Eight Benefits of Music Education

1. Early musical training helps develop brain areas involved in language and reasoning. It is thought that brain development continues for many years after birth. Recent studies have clearly indicated that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain’s circuits in specific ways. Linking familiar songs to new information can also help imprint information on young minds.

2. There is also a causal link between music and spatial intelligence (the ability to perceive the world accurately and to form mental pictures of things). This kind of intelligence, by which one can visualize various elements that should go together, is critical to the sort of thinking necessary for everything from solving advanced mathematics problems to being able to pack a book-bag with everything that will be needed for the day.

3. Students of music learn craftsmanship as they study how details are put together painstakingly and what constitutes good, as opposed to mediocre, work. These standards, when applied to a student’s own work, demand a new level of excellence and require students to stretch their inner resources.

4. In music, a mistake is a mistake; the instrument is in tune or not, the notes are well played or not, the entrance is made or not. It is only by much hard work that a successful performance is possible. Through music study, students learn the value of sustained effort to achieve excellence and the concrete rewards of hard work.

5. Music study enhances teamwork skills and discipline. In order for an orchestra to sound good, all players must work together harmoniously towards a single goal, the performance, and must commit to learning music, attending rehearsals, and practicing.

6. Music provides children with a means of self-expression. Now that there is relative security in the basics of existence, the challenge is to make life meaningful and to reach for a higher stage of development. Everyone needs to be in touch at some time in his life with his core, with what he is and what he feels. Self-esteem is a by-product of this self-expression.

7. Music study develops skills that are necessary in the workplace. It focuses on “doing,” as opposed to observing, and teaches students how to perform, literally, anywhere in the world. Employers are looking for multi-dimensional workers with the sort of flexible and supple intellects that music education helps to create as described above. In the music classroom, students can also learn to better communicate and cooperate with one another.

8. Music performance teaches young people to conquer fear and to take risks. A little anxiety is a good thing, and something that will occur often in life. Dealing with it early and often makes it less of a problem later. Risk-taking is essential if a child is to fully develop his or her potential.

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A fun lesson in how to get kids into classical music


While the merits of classical music are almost limitless, it is oftentimes a bit tricky to get kids to listen to and love it. With this problem in mind, one of our favorite experimental groups has decided to find a novel way to approach and answer the question. Take a look and listen.

By transforming contemporary pop, which kids all love, into some legendary classical compositions, the group
CDZA, short for Collective Cadenza,, has taken a very fun, "spoonful of sugar" approach to the classic (ba-dump-bump!) problem. They write about this latest project:

How do you teach the classics to students today? How do you get students thinking critically about how Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach are relevant to music today? These composers provide the building blocks of modern music, and are necessary knowledge to a well-rounded musical education, but how do you get students to pay attention to these long-deceased classical music masters?

CDZA presents an innovative way to connect with students and teach them the classics.

Five black composers whose works you should know.

In the past 200 years, dozens of prominent black composers from America and other parts of the African diaspora have fought to be recognized by the western classical tradition. The earliest example is Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-99). Born in Guadeloupe, the son of a wealthy plantation owner and a female slave, Saint-George was brought to France at a young age. As well as being a champion fencer, a violin teacher to Marie Antoinette and a colonel in the republican army, his prodigious musical talents led to him being dubbed “le Mozart noir”. He was a prolific composer (with several operas, 15 violin concertos, symphonies and numerous chamber works to his name) and a rare French exponent of early classical violin composition.

George Bridgetower aka Bridgewater (1778-1860), a violinist of African origin
born inpresent-day Poland. By the age of nine, his father (who was probably born in Barbados) had taken him to London, where he was shown off as a child prodigy, performing in front of the likes of Thomas Jefferson and George IV. Several of Bridgewater’s compositions survive, although few have been recorded. His story was also the basis for a 2007 opera, written by Julian Joseph.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was born in Croydon, the son of a white English mother and a Creole man from Sierra Leone. As a violin scholar at the Royal College of Music, he was taught composition under Charles Villiers Stanford and soon developed a reputation as a composer, with Edward Elgar recommending him to the Three Choirs festival in 1896. By the time he died of pneumonia – aged only 37 – he had already toured America three times and performed for Theodore Roosevelt at the White House.

