Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Lili Boulanger Wins the Prix de Rome

You may have heard of Nadia Boulanger (1887–1979), legendary teacher to Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, Astor Piazzolla, and many more. But did you know that Nadia had a younger sister, Lili (1893–1918), who was a talented composer? Let’s wrap up our discussion on women composers this month by looking at Lili and her work.

Courtesy of https://commons.wikimedia.org

The talented Boulanger sisters were born into privileged circumstances near the end of the nineteenth century. Musical talent ran in their blood, their grandmother was a celebrated singer and their father, a former winner of the Prix de Rome.  It is no wonder that both girls decided to pursue music as a career. Nadia, feeling pressure to financially sustain her family following their aged father’s death, attempted several times to win the Prix de Rome to no avail. While the Paris Conservatoire allowed women to enter the competition at the time, it made it nearly impossible for them to win. Despite this, Lili got the idea to attempt the competition herself and, in 1913, became the first woman to win with her cantata Faust et Helene.

After winning this prestigious competition, Lili was launched into the musical world, having her works performed alongside the masters and quickly obtaining a contract with a music publishing company, who promised a steady income.

Having struggled with health problems since she was a child, Lili’s health began to deteriorate shortly thereafter. She passed away at the age 24, leaving the world to wonder what musical masterpieces could have been if she had lived a full life.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Chaminade's Concertino for Flute and Piano, Op. 107

Are you familiar with any works by Cecile Chaminade (1857–1944)? Born in the nineteenth century, Chaminade was a gifted pianist and composer who, unlike some of her female contemporaries, did not struggle to make a name for herself during her lifetime. Last time we looked at her life as a musician. Today, let’s listen to one of her compositions.

Chaminade was quite prolific, having over 350 works to her credit including a comic opera, ballet, choral symphony, chamber and orchestral works, songs, and piano pieces. She became popular during her day because many of her pieces were perfect for trendy domestic music-making. Due to this popularity, many of her works were actually published within her lifetime.

Chaminade’s Concertino for Flute and Piano, op. 107 is one popular work that you may hear now and then on 90.9 WGUC. This work was written for the Conservatoire’s annual flute contest in 1902. Today, the piece has made it into the standard flute repertoire. Below, listen to James Galway perform this delightful work.

Next week, we will wrap up this month’s look at women composers by discussing the Boulanger sisters!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Cecile Chaminade: Pianist and Composer

Cecile Chaminade (1857–1944) was a gifted pianist and composer who, unlike some of her female contemporaries, did not struggle to make a name for herself during her lifetime. She began writing for her church at eight. Recognized by Georges Bizet as a true talent, she was encouraged to begin private music studies from prominent musicians of the day. This was in lieu of attending the Conservatoire, which was prohibited because of her gender.

Cecile Chaminade: Courtesy of wikimedia.org

At eighteen, Chaminade gave her first public concert and from there, began touring France, Belgium, Britain, and eventually America performing her own works. In 1913, she was the first woman to receive the Legion of Honor from the French government. Despite her success, she went relatively unnoticed by scholars following her death. It wasn’t until the late 20th-century when a newfound interest in women composers developed, that she gained proper attention. 

Curious if you know a piece by Chaminade? Join me next time as we look at one of her works. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Strozzi's Moralita amorosa

Barbara Strozzi (1619–1677) was primarily recognized during her life as a singer, but she also was a talented composer. After writing her First Book of Madrigals in 1644, she feared what the community response would be, since she was a woman. Unfortunately, her first attempt did not establish her in the great musical canon. She did not lose hope, however, writing seven additional volumes, hoping to assert her own voice rather than that of the controlling men in her life. 

Barbara was actually quite talented at composition; the music writer Charles Burney stating 100 years following her death that she may have originated the cantata form in Italy! Below you can listen to “Moralita amorosa” from her opus 3. This piece attacks women who lure men in with their enticing fashion. Note the lovely melisma at the beginning that sounds improvisatory. In reality, Barbara carefully noted every detail!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Virtuosity of Barbara Strozzi

This month, Clef Notes is looking at talented women composers throughout music history. Today, let’s introduce Barbara Strozzi (1619–1677) to the discussion. Adopted daughter of the librettist and poet Giulio Strozzi, Barbara grew up surrounded by intellectuals in Giulio’s Venetian group, the Academy of the Unknowns. Once he discovered that Barbara exhibited musical talent, he formed a subset of the group, the Academy of the Likeminded, in which he allowed Barbara to reside over, singing and suggesting topics for group discussion. 

