Friday, March 18, 2022



Ludwig van Beethoven, Jean Sibelius, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, JS Bach, Frederic Chopin, Anton Bruckner, Robert Schumann, Giacomo Puccini, Giuseppe Verdi, Johannes Brahms, Luigi Boccherini, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Hector Berlioz, and Richard Wagner.  What do all of these composers have in common?  First, they are all men and second, they have statues of their likeness in public squares across Europe and some in the United States. 


Chris Wiley, of London, England, recently posted on Facebook that a statue of composer/suffragette Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) had been unveiled in her home town of Woking, England.  The unveiling, appropriately, was held on International Women’s Day, March 8th.  

Dame Ethel Smyth’s legacy as a composer and suffragette is exemplary for those of us who have come after her.  She studied at the Leipzig Conservatory.  She  met Clara Schumann and J
ohannes Brahms.  She composed instrumental works, choral pieces, a Mass in D and six operas one of which, “Der Wald,” was performed at the Metropolitan Opera.  There are numerous  recordings available that reveal the brilliance of Dame Ethel Smyth’s music. 


For two years beginning in 1910, she gave up composing to join the Women’s Social and Political Union which advocated for women’s rights.  She wrote “The March for Women” which became the movement’s anthem.  During one particular contentious march for women’s rights, Smyth and 100 other women were arrested and served two months in prison.  Suffragettes marched and sang her anthem outside the prison.  Smyth leaned out of her prison window and conducted her colleagues using a toothbrush! 

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! 

Reading about Dame Ethel Smyth’s statue, I wondered if any other women composers had been honored with the same.  Research found that Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), Wilhelmine von Bayreuth (1709-1758), a contemporary of JS Bach, and Clara Schumann (1819-1896), wife of Robert Schumann, have statues in town squares.  Only three women composers? 

Amy Beach (1867-1944), probably America’s most famous woman composer, does not have a statue honoring her.  Amy Beach earned the endearing title of “Aunt Amy” because she was a leader of American women composers and mentor to all of her contemporaries.


There are hundreds of women composers, whose renown and contribution to the world of music make them candidates for a statue in their hometowns.  They are role models of discipline. They stood up for the right to be recognized as a composer in a man’s world.  These women wrote music of the highest quality only to be turned away by publishing companies and performing organizations because they were women.  Many were suffragettes, wives, mothers and business women striving to lay a path for women in the future.  They accomplished that without recognition and fanfare. 


What an idea – statues of women composers!!


Thursday, March 10, 2022

Putnam Griswold

 The great German composer, Richard Wagner (1813-1883) wrote challenging and complex operas including” Parsifal,” The Ring Cycle,” “ Lohengrin,” “ Die Meistersinger, “ “Tristan und Isolde”  and many others.  The vocal demands on singers who perform roles in these operas are great.  The vocal lines are long and complicated supported by an orchestra of 100 musicians.  Wagnerian singers are the royalty of opera singers and are in demand.


Less than thirty years after Wagner’s death, American bass-baritone Putnam Griswold (1875-1914) became known as the leading interpreter of Wagner’s   heroic bass roles.  His success did not come overnight and required years of training. 


Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota and raised in California, Griswold Putnam followed a business career.  At the age of 22 he discovered his singing voice.  He began his training in California, studied in London, Paris, Frankfurt and Berlin.  His opera debut was at the Royal Opera House in London in 1901.  He became a regular member of the Berlin Opera performing Wagner’s great bass roles.   Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm twice decorated Griswold for being the foremost interpreter of Wagner…..and he was a foreigner!


In 1911, Putnam made his Metropolitan Opera debut performing the role of Hagen in “Götterdämmerung.”  The Metropolitan Opera became his home until his sudden death from an attack of appendicitis in 1914.  His fans were devastated. 


During the year 1913, Griswold Putnam met with Gena Branscombe to go over some of her songs.  In a letter to her publisher, Arthur P. Schmidt, Gena requested a copy of her “Chrystmasse Song” in the low key as Mr. Griswold was an ”absolute bass!”  She also requested a copy of her song cycle, “Sun Dial” to rehearse with him.   


When Putnam Griswold died in New York City, his funeral was held at the Broadway Tabernacle Church, Broadway and Fifty-Sixth Street.  This is the church where Gena and her family worshipped. 


Another famous singer from Miss Branscombe’s era graced her home to rehearse her music with her!