1200 Years of Women Composers: A Free 78-Hour Music Playlist That Takes You From Medieval Times to Now

in Music | October 12th, 2015

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In modern times, we don’t regard female musicians as in and of themselves unusual. Our rosters of favorite rockers, pop-stars, solo singer-songwriters, and what have you might well feature as many women as men — or, depending on the subgenre, many more women than men. But those of us who listen to a great deal of classical music might feel a tad sheepish about how much more heavily male our playlists slant, at least in terms of the composers. For a variety of historical and cultural reasons, the classical canon can feel like a man’s world indeed.

But it doesn’t have to! The Spotify playlist above, “1200 Years of Women Composers: From Hildegard To Higdon,” reveals that women started shaping what we now know as classical music far longer ago than most of us realize. (If you don’t have Spotify’s free software, download it here.) The playlist, which contains over 900 pieces and will take you days to listen to, begins in medieval times with the Byzantine abbess, poet, composer, and hymnographer Kassia (shown above) and ends with female composers from around the world not only living but (especially by the standards of those who write orchestral music) still young, like Misato Mochizuki, Helena Tulve, and Lera Auerbach.

This comes arranged by Spotify Classical Playlists, whose site describes how the playlist offers not just an anthology of women composers, but also “a brief history of western classical music. It’s really fascinating to hear music constantly reinventing itself from the monophonic and deeply spiritual medieval chant of Hildegard [of Bingen] all the way into Higdon’s lush and ultra-modern percussion concerto.” And before you begin this epic listen, bear in mind the quote from Faust that appears there: “Das Ewig Weibliche Zieht ins hinan” — “The eternal feminine leads us upwards.”

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Colin Marshall writes elsewhere on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Comments (9)

  1. Mitra says . . .
    October 15, 2015 / 12:07 pm

    This is amazing! Thanks a gazillion for this post. <3 <3 <3

  2. Mitar says . . .
    November 4, 2015 / 5:08 pm

    Why are songs on a closed platform where I cannot listen to them without registering?

  3. Jim C. says . . .
    December 23, 2015 / 8:55 pm

    These Spotify lists are put together by a guy in China named Ulysses, and they’re all incredible. An immense amount of work he puts into them.

    This one has been around there for a while– thanks for putting it up.

  4. Schaffer says . . .
    February 15, 2016 / 1:16 pm

    I can’t register for Spotify. The page will not accept ANY name I put in as my user name. Please help. Thank you.

  5. Glenn Gordon says . . .
    February 19, 2016 / 1:34 pm

    This is a wonderful collection but doesn’t seem to include any Australian women composers: Margaret Sutherland, Mirrie Hill, Miriam Hyde, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, and more recent composers like Ann Boyd and Anne Carr-Boyd, Moya Henderson, Liza Lim and many others.

  6. A Woman Composer says . . .
    February 19, 2016 / 9:36 pm

    Classical fans: If you appreciate the music women (and men) have brought into this world, please log in to the Spotify Community and add your voice to the 1,400+ people asking Spotify to SHOW THE COMPOSER’S NAME on every track.


    Finding music by women is hard enough — and made so much harder when composers’ names are not always displayed.

    Please log in and give ‘Kudos’ to my petition there. We’ve been anonymous long enough!

  7. Cassie says . . .
    April 13, 2016 / 9:33 am

    Music of the Western world, anyway. Still, very cool!

  8. Anar says . . .
    June 21, 2016 / 10:36 pm

    No trans-women (men -> women) composers?

  9. enid says . . .
    November 14, 2016 / 6:31 am

    Suggest some Anar, if you want to have them heard.

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