Compositions such as Coleridge-Taylor’s African Suite attempted to incorporate African influences in the same way that, say, Dvorák used Hungarian folk themes, but much more successful is Hiawatha’s Wedding, which is occasionally performed today. Even better are Coleridge-Taylor’s works for violin and orchestra, which are elegant pieces of fin de siècle romanticism.

Harry Lawrence Freeman (1869-1954) founded Harlem’s Negro Grand Opera Company, but his two all-black Wagnerian operas are barely staged.

An opera composer, conductor, impresario and teacher. He was the first African-American to write an opera (Epthalia, 1891) that was successfully produced. Freeman founded the Freeman School of Music and the Freeman School of Grand Opera, as well as several short-lived opera companies which gave first performances of his own compositions. During his life, he was known as "the black Wagner."

William Grant Still (1895-1978) studied with Edgard Varèse, an American composer, who composed more than 150 works, including five symphonies and eight operas.

Often referred to as "the Dean" of African-American composers, Still was the first American composer to have an opera produced by the New York City Opera. Still is known most for his first symphony, which was until the 1950s the most widely performed symphony composed by an American.

 In 1955, he conducted the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra; he was the first African American to conduct a major orchestra in the Deep South. Still's works were performed internationally by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, and the BBC Orchestra.

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5 Types of Music That Boost Your Productivity

How Music Affects Our Work

Teresa Lesiuk works as an assistant professor at the University of Miami in the music therapy program. Part of her role involves researching the effect of listening to music on work performance. According to her research, people who listen to music generally finish their tasks faster and are better at generating good ideas than people who don’t listen to music.

But that isn’t the full story.

Other studies show that pop music interferes with processing information and reading comprehension. Lyrics, for instance, can be distracting because they force you to listen to the words and interrupt your line of thought.

Overall, though, music can help you become more productive, depending on the type of music you listen to. Here are 5 types of music that will boost your motivation and productivity levels.

1. Classical Music

Think Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel, amongst a number of other classical composers. Classical music isn’t just good for relaxing with a glass of red wine after work. A study involving radiologists working showed that after listening to baroque music, seven out of eight found that their mood levels increased and they were better able to concentrate on their work.

For beginners, try the lively “Four Seasons” by Vivaldi, or Brandenburg Concerto by Bach.

2. Nature Music

Imagine hiking through a peaceful lush forest by a streaming river, or walking along sandy beaches as gentle waves roll in. Nature music is just that – the sounds of the wilderness, with no one to disturb you. People have reported that nature music not only calms the nerves, but listening to it during work can improve cognitive thinking.

Take note, though. While soothing sounds such as flowing water, rainfall, and rustling leaves work well, jarring noises such as birdcalls and animal noises can be distracting. If you want to try a spin on conventional nature music, try listening to nature music accompanied by instrumentals, such as the piano or flute.

3. Epic Music

Listening to epic music is one of my favorite ways of motivating myself while working. It can lift you up and empower your thoughts, while making you feel like you’re doing something important to change the world (even if you’re not). There’s a reason why movie trailers play epic music so often in the background.

So if you’re sitting at your desk and feel uninspired, why not give epic music a shot? It could be the thing you need for that motivational boost.

4. Video Game Music

Regardless of whether or not you play video games, this one may come as a surprise initially. However, video game music is great for working because the compositions are created specifically to help you concentrate on tasks. After all, building that tower or defending your character from attacks requires music that improves your ability to do so, doesn’t it?

And if it’s been awhile since you played video games, if at all, don’t be fooled by the term “video game music”. Many of the repertoires are complex in nature and performed by orchestras. If you don’t have any on your list, try listening to the Bastion soundtrack.

5. Ambient soundtracks

Ambient music is defined as a type of music that places emphasis tone and atmosphere over traditional musical structure. Brian Eno, one of the pioneers of ambient music says: “Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”

If you’re interested, try listening to his Music for Airports, which was designed to keep people waiting to board an aircraft feeling calm and relaxed. Likewise, it’s just as suitable for those stressful moments when you’re in the office.

