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The Joy of Composing through a Woman's Eyes


"There is nothing greater than the joy of composing something oneself and then listening to it."- Clara Schumann

The month of March marks Women's History Month. The media usually spends time looking at women who have defied all barriers and odds in specific sectors, such as politics, science, and finance. If the media were to focus on an artistic female who made her mark, it would usually be either an author or artist.

I'm not out to take away the role that these pioneering women have had on our society in each of these sectors, but I do think that we have lost an opportunity to find and recognize women who achieved greatness in the area of musical composition.

Musical composition is a highly difficult art form. It requires years of study, starting with the King of Counterpoint, Johann Sebastian Bach. From there, music theory and music history must be understood, in order to watch the changes of composition from the early Medieval times to present day. And lastly, it takes time to understand oneself and one's project in order to write a piece that perfectly expresses that composer's thoughts and intentions.

So I thought today's blog should focus on three women who made a profound impact in the classical musical world in their study and creation of music. Enjoy!

1. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)

Hildegard of Bingen was a Benedictine nun and spent her years composing a goodly amount of music for the church: hymns and antiphons for the liturgy. Not only that, she wrote what is considered the earliest known morality play, "Ordo Virtutum," consisting of 82 songs. Part of her creative outlet in this particular piece was that Satan was given no singing part - he was called to yell out his lines - to signify that music has a place in the kingdom of God but not in the kingdom of darkness.

2. Clara Schumann (1819-1896)

Clara Schumann was, simply put, a child prodigy. Her father ensured that Clara was set up for success by providing music lessons (including theory, composition, and counterpoint), alongside regular piano practice. Clara spent a goodly portion of her life traveling and performing, in order to support her large family. She even performed while she was expecting her children. From our modern views, Clara literally "had it all." She juggled and handled both her family life and career life with such propriety, even when her famed husband and fellow composer Robert Schumann attempted suicide, thereby confined to an asylum and passing away.

Despite the tragedy of losing her Love, she continued to spend the rest of her days surrounded by music. My favorite composition of hers is the Piano Trio in G Minor.

3. Amy Cheney Beach (1867-1944)

Another child prodigy, Amy was known to improvise at the age of 2. Yes, that's right, the age of 2. If she misbehaved as a child, her mother would set her down on a chair. For punishment, while Amy was sitting in the chair, her mother would play a piano tune in a minor key. Amy hated the sad sounds of a minor piece, it would reduce her to tears and behavioral adjustments moving forward.

Once married, her husband had set certain boundaries on Amy's ability to compose and perform. Composition tutors were forbidden, and her only public recitals were strictly given under the auspice that tickets sales would be donated to charity. However, given the time period and Amy's acceptance of these terms prior to their marriage, Amy did not wave a flag of feminism decrying what may be considered musical injustices. Instead, she worked around them, all while respecting her husband's wishes, without any indications of bitterness.

My favorite work of hers is the Piano Quintet in F-sharp Minor, Movement III:

 

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