In Praise of the Feminine
A potent demonstration of the power of female musical creativity.
Friday 12th April, 8 pm, National Theatre
Works by Amy Beach, Rebecca Clarke, Lili Boulanger, Phyllis Campbell, Elena Kats-Chernin and Ross Edwards.
and featuring internationally renowned performers:
Louise Page, soprano
Tamara Anna Cislowska, piano
David Pereira, cello
Chris Latham, violin
Artistic Direction: Chris Latham. The talented and inspiring Chris Latham has played for the Australian Chamber Orchestra, worked in music publishing, and has been Artistic Director of notable music festivals, currently the Canberra International Music Festival.
Amy Beach: Songs
Louise Page soprano, Chris Latham violin, David Pereira cello, Tamara Anna Cislowska piano
Lili Boulanger: Nocturne for violin and piano
Rebecca Clarke: Midsummer Moon for Violin and Piano
Chris Latham violin, Tamara Anna Cislowska piano
Rebecca Clarke: Passacaglia on an Old British Tune
Elena Kats-Chernin: Blue Silence
David Pereira cello, Tamara Anna Cislowska piano
Rebecca Clarke: Three Old English Songs
Rebecca Clarke: I Know Where I am Going
Louise Page soprano, Chris Latham violin
Phyllis Campbell: Nature Studies for piano
Tamara Anna Cislowska piano
Ross Edwards: The Lost Man (a setting of Judith Wright’s poem)
Louise Page soprano, David Pereira cello, Tamara Anna Cislowska piano, Chris Latham woodblock
Notes on the composers (by Chris Latham)
I worked in the music publishing business for about five years after leaving the ACO and was always very conscious about the lack of female composers represented by publishers
When I did a rough check around 2003 it was something like a 30 to 1 ratio of men to women. It might be slightly better now but only slightly.
I used to read some ridiculous historical arguments where people asserted that women lacked something in the brain makeup which meant they couldn’t write music as well as men.
The true reason is mainly an economic problem because husbands or male partners don’t seem willing to support their wives’ creative careers in the same way that wives commonly support husbands. Most composers can’t make a living in their 20s and 30s from composition and often require their partner to subsidise their creative activity.
The other reason is because of the impact of childrearing on women’s available time to create works in that crucial mid career period when composers typically do most of their writing, which then gets played more widely when they are older and more established but possibly less active as composers.
We find the numbers of women and men at university level are pretty much identical but women seem to drop off along the way as they progress in the professional world.
Therefore some quick words about the women included in the concert who are not well known but who are excellent composers.
AMY BEACH was the first woman to break the glass ceiling in the US. She is a really wonderful composer – her dates are September 5, 1867 – December 27, 1944 so she was an early pioneer. She is the best known of the first three listed here.
REBECCA CLARKE (27 August 1886 – 13 October 1979) was a great violist who had an international reputation as a performer. Her compositional talents were less widely noticed and she really only gained respect as a composer after her death. She suffered from depression which is common amongst composers and creative types, but in her case the lack of encouragement for her as a composer, and indeed often outright discouragement, seemed to hamper her composing so she only wrote a modest amount of works in her lifetime.
I think the best of her work is really outstanding and very appealing.
LILI BOULANGER (1893-1918) was a Parisian-born prodigy. Gabriel Fauré was a friend of her family and later taught her. She was the first woman to win the presitigious Prix de Rome for composition. Her work was noted for its colorful harmony and instrumentation and skillful text setting. Always of fragile health, she died from Crohn’s disease at age 24. Her older sister Nadia was very influential as a composer and a teacher of many well-known composers.
PHYLLIS CAMPBELL (1891-1974), is so forgotten that there is not even a Wikipedia article on her. She was an active member of the Theosophical Society during the 1920s and 1930s and lived in Sydney where she was a close colleague of Marion Mahony, the wife of Walter Burley Griffin (who was also a highly significant artist). Phyllis was active as a pianist, violinist, composer, poet, pioneering broadcaster, lecturer, and musicologist. She had strong theosophical beliefs about the spiritual benefits of music and believed music was a “physical translation of far mightier harmony to which the true composer is ever striving.” She believed in a music that was calm, impersonal and other-worldly. She felt music could open, reveal and illuminate. She said it “raised humanity above physical beauty or ugliness.” She was interested in the revival of folksong and plainsong in many countries, pointing to the particular importance of Russia and the introduction of new scales and modes, including Eastern scales that were finding their way into Western music. She felt that composers were opening up “mighty territories of mystery… to the music-lover” and that Australia could take a leading part in the dawning of this new “Golden Age” by assimilating the language of modern music, which would have associated spiritual benefits for the nation.
ELENA KATS-CHERNIN, is the most famous female composer in Australia, and one of the most prolific, male or female. She was born in Tashkent, and migrated to Australia in 1975. Her work includes four operas, two piano concertos, works for orchestra and small ensembles, silent film soundtracks, and works for piano, including many in ragtime. Her music was featured at the opening ceremonies of both the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and the 2003 Rugby World Cup.
ROSS EDWARDS is also a well-known Australian composer. He is included here because of the great affinity he has displayed in his settings of the poetry of Judith Wright, and also because he has tirelessly argued for a greater role and respect for the feminine in creativity and composition.