See What Works For You

Experiment and try listening to different types of music. One of them may work when you need to boost your energy levels, while another can be better for those times when you just need to cancel out your noisy coworkers.

No matter what your music choices are, getting the most out of work is about designing your surroundings carefully, so that they help you work towards your goal. Choosing to do less can help you achieve more in the end.

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Composer and his Muse: Frédéric Chopin and Delfina Potocka

Although Chopin’s best-known muse was his long term mistress, the French writer George Sand (nom de plume of Amantine Lucile Dupin), he dedicated his Second Piano Concerto and his charming Minute Waltz to a lover he first encountered in his twenties.

Delfina Potocka was a Polish countess, was a friend and muse to Polish expatriate artists Frédéric Chopin. She was noted for her beauty, intellect and artistic gifts.[1] In her youth she was a piano student of Chopin's.

Unhappy in her married life, she eventually divorced. After parting with her husband, Potocka went abroad, where she maintained close contacts with Chopin. Chopin wrote to a friend in Paris in November 1831 "Yesterday I had dinner at the home of Mrs Potocka, that pretty wife of Mieczysław"; she studied piano with him and the friendship continued throughout Chopin's life; two days before his death in 1849 she sang to him at his request an aria from the Dettingen Te Deum of Handel.

Chopin-Delfina Potocka singing for the dying Chopin, 1885

Chopin created in her honor Waltz in D-flat major, Op. 64—the so-called "Minute Waltz."


Argentine Pianist Martha Argerich  Was Celebrated at the 2016 Kennedy Center as one of  five Honorees to receive the Kennedy Center Honors.

An interview with Martha Argerich is an exploration of a woman who loves to laugh and who yearns for the verdant and azure spaces of a more natural life.

    In 1978, Dean Elder had just heard her performance of the Mozart Concerto in C, OP. 25, K503, at Avery Fisher Hall, at about the time EMI captured the broadcast-performance in Amsterdam released in mid-2000.

    In describing the concert, he wrote, "...for Martha Argerich is about to play and prove that not all of Paradise has been lost."

    "... She is considered by cognoscenti and public to be in the front rank of her generation. Few pianists are viewed with such awed admiration by their colleagues. Few pianists receive such frenzied ovations."

    [Elder on the Mozart concerto that night]

    "The performance of Mozart's great Concerto in C, K. 503 is exciting and note-perfect. She plays Mozart with a beautiful, silvery, limpid tone...

    "The New York Philharmonic conducted by Raphael Kubelik plays superbly. It is lovely Mozart, like a bird song, fresh and unpredictable. Argerich plays freely, effortlessly. Broken octaves ripple, turns are tossed off. The vehemence of her octaves and the brilliance of her passage work are as striking as her immense rhythmic vitality and feeling for tonal values.

    "This concerto with its multitudinous melodies has never seemed more spontaneous. Never before have I heard the contrapuntal entrances made so clear. The last movement is taken at a good clip, and Mozart's F major theme..., one of his simplest and most personal, in the development of the sonata rondo is played so refreshingly that one finds himself singing the tune even as shouts of 'Bravo! Bravo!' rise at the end.    . . .

    "Audiences are spellbound by her fiery and fast-flowing pianism, and Herbert Barrett, her New York manager says, "We could book her 365 days a year if only she would play that many concerts."

    [This interview began after Argerich had been practicing for a Washington, D.C. performance]

    "...learning some new pieces of Ginastera in less than an hour. She had several things on her mind. Besides personal matters, she was somewhat startled and upset by a Harold Schonberg review in The New York Times calling her Mozart performance ,"rather superficial."

    [Elder asked if she chose to play Mozart to show another facet of her artistry.]

    Oh, no, no. I was supposed to play the Dvorak Concerto, but there was some strange confusion about that. Then I was to play Schumann, but Firkusny was playing Schumann, and then the only thing I could do was Mozart, I was told. It is interesting for me to play Mozart anyway because some important things have happened to me in relationship with playing Mozart. And it is important for me to know where I stand in that way. That's why this review upsets me very much: it was painful because it was Mozart. This time particularly.

