Playlist 2017: 7th commentary

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And another catch-up on my Playlist project for 2017. Quite a long post this time, as I’ve been romping through lots of music during August while I had plenty of time for listening. I’m expecting to be adding to the list rather more slowly in September as I’ll be out and about coaching a lot.

  • Maria Antonia Walpurgis, Sinfonia to Talestri, Regina delle Amazzoni(1760). The tale of a successful female ruler was apparently an appealing topic for aristocratic women of the C18th.
  • Valborg Aulin, Piano Sonata in F-minor, Op.14 "Grande Sonate sérieuse" (1885). I feel I’m getting a bit repetitious when I keep remarking on composers who defy the stereotype of C19th female composers having access to the market for domestic music, but generally being locked out of more substantial genres. But it’s interesting that people keep peddling that stereotype even when listing the substantial output in more public genres such as Aulin’s.
  • Chiara Margarita Cozzolani Messa Paschale (1642/1650). This recording is actually a composite, customising Cozzolani’s Messa a 4 from a collection of sacred pieces published in 1650 for Easter day by the addition of other pieces from the same collection and psalms from her 1642 publication for 8 voices.
  • Mel Bonis, Piano Quartet No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 69 (1905). I’m sure Saint Saëns thought he was paying Bonis a compliment when he said this work was so good it sounded like it was composed by a bloke (I paraphrase). But it does make clear why Melanie Helene shortened her name for professional purposes in an attempt not to be dismissed merely for being female.
  • Elizabeth Poston, 'Jesus Christ the Apple Tree' (1967). I spent quite a long time trying to find something else from Poston’s oeuvre to include, but whilst this carol is widely performed, it seems that very little else is. Only 30 years since she died and it’s like most of her work never happened.
  • Vittoria Aleotti, 'Te amo mia vita' (1593). As I remarked in my last commentary, Venice seems to have been a hospitable place for female composers of the 16th century. There are quite a few performances of Aleotti’s work available in youtube; it’s worth having a listen around.
  • Princess Friederike Sophie Wilhelmine, Argenore Overture (1740). It is interesting confronting my own prejudices here. My instinct is to see a composer who also happens to be royalty or aristocract as not a ‘real’ composer, since they don’t have to earn their living doing it. But the music appears nonetheless to be real. And people in socially privileged positions are more likely to see their works survive.
  • Maddalena Laura Lombardini Sirmen, Violin Concerto No.2 in E-major (1772). Venice still seems to have been hospitable to female musicians in the 18th century, and in an era when women still had control of their own financial affairs, Sirmen seems to have done very well for herself.
  • Augusta Holmès, "Irlande" poème symphonique (1882). Interesting to consider how this fits in with late-19th-century evocation of place – nationalism, exoticism, or both? (Holmès lived most of her life in France, but her family was Irish.) Though maybe the fetishisation of cultural thumbprints isn’t so different in those two aesthetics.
  • Dora Pejačević, Symphony in F sharp minor Op. 41 (1918). Nationalism isn’t the subject of Pejačević’s work – in both her studies and her compositional choices she seems pretty cosmopolitan – but it is arguably the means by which it has been preserved, through the efforts of the Croatian Music Information Centre. (I didn’t get much from the text in that link, but the clips are worth listening around.)
  • Hélène Liebmann, Grande Sonata for Cello & Piano, Op. 11, 1st Movement (1806). Another composer whose work was ‘complimented’ in her lifetime as being not like ladies’ music but ‘comparable to the early works of the great masters’. I’d like to think the ‘early’ bit is because she was herself still young at the time of this review, though it might betray the double-bind women still find themselves in: if you’re young, you get patronised, but if you’re not young, you’re invisible.
  • Maria Teresa Agnesi Pinottini, Concerto per clavicembalo in fa maggiore (c. 1740?) . It is very striking as this project goes on how often the accounts of women’s music are either damning them with faint praise, or simply damning them. The Wikipedia article for Pinottini is a case in point: ‘Her keyboard music, while often technically challenging, is said to have been somewhat hackneyed and not distinctive’. Said by whom? And what did they know?
  • Errollyn Wallen, 'Daedalus' (2003). These textures are written so perfectly to suit the sound of the Brodsky Quartet, it paradoxically makes me want to hear a different ensemble play it to see how it speaks through a different voice.
  • Yan Jinxuan, The White-Haired Girl (1965). This was originally written as an opera in 1945, then adapted into a ballet two decades later. It seems to have become established in the second form – there are videos available of multiple version.
  • Comtessa de Dia, 'A chantar m'er de so qu'eu no volria' (C12th). There are a good many recordings of this canso, so it’s worth having a listen around. Given how controlling later compositional practices became, it’s always refreshing to hear how creative you have to be to bring medieval music to life.
  • Joanna Lee, Hammer of Solitude (2015). I love the instrumental textures in this piece. I am not entirely sure I’m convinced by the vocal performance – it sounds rather, well, singerly, as if it is being performed in inverted commas. It does feel like a piece that will accommodate a wide range of expressive possibilities from different singers – I’m looking forward to when it is old enough to have some more performances under its belt.
  • Rebecca Clarke, Piano Trio (1921). I found this piece quite astonishingly compelling – it pulled me right in and didn’t let me go.
  • Anna Amalia of Prussia, Sonata for Flute and Continuo in F (c. 1750?). I couldn’t find an exact date for this piece, but there is a reference to a JS Bach’s Prelude in C, BWV 547 in the first movement that probably places the composition at 1747 or after, as that was the date of Bach’s visit to the court of Frederick the Great, Anna Amalia’s older brother.
  • Lūcija Garūta, Dievs, Tava Zeme Deg (1943). This cantata was banned during the Soviet occupation of Latvia, and was revived in 1990.
  • Ruth Gipps, Symphony No. 4 (1972). Ruth Gipps exactly counts as ‘missing from my education’, since she was a well-established and active current composer at the time of my undergraduate degree – exactly the kind of figure Bristol Music Department was keen for its students to know about.

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