Playlist 2017: 3rd commentary

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Time for a few words on my growing playlist of music by women. The overall sentiment I am feeling regularly as I add to it is, ‘Why did I not know this before?’

  • Alice Mary Smith, Symphony in C Minor (1863). This was a composer of whom I had no previous knowledge. That stereotype that women in the 19th century wrote in smaller forms (whether because of their inherently domestic nature, or their lack of opportunities to work with larger ensembles) turns out not to be a very safe generalisation.
  • Undine Smith Moore, Afro-American Suite (1969) - I. Andante, II. Allegro molto e marcato, III. Adagio ma appassionato, IV Allegro molto e marcato. I have been thinking quite a lot recently about the way classical music appropriated and commented upon African-American musics in the early years of the C20th (Debussy: I’m looking at you). It is fascinating to hear this cultural dialogue presented from a different point of view, with a much more complex and nuance sense of interchange.
  • Mari Kimura, Voyage Apollonian (2011). Well, obviously it doesn’t count as missing from my education if not just the work itself but even the technology it relies on has been created since my student days. But I hope today’s students get to hear some of this technical innovation in service of lush musical beauty
  • Galina Ustvolskaya, Composition No. 2 Dies Irae (1973). Ususually when someone claims that, "There is no link whatsoever between my music and that of any other composer, living or dead," you think of the Freudian anxieties of influence posited by Harold Bloom. But having listened to this extraordinary piece, I’d say Ustvolskaya has a stronger claim to this than many.
  • Barbara Strozzi, ’Lagrime Mie’ from Diporti di Euterpe Op.7 (1658). It seemed time for something a little earlier again. There’s a generous plenitude of music by Strozzi available; after listening around for a while I picked this one for no stronger reason than I loved the plaintive opening. It continues in melodic lushness, inviting us to feel pleasure at the (male) protagonist’s emotional pain.
  • Isabella Leonarda, 12 Sonatas, Op. 16 (1693). And, staying in the Baroque, some more extensive listening, to make up for having gone quite a few days without any additions.
  • Liz Johnson, Inflourescence (2011). Having been extolling the virtues of Liz’s music in a recent blog post, I thought you’d like to hear some some.
  • Agathe Backer Grøndahl, Andante quasi allegretto (1869). In her own lifetime she was a major figure in Norwegian musical life – as performer, composer and teacher – but somehow it has been her colleague Edvard Grieg who features as the token Norwegian in the standard canonical narratives.
  • Maria Szymanowska Nocturne in B Flat Major (?1825). Wikipedia lists this as dating from 1852, but given that the composer died in 1831, I am taking this to be a typo.
  • Amy Beach, Symphony in E-minor, Op.32 "Gaelic" (1896). The two things that I find perpetually surprising about Amy Beach are, first, how much she achieved given all the restrictions placed around her by family and husband, and, second, how little she’s known now, given how prominent a figure in American musical life she was in her own lifetime.
  • Elizabeth Maconchy, 'There is No Rose' (1984). It seemed time for a spot more choral music; I am now consumed with the desire to conduct this and play with all those minor-major colour changes.
  • Cécile Chaminade, Concertino for Flute and Piano Op. 107 (1902). Ignore the stories told about this piece being written as revenge on a past lover, it was commissioned by the Paris Conservatoire and is clearly in the conservatoire show-piece tradition. Unusually for music of that genre, it is exhilarating to listen to as well as difficult to play...

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