Women in Music

In recent years there has been a very welcome increase in the performance of music by female composers on the radio, in recordings and in our concert halls.

For so many centuries women rarely had the chance to be heard as performers and composers and they were discouraged from pursuing the study of, or a career in, music – often by their immediate family, husbands or society in general.

This attitude is encapsulated in a letter written by the father of pianist and composer Fanny Mendelssohn: “Music will perhaps become his [her brother Felix’s] profession, while for you it can and must be only an ornament”.

Our Mozart concert at the Royal Festival Hall on Friday the 22nd of March offers us the chance to recall the story of two other exceptions to this unwritten rule: Constanze Mozart and Clara Schumann.

Constanze was born into a musical family which included the great composer Carl Maria von Weber, and Constanze and her three sisters were all trained as singers. Her sister Aloysia Weber was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s first love and she took up singing as her profession, as did her elder sister Josepha, who sang the role of the Queen of the Night in the first performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

However, it was Constanze who would eventually marry Mozart and it was for her that he would write the magnificent soprano solos in his Mass in C minor, K417, for her to perform at its premiere in 1783. And which Elin Manahan Thomas and Helen Meyerhoff will sing with us, Hackney Singers and the London Mozart Players on the 22nd.

Clara Schumann, née Wieck – born 200 years ago this year – was a highly accomplished pianist from a very early age: at 11, she performed all over Europe to great acclaim, including a visit to Crystal Palace. And at the age of 13 she became the first pianist to perform in public from memory, a habit that then became the standard for concert pianists everywhere.

At 14 she had already composed her own piano concerto, ten years before her future husband Robert Schumann wrote his. And one can imagine she was able to give him a lot of advice on composing his Concerto in A minor for piano & orchestra, Op 54, especially as Clara was the soloist for its 1845 premiere – a role filled by our Assistant Director of Music Nico de Villiers on the 22nd.

Over the years LCS concerts have featured many female artists: works by French composers Germaine Tailleferre and Lili Boulanger, and by British composers Elizabeth Poston and Madeleine Dring. As for contemporary composers, we have also sung music by Cecilia McDowall, Judith Bingham, Errollyn Wallen and Brenda Rattray.

And to continue this trend, we are delighted to announce that we have commissioned South London composer Kate Whitley to write a work in memory of LCS alto Miriam McLeod, which we hope to perform this year or next. Watch this space for further details!


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