Celebrating Women Composers: A New BBC Digital Archive Takes You from Hildegard of Bingen (1098) to Nadia Boulanger (1979)

Recent­ly, we pub­lished a post about Nadia Boulanger, the 20th cen­tu­ry’s most influ­en­tial music teacher. While a com­pos­er and con­duc­tor in her own right—indeed, she was the first woman to con­duct major sym­phonies in Europe and the U.S.—Boulanger is best known for her list of illus­tri­ous stu­dents, includ­ing Aaron Cop­land, Leonard Bern­stein, Philip Glass, and Quin­cy Jones.

One read­er of the post right­ly point­ed out a not-so-glar­ing irony in the way Boulanger has been remem­bered. While cel­e­brat­ed as a pow­er­ful woman in music, in a sea of more famous men, her many dis­tin­guished female stu­dents go unmen­tioned, per­haps more due to igno­rance than prej­u­dice (though this may be no great excuse). Most peo­ple have nev­er heard of for­mer Boulanger stu­dents like Graży­na Bacewicz, Mar­i­on Bauer, Louise Tal­ma, Peg­gy Glanville-Hicks and Pri­aulx Rainier.

Not many have heard of Lili Boulanger, Nadia’s sis­ter, a child prodi­gy who died at 24, after com­pos­ing two dozen inno­v­a­tive choral and instru­men­tal works and becom­ing the first woman to win the Prix de Rome in 1913, at the age of 19, for her can­ta­ta Faust and Hélène, with lyrics, by Eugene Ade­nis, based on Goethe’s Faust (top).

Pol­ish com­pos­er Bacewicz, who began study­ing with Nadia Boulanger’s for­mer stu­dent Kaz­imierz Siko­rs­ki at 13, trav­eled to Paris to “learn from the great ped­a­gogue her­self,” notes the BBC Music Mag­a­zine.

Bacewicz was an incred­i­bly tal­ent­ed vio­lin­ist (see her fur­ther up in 1952) and a wide­ly admired com­pos­er, just one of many note­wor­thy female com­posers, of the past and present, who don’t often turn up in con­ver­sa­tion about clas­si­cal and avant-garde music. The BBC aims to cor­rect these major slights with their “Cel­e­brat­ing Women Com­posers” series, which fea­tures archival inter­view clips from leg­ends like Nadia Boulanger, Dame Ethel Smyth (pro­filed above), and Elis­a­beth Lutyens.

You’ll also find inter­views with dozens of con­tem­po­rary female com­posers, a series on com­posers’ rooms, pro­files of his­tor­i­cal greats, links to per­for­mance record­ings, and sev­er­al infor­ma­tive arti­cles on women com­posers past and present. Most of the com­posers pro­filed have found some mea­sure of fame in their life­time, and renown among those in the know, but are unknown to the gen­er­al pub­lic.

Some of the com­posers you’ll learn about, like the five in a fea­ture titled “The Women Erased from Musi­cal His­to­ry,” might have dis­ap­peared entire­ly were it not for the work of archivists. Learn about these redis­cov­ered fig­ures and much, much more at the BBC’s Cel­e­brat­ing Women Com­posers, one of many such projects mak­ing it hard­er to plead igno­rance of women’s pres­ence in clas­si­cal music.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Meet Nadia Boulanger, “The Most Influ­en­tial Teacher Since Socrates,” Who Men­tored Philip Glass, Leonard Bern­stein, Aaron Cop­land, Quin­cy Jones & Oth­er Leg­ends

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

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

Meet Four Women Who Pio­neered Elec­tron­ic Music: Daphne Oram, Lau­rie Spiegel, Éliane Radigue & Pauline Oliv­eros

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.