    [Elder offered that Gieseking continued to play Mozart his way despite what a few critics wrote and that Elder had found her performance "really very moving"]

    But Schonberg said it was very shy or something. Kubelik told me, on the contrary, that he was happy because it was so singing, and that was exactly the opposite of what Schonberg said.

    [Elder answers, "Just keeping playing. He'll come around."]

    Okay (little laugh of amusement).

    [At 16, in 1957, when she won the Busoni and the Geneva competitions within three weeks...]

    ... the Liszt Sixth Hungarian Rhapsody. That's where I played the Liszt the first time. I hadn't played it before, not even for myself. At that time I was very superstitious so I wouldn't play a piece all the way through even for myself. I was afraid that something...so I just waited until I passed to the next round to learn the next pieces.

    ... Memory was not the problem. It was the playing. I was afraid that I couldn't, so I didn't want to play, you see.

    [Pronunciation of her name]

    I don't know. I say, "Ahr-ge-reech." Whatever comes it doesn't matter.

    [On how her interest in music started]

    I was at the kindergarten in a competitive program when I was two years and eight months. I was much younger than the rest of the children. I had a little friend who was always teasing me; he was five and was always telling me, "You can't do this, you can't do that." And I would always do whatever he said I couldn't. Once he got the idea of telling me I couldn't play the piano. (Laughter) That's how it started. I still remember it. I immediately got up, went to the piano, and started playing a tune that the teacher was playing all the time. I played the tune by ear and perfectly. The teacher immediately called my mother and they started making a fuss. And it was all because of this boy who said, "You can't play the piano."

    [Asked if she was forced to practice]

    Later, yes I was and I hated it. I didn't want to be a pianist in the first place. I still don't really want to be, but it is the only thing that I can do more or less. (Laughter) I wanted to be a doctor!

    . . . I love very much to play the piano, but I don't like to be a pianist. I don't like the profession. And when one plays, of course, it is important to practice. But the profession itself - the traveling and the way of life - all this has nothing to do with playing or with music, absolutely nothing! This is what I do not enjoy about being a concert pianist. You never know when you are very young, when you are studying, what this profession is about. No one tells you, and the people outside the profession don't have a clue. They think it is marvelous.

    [On whether it's harder for a woman than a man]

    I suppose, but it is complicated for me because I had the type of teacher and parents who used to tell me when I was a little girl that my fiance was the piano. I didn't have much freedom as a child.

    [On being told her "fiance" was the piano]

    And isn't that terrible! (Laughter) My teacher used to tell me this to hypnotize me I suppose - I don't now what. I hate this type of reasoning, this idea of being high priestess or something. I don't like this attitude in life, generally. I would never do that with a child of mind.

    [On playing difficult concerts when she was 8]

    How do you know about this? I played the Mozart D minor Concerto (isn't that funny, all the Wunderknder play that and it is one of the most difficult in certain respects) and the first Beethoven Concerto and the Bach G major French Suite in between.

    ... But I heard a tape the other day of a concert of mine, of the Schumann concerto when I was 11 and of that Mozart Concerto when I was nine. It's a very distorted tape, but I was touched because, my God, pianistically, it is absolutely amazing. I mean, I don't understand how I did those things. I just brought this tape back to my mother. It had been in a deposit box in Switzerland for ten years.

    [On Gieseking telling her parents to leave her in peace when he noticed she seemed, at age 8, to feel forced to practice]

    I played the last movement of Beethoven's Sonata in Eb op. 31 no. 3, and probably he could notice that I was not enjoying the situation very much. I was glad he told them because that was what I wanted. But they didn't take his advice.

    It was very difficult I suppose for them to understand. I used to do horrible things to myself in order not to play. I was told if you soaked blotter paper in water and put it in your shoes, you would get fever, so I would hide in the bathroom and put water in my shoes. And I used to hide under the table at soirees instead of meeting people. Daniel Barenboim was at those musical evenings too, but he enjoyed playing for those people very much; I hated it. We used to meet under the table when I was hiding there.

