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

kassia cropped 1

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.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Sev­en Hours of Women Mak­ing Elec­tron­ic Music (1938- 2014)

Stream 58 Hours of Free Clas­si­cal Music Select­ed to Help You Study, Work, or Sim­ply Relax

Hear All of Mozart in a Free 127-Hour Playlist

Hear Clas­si­cal Music Com­posed by Friedrich Niet­zsche: 43 Orig­i­nal Tracks

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 (15)
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  • Mitra says:

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

  • Mitar says:

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

  • Jim C. says:

    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.

  • Schaffer says:

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

  • Glenn Gordon says:

    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.

  • A Woman Composer says:

    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!

  • Cassie says:

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

  • Anar says:

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

  • enid says:

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

  • Brian McInnis says:

    Women com­posers: Peo­ple who com­pose women.
    Female com­posers: Com­posers who are women.

  • kiki bonbon says:

    open cul­ture in spo­ti­fy?

  • Bastiaan W van Dalen says:

    Spot On!

  • Emma Gillatt says:

    This is great. I did my uni dis­ser­ta­tion 15 years ago on a sim­i­lar theme about female clas­si­cal com­posers not gain­ing the same recog­ni­tion as male in his­to­ry.

  • notopen says:

    Would be great to be able to lis­ten to the music with­out hav­ing to signup to a cor­po­rate sur­veil­lance app. It’s not open if you’re trad­ing per­son­al data..

  • Anna de Silva says:

    I would love to have the image used iden­ti­fied. It says “Hagia Kac­cia” a dif­fer­ent name for Hagia Sophia in Istam­bul. It has noth­ing to do with the music of Hilde­gard of Bin­gen, a Ger­man Bene­dic­tine nun, whose music dom­i­nates the playlist pro­vid­ed.

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