Great women composers in honor of Women's History Month

Today there's a lot of debate about the role of women in classical music. Yet from Hildegard in the 12th century through to the present day, women have made a significant contribution which has often been overlooked.

Louise Farrenc (1804-1875) Louise Farrenc received piano lessons from masters such as Ignaz Moscheles and Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Following her marriage, she interrupted her studies to play concerts with her husband, the flautist Aristide Farrenc. Despite her brilliance as a performer and composer, she was paid less than her male counterparts for nearly a decade. Only after the triumphant premiere of her Nonet for wind and strings - in which the violinist Joseph Joachim took part -did she demand and receive equal pay.

Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847) Sister of the composer Felix Mendelssohn, Fanny composed more than 460 works, including a piano trio and several books of piano pieces and songs. A number of her works were originally published under Felix's name. Her piano works are often in the style of songs and carry the title, ‘Song without Words.’ This style of piece was successfully developed by Felix, though some assert that Fanny preceded him in the genre.

Clara Schumann (1819-1896) The wife of Robert Schumann and herself one of the most distinguished pianists of her time, Clara enjoyed a 61-year concert career. Her father Friedrich Wieck taught her to compose and she wrote her Piano Concerto at the age of 14. She largely lost confidence in her composing in her mid-30s. ‘I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea;’ she said, ‘a woman must not desire to compose — there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?’

Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) Harrow-born Clarke is best known for her chamber music for the viola, which she wrote for herself and the all-female chamber ensembles she played in. Her works - including a Viola Sonata - were strongly influenced by several trends in 20th century classical music, particularly the impressionism of Claude Debussy. Clarke knew many leading composers of the day, including Ravel, with who whom her work has been compared.

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