantasy (video below), adding her own name to the ranks of women composers.
With the AmateurPianists recital’s theme and program serving as a starting point, I’m motivated to find fresh works by female composers to listen to and add to my repertoire. A little research on Fanny Mendelssohn reveals that she composed a piano suite called Das Jahr (“The Year”), with 12 movements or pieces expressing the character of each month. July seems like a perfect starting place.