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!

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