The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Let us now praise women composers — with the help of a new history and recent political events | June 12, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

Politically, this has been a historic week and a week to remember for women.

Democrat Hillary Clinton (below), the former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State,  became the first woman to win the presidential nomination – barring something unexpected or a surprising turn of events – of a major political party in the United States.

hillary clinton thumbs up

That victory was soon followed by an endorsement from President Barack Obama and from another promising woman in American politics: Senator Elizabeth Warren.

So it also seems a good time to take a long look back to the 17th century and discover women composers who were overlooked and who failed to crack the glass ceiling of artistic fame or sexism in the arts in their own lifetimes.

They include the Baroque composer Barbara Strozzi, the Romantic composers Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel and Clara Schumann (below top, in a photo from Getty Images), and the modern composers Lili Boulanger and Elizabeth Maconchy (below bottom).

(You can hear a lovely Romance for solo piano by Clara Schumann, a virtuoso pianist who championed the works of her husband Robert Schumann, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Clara Schumann Getty Images

Elizabeth Maconchy 2

The Ear doubts there is a better guide than Anna Beer (below top, in a photo by Jeff Overs) and her new book “Sounds and Sweet Airs: Forgotten Women of Classical Music” (below bottom):

anna beers CR Jeff Overs

Sounds and Sweet Airs

The historian and writer recently spoke with Rachel Martin of NPR or National Public Radio, about her history. Here is a link to the blog site, which also has links to related stories:


  1. Hi Jacob,

    If you’re in NYC next month, you should check out our concert, which has an adventuresome program of all female composers – Price, Bonds, Smyth, and a premiere by Courtney Bryan:

    Comment by Eun — June 15, 2016 @ 6:27 am

  2. Clara Schumann was far more talented than her husband; but you’d never know it by the neglect of her by radio and blogs. She should have left hapless and psychotic Robert for Brahms, who was her man in waiting.

    The American, Amy Beach, was similar to Clara Schumann in that she too was a talented virtuoso on the piano and was also a superb composer. She also hasn’t gotten the attention that her works deserve.

    Comment by fflambeau — June 12, 2016 @ 9:49 pm

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