Friday, March 21, 2014

Dame Ethel Smyth

Dame Ethel Mary Smyth (1858-1944)

Born in London, Dame Ethel Smyth was determined from a young age to become a composer.  Her musical talent granted her admission to the Leipzig Conservatory of Music where she met the leading composers of the day, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky and Grieg!  Through her composition teacher she was introduced to Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms.  Not a bad start for a student in the music world!

Her compositions include songs, piano works, chamber music, choral pieces, a Concerto for Violin, Horn and Orchestra, a Mass in D and two operas, "The Wreckers" and "Der Wald" which was performed at the Metropolitan Opera.  Deafness prevented her from composing any other major works or ever hearing her music performed and accepted by adoring orchestra and audience members.  

Unfortunately for Dame Smyth and all other women composers, their music was always labeled as that of a "woman composer" and not as artistically viable as that of a man's!  To that end, she was also an active suffragette dedicating years of her life to the cause.  She composed "The March of the Women" in 1911 which became the women's suffrage anthem!

In 1935 Gena Branscombe traveled to England to visit her daughter, Gena Tenney, who was studying at the Royal Conservatory of Music.  During her time in London, Gena visited with Dame Smyth and no doubt the two composers shared afternoon tea!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Mary Carr Moore

Mary Carr Moore (1873-1957)

One of the common traits among the women composers I have already posted and ones to come in the upcoming weeks is their ability to multi-task within their musical ability.  In addition, nearly all these composers’ talent was recognized when they were quite young!

Mary Carr Moore was a composer, conductor, singer and music educator which made her a working musician of her day. 

Born in Tennessee, she lived with her family for ten years in Louisville, Kentucky before they relocated to the West Coast.  California became her home base for the remainder of her life. 

In San Francisco Miss Moore began composition lesson with J. H. Pratt and voice lessons with H. B. Pasmore.  At age 16 she began teaching and composing.  That same year her first published song was released for sale.  Having composed her first operetta, “The Oracle,” she performed the lead at the premiere of the work!  Eventually Mary Carr Moore gave up singing to devote her time to composing and teaching. 

Her operetta was only the first of her stage works.  In Seattle, she composed a four-act opera titled, “Narcissa” about the attack on the mission of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman in Walla Walla, Washington in 1847.  Singers were brought in from New York City to perform leading roles and Miss Moore conducted the premiere since no other conductor was available.  She continued to promote opera in Seattle for the remainder of her life. 

Her two-act grand opera “David Rizzio” was commissioned for production in Venice.  This was the only libretto in Italian she set in her lifetime.  Though the performance in Venice did not evolve, an amateur group in Los Angeles premiered the work. 

From 1926 to her death, she resided in Los Angeles where she taught at Chapman College and the Olga Steeb Piano School.  Miss Moore promoted American Music organizing the American Music Center in Seattle and mentoring composers for performances of their music.

Mary Carr Moore’s musical style would best be described as conservative.  Holding to the Romantic era’s harmonies and tonalities with beautiful melodies, she also ventured into whole tone scales used in the Impressionistic period. 

Gena Branscombe and Mary Carr Moore were colleagues through their membership in the music section of the National League of American Pen Women!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mabel Daniels

Mabel Daniels (1878-1971)
Active in music from an early age, Mabel Daniels was a magna cum laude graduate of Radcliffe College.  While a student she was a soloist in the Glee Club and composed two operettas that were performed by her fellow students.  After graduation, she studied composition with George W. Chadwick in Boston who encouraged her to study with Ludwig Thuille in Munich, Germany.
Once in Munich she attempted to enroll in a score-reading class given by Director Stavenhagen.  No woman had ever been admitted to his class.  She entered the classroom to play her audition where thirty male students waited in judgment of her keyboard skills.  "You could have heard a pin drop, the place was so still. . . . Just as I took my seat before the keyboard, I heard one of the men smother a laugh. That settled it! I was bound to do or die, and with a calmness quite unnatural I played the bars set before me without a mistake. Nobody laughed when I had finished."  Way to go Mabel!

Returning to the States, Miss Daniels became director of the Glee Club at Radcliffe and later became head of the Music Department at Simmons College.  From 1918 on, she devoted her time to composing.

Choral compositions were the greater part of her output.  Her Exultate Deo was written for the 50th Anniversary of the founding of Radcliffe College and The Song of Jael was given its premiere at the Worcester Festival in 1940.  She spent 24 summers at the MacDowell Colony.  Her generosity of spirit shown through when she established scholarships and composition prizes for music students at New England Conservatory of Music and Radcliffe College. 

As with many women composers of her day, Miss Daniel’s compositions were published by Arthur P Schmidt of Boston. 

The Branscombe Choral frequently performed her choral pieces in concert and on radio.  In the Choral’s scrapbooks you will find handwritten notes from Mabel Daniels to Gena Branscombe thanking her for scheduling her piece and for the beautiful performance! 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Marion Bauer

In honor of Women's History Month, on specific days I will post a woman composer's photograph and bio.  Each of these composers was of the same era as Gena Branscombe and may have had a connection to her.