    [Elder finds this interesting, "because you have a magnetism when you walk out on stage that goes out to people."]

    You think so?

    [Yes, and an artist either has it or doesn't.. Elder mentions that Gieseking, loved playing the piano and couldn't stay away from it and could talk about little else.]

    Really? Well, some people do. Nelson likes to play the piano quite a lot, more than I do. I have long periods without touching the piano, and I don't miss it. And then I can get possessed by the piano for a while as well. But I enjoy completely different things like going for walks, talking with people, non-musicians, and being in a completely different atmosphere.

    When you have been all your life put into a frame of being a pianist, of being a musician in spite of yourself, it is unfair for the rest of your personality. You have something else you want to express. It looks theoretical in my case, but I try. I don't know if I succeed, but I hope to be able to express myself otherwise too.

    [On reports that Arrau, Solomon, Szigeti, Francescatti, and Von Beinem had heard her play.]

    Szigeti was very touching. I played for him when I was 12, and he wrote me a letter from the plane. Then I met him again when I was 17 in Genoa and I played some sonatas with him. It was about the first time I had any chamber music experience. I was terrified because I had to sight-read. I didn't know the music. And I was so touched because he went into another room to warm up for 20 or 30 minutes before starting to play with me. I was a 17-year-old with no experience. I mean who was I? I was just nothing, you know. It was incredible!

    [Elder mentions Vincenzo Scaramuzza]

    He was an extraordinary teacher I suppose, but I didn't do many of the things he told me. I was hearing other people tell me how to practice. He would tell me what to do, and I would do what the other people told me. I studied with him from age five to ten in Argentina.

    [Dean Elder notices she played Friedrich Gulda's cadenza to the Mozart Concerto in C, K. 503.]

    Gulda was my first teacher outside Argentina. He is fantastic. I love him. I believe he is one of the most talented people I have ever met. For me, playing for him was a fantastic experience.

    [On remembering what she especially learned from him]

    Oh, all kinds of things. A lot of Debussy and Ravel. Isn't that funny? And Bach quite a lot too. I was with him one year and a half. He used to record the lesson. And after, he wanted me to listen with him, to criticize my own things, you see? This was very interesting because it was very democratic. He liked to know what I had to say, what I thought. It was not this thing that usually happens between pupil and teacher. It was fantastic. I learned a lot with him.

    Sometimes he would challenge me because I would be lazy. I wouldn't work and learn fast enough. I was going through a sort of mystic crisis about God, whether I believed in God and the immortal soul. It was complicated. I used to arrive late at every lesson and start talking about this with him. I was so worried and he had to answer, and at the same time he knew I was doing this because I hadn't prepared.

    [On Gulda fearing she was an underachiver when she was a month with a Schubert Sonata]

    "For your next lesson, five days from now, you have to bring me all of Ravel's 'Gaspard de la nuit' and Schumann's 'Abegg Variations.'"

    All right, so I brought them all learned; it was not difficult because I didn't know that it was supposed to be. When one doesn't know that a piece is very difficult, one learns it easily. If you know already from everybody that this piece is difficult, then you don't learn it fast. I didn't know this, so I learned these pieces fast, and he was very happy about it.

    [Elder spoke to Nikita Magaloff at the 1977 Cliburn Competition in Ft. Worth and asked him what he taught her.]

    What did he say?

    "Oh, she could already play everything. But I worry when she cancels concerts."

    He always says that to me.

    [On how she learned the Prokofiev 3rd initially]

    Well, I was rooming with a girl who used to practice it while I was asleep in the mornings. We had only this one room. Somehow this music came subconsciously into my mind, even with the wrong notes she was playing. I noticed I knew it when I started to play it.

    [And you learned the wrong notes that she played?]

    Yes, I did. (Laughter) She was practicing the difficult parts and had these problems. . .

