Classical Women

Social mores throughout history have meant that women often have not been celebrated for their contributions to classical music. We're trying to change that. Be listening to KBACH for works by these talented women:

Hildegard of Bingen (c. 1098 - 1179)
Saint Hildegard was a German Benedictine abbess who was a tremendously skilled writer and philosopher who also composed some of history's best sacred monophonic works. Several modern ensembles have recorded her Ordo virtutum (Order of the Virtues), the earliest known morality play.

Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre (1665 - 1729)
The French harpsichordist and composer was born into a wealthy family of musicians and musical instrument makers. At age five, her prodigious talent caught the attention of Louis XIV. After joining his court, Jacquet wrote most of her music for the Sun King. Her Sonata #2 in D for violin and continuo is a true Baroque gem.

Marianna Martines (1744 - 1812)
Of Spanish descent, Martines was born in Vienna, where her father worked as a musician in the Pope's Embassy to the Austrian Empire. Growing up, her family lived in the same large building that was also home to a then-struggling, young musician, Franz Joseph Haydn. Later in life, he and Mozart were frequent guests at musical soirees that Martines held in her home. You can hear Marianna Martines' keyboard concertos on KBACH.

Maria Hester Park (1760 - 1813)
A British pianist, singer, and teacher, Maria Hester Park was also one of the most prolific female composers of the 18th century. She corresponded with Franz Joseph Haydn, and her keyboard sonatas show the influence of Mozart. Park was well acquainted with English nobility. She even gave piano lessons to the Duchess of Devonshire.

Fanny Mendelssohn (1805 - 1847)
Due to the social conventions of the day, many of Fanny's works went unpublished in her lifetime, and several were wrongly attributed to her younger brother, Felix Mendelssohn. Her Ostersonate (Easter Sonata), lost for 150 years, was discovered in 1970 bearing the inscription, "F. Mendelssohn." The handwriting, however, was Fanny's, and by 2010, research had concluded that this wonderful Romantic piece was indeed by Fanny Mendelssohn.

Clara Schumann (1819 - 1896)
A gifted pianist, Clara Schumann likely would be known more widely today, had the social structure of her day permitted women equal attention as composers. As wife to Robert Schumann, Clara exerted great influence over her husband's music. In fact, the world might not have known Robert if not for Clara. After hearing her play, a young Robert Schumann abandoned studying law for music. If it's been a while, revisit Clara's Piano Concerto in a.

Pauline Garcia Viardot (1821 - 1910)
If you'd lived in 19th century France, you would have known of this popular mezzo-soprano and composer. Of Spanish descent, Pauline Garcia Viardot was reknowned for her wide vocal range and dramatic roles on stage in France. Camille Saint-Saens dedicated Samson and Delilah to her. Viardot composed instrumental works, operas, choral pieces, and songs. Find a recording of Cecilia Bartoli singing Viardot's "Hai Luli." The melody will linger with you long after the song ends.

Teresa Carreño (1853 - 1917)
Carreño was a Venezuelan pianist, soprano, conductor, and composer who had a concert career spanning five decades. Her family immigrated to the U.S. in 1862. The following year, 
Carreño performed at the White House for President Abraham Lincoln. Out of approximately 75 compositions, her Little Waltz (Mi Teresita), named for her daughter, was among her most popular, which she often performed as an encore at concerts.

Cecile Chaminade (1857 - 1944)
Her father disapproved of having a daughter study music, so she trained somewhat under the radar, first with her mother, and then with Benjamin Godard. Gender biases likely hendered her success in her day, but today she is regarded, as Ambroise Thomas observed, not as a woman who composed, but as a composer who was a woman.

Amy Beach (1867 - 1944)
The first successful female American composer and pianist, and the first to flourish without European education, Amy Beach enjoyed international acclaim. Her "Gaelic" Symphony was the first composed and published by an American woman.

Florence Price (1887 - 1953)
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Florence Price was a composer, pianist, organist, and teacher. On June 15, 1933, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered her Symphony in E minor, the first time an African-American woman had had a composition played by a major U.S. orchestra. 

Katherine Gladney Wells (1918 - 2003)
Born in St. Louis with influenza during the pandemic of 1918, Katherine Gladney Wells grew up to became a poet and composer. She collaborated with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, which recorded her short work, Minor Reflection, for The American Album. As the title suggests, Minor Reflection is a quiet, contemplative piece, so listen for it in the evenings on KBACH.

Rachel Portman (1960 - )
An English composer best known for her film music, Rachel Portman was the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Original Score, for Emma in 1996. She also was nominated for The Cider House Rules in 1999 and Chocolat in 2000. Listen for Portman's work, weekdays on The Score at Four and Saturday evenings at 6:00 on Reel Music.

Jennifer Higdon (1962 - )
If you haven't heard Jennifer Higdon's Trumpet Songs or her arrangement of Amazing Grace, you're missing out on some of contemporary classical's best moments. Higdon won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Music for her Violin Concerto, and she's a three-time Grammy Award winner for Best Contemporary Classical Composition.