Today's composer.......Marion Bauer

Marion Bauer (1882-1955)

The youngest of seven children, Marion Bauer was born in Walla Walla, Washington.  Her musical talent was quickly recognized by her father, an amateur musician.  By age 16 she had graduated from high school and headed to New York City to begin her advanced musical training in composition. 

Fluent in French and English, Bauer spent time in Paris studying with Raoul Pugno and became the first American to study with Nadia Boulanger.  Upon returning to New York City, she studied with Eugene Heffley and Walter Henry Rothwell all the while teaching piano and theory lessons privately. 

Though never having been granted a college degree, Miss Bauer was hired to teach theory and composition at New York University where her teacher colleagues included Arthur Stoessel, who was Gena Branscombe’s conducting teacher.  Among her most famous students were Miriam Gideon and Milton Babbitt.  Bauer spent twelve summers at the MacDowell Colony concentrating on her own composing projects.  During the Depression she taught summer courses at Mills College, Juilliard and the Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati. 

Multi-tasking was one of Marion Bauer’s great attributes.  She helped found the American Music Guild, the American Music Center and the American Composer’s Alliance.  Along with Amy Beach, Gena Branscombe and 17 other women, they co-founded the Society of American Women Composers in 1925.  She wrote reviews and was a published author of articles and books on music. 

Her music is melodic featuring romantic and expressionistic harmonies.  She composed 160 works and wrote five books.  The publisher of her musical compositions was Arthur P. Schmidt of Boston, also Gena Branscombe’s publisher.  How all these women composers are connected!

At the College Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati is a beautiful room called, “The Bauer Room.”  When a student at the Conservatory I would enter this warm, carpeted room, look at the portrait of this woman Marion Bauer and at her desk and wonder who she was.  Over the years of researching Gena Branscombe, I came to learn about Marion Bauer and it has been a pleasure to meet her, though not in person.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Louise Talma

Louise Talma  (1906-1996)

New York City, 1991….phone conversation….

“Hello, may I please speak to Louise Talma?”  “Speaking.”  “Miss Talma, my name is Kathleen Shimeta and I am a mezzo-soprano.  You do not know me.  I am calling because I am in the midst of planning a recital of American art songs composed by living composers.  When I perform this recital, I would like the composers to be in the audience.  The program will take place in November, American Music Month, so my recital honors living American composers.  I would like to include some of your songs on the program.”  “Have you purchased any of my songs?” “Not yet.”  “Well, when you have purchased my songs, call me back.”  And, she abruptly hung up the phone.  Thus was my introduction to composer, Louise Talma.

Born in Arcachon, France, Miss Talma was raised in New York City.  Her musical training took place at Institute of Musical Arts (which became Juilliard), New York University and Columbia University.  Each summer from 1926-1939 she studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. 

Among Louise Talma’s achievements was the performance of her opera The Alcestiad in Frankfurt, Germany, a major opera house in Europe.  She was the first American woman to have held this honor.  Her collaborator for the opera was Thornton Wilder.  In addition, she was the first American to teach at Fontainbleau.  In 1974, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  Again, Miss Talma was the first female composer to have this honor. 

A prolific composer, Louise Talma composed countless songs, song cycles and choral works as well as well as chamber music and piano pieces.

In July 1945, Gena Branscombe and Louise Talma spent a month composing at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire.  They knew one another!

My friend and colleague, Sarah Dorsey, is a leading authority on Louise Talma.  Sarah is in the midst of writing a biography of the composer.  Can't wait to read your book, Sarah!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Kathleen Lockhart Manning

Kathleen Lockhart Manning (1890-1951).

Born in Hollywood, California, Kathleen was fortunate to study piano and composition with Moritz Moszkowski in Paris.  Also a singer, she performed with the Hammerstein Opera Company in London during the 1911-1912 season. 

As a composer she wrote mainly vocal works for which she penned her own words.  Her song cycles include, “Sketches of New York,” “Sketches of London,”  “Sketches of Paris,” “Chinese Impressions,” and “Songs of Egypt.”  A number of her individual songs were arranged for chorus.

After the death of Miss Lockhart Manning’s husband in 1938, mental illness haunted her the remainder of her life.  She died in Los Angeles. 

I am not sure if Kathleen Lockhart Manning and Gena Branscombe actually knew each other but there is a reference to Gena in one of Kathleen’s diary entries.  She noted that she must send Miss Branscombe a copy of her newest published song cycle.

A CD of the Lockhart songs is available, To The Mart of Dreams: Songs by Kathleen Lockart Manning, Vol I.  Listening to her charming songs will brighten your day.  

My friend, Rebecca Schultz Lanning, is the leading authority on Kathleen Lockhart Manning.  Her research has put her in touch with the composer's family who have been generous sharing Kathleen's papers, compositions and diaries!  Way to go Rebecca.