    [On Michelangeli as teacher]

    Well, I was one year and a half with him, and I had four lessons. It's not much. Once he said to David Ruben from Steinway, "Oh, I've done a lot for that girl." And David said, "But Maestro I know that you gave her only four lessons." And he said, "Yes, but I taught her the music of silence." It's all very mysterious. (Laughter)

    [On duo piano partner Nelson Freire]

    Nelson has the greatest facility I have ever seen. He can sight-read like I've never seen in my life except for Gulda. Nelson is always looking for new things to play or to read. He is one who enjoys playing the piano as you were saying, like Gieseking, not like me. I have a conflict.

    [On pianistic idols, Elder naming Horowitz and Rachmaninoff]

    I love them, but not only them. I love Gieseking and Cortot too. I like Schnabel, Glenn Gould - a lot of people.

    Of the older people, Cortot is quite important for me. Even Backhaus had some things I used to love. His recording of the Beethoven Third Concerto with Boehm is fantastic ...

    [On hearing, with Nelson Freire in January 1978, Horowitz's first appearance with an orchestra in 25 years, and her response to his Rachmaninoff Third Performance]

    It was the first time I heard him in the flesh, you know. It was an incredible shock for me because it was more Horowitz than what I thought Horowitz was. Nelson and I were sitting there holding hands, tense. The strength of his expression, the sound, and this incredible violence he has inside which is so strange, weird, and frightening. That he can express it. He's like possessed. I've read about this, but this was the first time that I saw on stage someone who has that!

    [On the Liszt Sonata in B minor, Elder tells her ... I think your recording has tremendous architectural sweep from the first note to the last, fantastic emotional and technical drive, with contrasting affecting Iyricism... and asks Argerich her ideas about this work.]

    I don't like to listen to it, not played by me, not played by anybody. Isn't that funny? I get very impatient. There is something that bothers me about it, not because Ive heard it too much. On the other hand, I am very interested in what Cortot says about "the dispute of conscience which fills Faust's tormented soul in his search for truth," in reference to the passages of Goethe's Faust that inspired Liszt's Sonata. Some people hate what Cortot wrote in his edition, but I think it opens up a lot of horizons like his playing did too. I don't believe that it works for everything. But for me, yes, for some things it does and well. What Cortot wrote seems very important.

    [On possibly making a recording of Scarlatti sonatas.]

    Well, no, I can't. I have a horror of all those little trills. You see, little trills are my horrible obsession, and most of Scarlatti is full of them. Long, fast trills go all right, but the little ones - they are for me the horror - you know, sometimes I get stuck. I don't lift my fingers enough. It's like stuttering if I'm not in shape. Let's say I'm sight-reading something, and there are some little trills. Then they go. But the moment I know in advance that I have to do them, then ugh! It's terrible.

    [On her feelings in 1964 ("just before the 1965 Chopin Competition" which she won) when she attended the Brussels competition but couldn't enter that particular competition]

    The night before the competition I said to myself, "Well, now, Martha, it is over for you. You have been a pianist but now you are not. You cannot play, so what kind of a pianist are you? You know some languages; you must start to earn your livelihood as a secretary."

    [On Stefan Askenase's wife's influence.]

    I had been away from the piano for about three years ... I was one year here in New York, and all I did was watch television. . . . She had something very special, like a sun. She gave me strength and security. I started to believe again that I could, and little by little I started to play -- very bad, wrong notes all over the place, and I couldn't stand it. I was thinking, "What is the matter with me?" I went on and on like this. Because of her I started to play again, and almost immediately I went to the Chopin Competition. It was because of her. Otherwise, I couldn't have done it.

    [On her interpretive goal]

    I think interpretation is trying to liberate what one is unconscious about. When one can let go some things one doesnt know are there - the unexpected things and the surprises in the performance - that's when its worthwhile. This is also what I appreciate in other performers. When they are masters of their means of expression, this does not exactly interest me. That interests me in a teacher, but in a performer I am interested in what happens behind or in spite of the things the performer consciously wants to do. Maybe I am a little bit of a voyeur, you know, that way. But this is what I love.

Copyright (c) The Instrumentalist Company 1979.

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A History of Classical Music (The Women-Only Version)

A composer with a desire for an audience has to be in possession of skills that have, on their surface, very little to do with music. He (it was almost always a he) needs to be capable of self-promotion, of fund-raising, of a kind of confidence that makes others follow instructions. Arguably, it’s these adjacent abilities that have been least encouraged in female composers. Then there is the notion, intractable for centuries, that women could perhaps be talented of body — with nimble fingers and a bell-like voice — but never of mind, which is, of course, where composition originates.

Even if they’ve hardly ended up household names, the women in this alternative history of composing are, quite frankly, anomalies: people for whom ambition and talent coincided with privilege and pedigree. Many had musically influential or well-connected fathers and husbands; others had the support of powerful nobles. Changes in geopolitics played a role in their success, as did quirks of history. As Anna Beer writes in “Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music”: “They did not seek out, or seek to create, a female tradition, nor did they wait for a female teacher or mentor. They invariably worked with, and within, a male-dominated musical culture.”

To read about their lives, and to listen to their music, is to mentally catalog everything that went right for them — and to imagine all the forgotten women for whom it must have gone wrong.

 Check out this  playlist of  female composers, who are often overlooked.

The Soul’s Struggle

Hildegard of Bingen, circa 1151

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

By the natural light from a single window, Hildegard of Bingen wrote books on medicine, botany and theology, and corresponded with penitents and popes. Born around 1098 and one of the first known composers in the Western tradition, she spent most of her life sequestered in a remote Rhineland monastery. Dozens of her compositions survive, all with original text, along with her magnum opus: a hypnotic liturgical drama called “Ordo Virtutum,” which tells the story of a struggle for a human soul between the Virtues and the Devil.

Hildegard experienced visions from the time she was a young girl — Oliver Sacks speculated that she suffered from blinding migraines — and people across medieval Europe knew her as a prophet, “the Sibyl of the Rhine.” She claimed to have been uneducated, and her letters suggest a compositional practice inspired only by faith. “Hearing earthly music,” she wrote, “enables humans to to recall their former state.” Her work remained cloistered, though; it’s believed that none of it was ever heard outside her convent in her lifetime.


For a Court of Women

Francesca Caccini, 1625


February in Florence was Carnival season, and in 1625 the Medici court was celebrating a recent victory against the overextended Ottoman Empire, welcoming a visit from the Crown Prince Wladyslaw IV Vasa of Poland with opulent feasts and extravagant ceremonies. Francesca Caccini, a 36-year-old composer, was the architect of the day’s signature entertainment: “La Liberazione di Ruggiero Dall’isola d’Alcina,” a comic opera in four scenes, complete with dancing horses and other visual pyrotechnics and a fantastical plot involving warring and seductive sorceresses.

With its juxtaposed arias, canzonets and madrigals, the gynocentric and multifarious opera was the product of a historically exceptional period at the court, dominated first by Caccini’s original patron, Christine de Lorraine, the wife of Ferdinando I de’ Medici, and then by her daughter-in-law, Maria Magdalena of Austria. The original audience for “La Liberazione” was, as the musicologist Suzanne Cusick has written, well prepared to welcome the “representation of a fictional world ruled by exceptional women.”


The Composing Coquette

Barbara Strozzi, 1650s


Like that of many if not most female composers throughout history, Barbara Strozzi’s career was engineered by a man. Her adoptive father, the poet Giulio Strozzi — many assumed Barbara was his illegitimate daughter — organized salons at his Venice home, where he would invite important men to debate philosophical and often prurient topics. Between discussions, the teenage Barbara would perform suggestive musical interludes.

It wasn’t until her 30s that she began to seriously and consistently compose her own music, a professional pivot that can be read as an assertion of autonomy after a lifetime of sexualized manipulation. The music she wrote could be overtly erotic — voices interweaving to a sonic climax — and sometimes misogynistic in its lyrics. It remains uncertain as to whether or not she was ever a courtesan or even a concubine.

Private Performances
and Public Humiliations

Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, 1694

Baptized Élisabeth-Claude Jacquet, the composer now known as Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre was born in Paris in 1665 to a family of artisans (her father was a master harpsichord maker) whose craft allowed them access to the French nobility. She was accepted into the court of Louis XIV as a teenager, and her education and musical practice was overseen by Madame de Montespan, the king’s most adored mistress.

As was common with many musicians at the time, Jacquet’s career depended on the whims of her patrons, for whom she performed in mostly private settings. Being at the mercy of a mistress was even more precarious. And by 1694, when Jacquet staged “Céphale et Procris,” her first opera, Madame de Montespan had been replaced by a new, more religious mistress whose conservatism was already influencing the court’s taste. Though Jacquet took the trouble to publish the work, the production itself was performed only five or six times in Paris, to a wan reception. Jacquet’s husband, himself a composer, is said to have met with attendees the day after the premiere, telling them to stifle any criticism. But she never composed another opera.

They Prefer Song

Marianna Martines, 1772

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The English music historian Charles Burney visited Vienna in 1772, and on a Sunday afternoon in September was greeted in a grand home by the Italian librettist Pietro Metastasio. Letters were read aloud, compliments paid to mutual friends; the conversation was pleasant and intriguing.

The tenor of the room shifted with the entrance of a young woman, whom Burney would later describe as “well dressed,” “graceful” and “very elegant.” It was the composer and harpsichordist Marianna Martines, Metastasio’s pupil and protégée, who even as a child was deemed skilled enough to play at the imperial court. The group of men greeted her with great respect, and she proceeded to sing two airs of her own composition. Her performance, Burney would write, surpassed all that he “had been made to expect.”

In his account of the visit, Burney praises Martines’s voice, her timing, her self-presentation. But he expressed concern that the physical demands of composition — the sitting, the neck craning — might mitigate her other talents. “It is a pity,” he wrote, “that her writing should affect her voice.”

Backstage Grandeur

Louise Farrenc, 1850

In the middle of the 19th century, Paris audiences vastly preferred opera to instrumental music. But when Louise Farrenc’s Nonet in E-flat major had its premiere in 1850 — with Joseph Joachim, not yet 20 years old and not yet quite world famous, leading on the violin — the performance was met with ecstatic excitement. Alternating between winds and strings, the work is lively and bright; listeners enjoyed the way in which each instrument is given its own moment to shine.

Eight years earlier, Farrenc had been appointed professor of piano at the Paris Conservatory — one of the first female instrumental professors in Europe — and Farrenc parlayed her newfound public success into a pay raise, demanding that her wages be equal to those of her male colleagues. Her employers agreed, and Farrenc kept the post for another quarter-century. In addition to composing and teaching, she helped her husband, a music scholar and publisher, to research and edit books, including a 23-volume anthology of keyboard masterpieces. She continued the work after he died, organizing talks and concerts to coincide with various publications. Her strategic scholarship — intent on reviving and publicizing works of the past — was unusual at the time, but such behind-the-scenes labor has in fact been a large part of the work women have contributed over the centuries.

Touring and Torment

Clara Schumann, 1837

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In the winter of 1837, Clara Wieck, a German piano prodigy turned teenage touring virtuoso, came to Vienna to give a series of concerts that lasted through the spring. The shows often sold out; excited crowds grew so congested that the police were called upon; and a torte was named after her.

She was a celebrity. In addition to her work on the piano, she composed music that she would play at each recital — a rarity for both men and women at the time. The fact that she toured at all was in itself somewhat novel. By the 19th century, musicians who once performed privately for their noble employers now gave public concerts to larger, more diverse and more distant audiences, but it was not a tradition friendly to women, for whom a life onstage and constant transit were considered inappropriate if not impossible. Wieck was an exception.
By the time she married her husband, the composer Robert Schumann, and took his name, she was already world famous — and only 20. She continued to perform for decades, through relentless pregnancies and multiple miscarriages. And despite Robert’s nervous breakdowns and possible syphilis infection, she believed his opinion that she should retreat from composing.

“I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea,” she wrote. “A woman must not desire to compose — there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?”