Barbara Strozzi: Courtesy of wikimedia.org 

Barbara was declared a virtuoso by 15, and Giulio did his best to publicize her throughout his circles in Venice. He even wrote many texts himself, and then worked to get the accompanying music dedicated to her. He also gave her lessons from Francesco Cavalli, doing everything he could to cultivate her talent. Some scholars believe that, in addition to helping along Barbara’s musical ambitions, Giulio also planned for her to be a courtesan. She ended up having several children with the already-married Giovanni Paolo Vidman.

In addition to being a celebrated singer, Barbara Strozzi also composed. Next time, we’ll look at an example of her work.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Caccini and Early Opera

Francesca Caccini (1587–1640) was a singer, composer, and teacher who spent much of her life working for the court of the Grand-Duke of Tuscany. While many of her works were lost following her death, several are still known and loved today. Let’s look at her opera La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina, written in honor of the future Polish king’s visit to Florence in 1625.

Opera was in an early, experimental form at this point in history, and it’s impressive to see a woman composer tackling a new and complex genre! The future Polish king was so impressed by Caccini’s work that he requested it be performed in Poland, making it the first Italian opera to be performed there!

Next week, we look at the talented singer and composer, Barbara Strozzi.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Francesa Caccini: Respected Composer of the 17th Century

Continuing our look at historical women composers this month, let’s talk about Francesca Caccini (1587–1640). Singer, composer, and teacher, Caccini was born into a musical family, the daughter of famed composer Giulio Caccini. She made her singing debut at the wedding of Marie de’ Medici and Henry IV, for whom her father composed wedding music. Henry IV was so impressed by her talent that he requested she come into his service. Her father claimed that she was not granted permission from her current family of service, the Grand Duke Ferdinando de’ Medici of Tuscany. Some scholars, however, believe Giulio made a false claim, not wanting to lose control over his daughter.

Francesca Caccini
Courtesy of wikimedia.org
In 1607, when Caccini was just 20, she was appointed to sing and compose for the court of the Grand-Duke of Tuscany by the Grand Duchess Christine de Lorraine, who controlled the court at the time. The fact that the court was controlled by a woman likely helped Caccini’s career to blossom, giving her more opportunities than she may have experienced otherwise.

Caccini’s talent was respected and she worked hard to establish her career—a difficult task for a woman in that era. That being said, she still held the status of a servant in the court. Sadly, many of her works were lost following her lifetime.

Join me next time as we look at one of her better-known operas! 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Virtues

This month, Clef Notes is taking a look at historical women composers. This week, we begin our discussion in the Middle Ages with Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179), a German abbess and prophetess who also wrote religious texts, which were then set to music for the Mass and Office. Because people believed she was divinely inspired, she likely felt less prejudice for being a woman. That being said, her music’s use didn’t extend much outside her own community.

Today, let’s listen to Hildegard’s The Virtues (1151), a sacred music drama that was not attached to the liturgy. This morality play featured several figurative characters including Prophets, Virtues, Happy Soul, Unhappy Soul, and Penitent Soul. Each character has a singing role except the Devil, who cannot sing because he is separated from God. Below, you can listen to this beautiful, medieval work. Do you enjoy this type of music?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Hildegard von Bingen: Divinely Inspired

It seems in music history that we often tend to hear about male composers and their work, but did you know there are many prominent women composers as well? Some were known during their lifetime while others gained appreciation generations following their deaths. This month, let’s look at a few talented female composers, many who struggled due to gender prejudices during their lifetimes.

This week, let’s begin by traveling back to medieval history. Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179) lived during an era when women were expected to remain silent in church. The only way to participate in any type of leadership role or in singing and composing was by joining a convent. Hildegard was born into a noble German family who gave her up to the church at a young age. As a result, she had many intellectual opportunities within the convent which women on the outside did not receive. 

Courtesy of wikimedia.org
Hildegard was known for founding her own convent and also as a prophet. Because people believed she was divinely inspired, she likely felt less prejudice for being a woman. Perhaps this is why she is considered to be one of the Middle Age’s most prominent composers.

Next time, join me as we look closer at one famous composition by Hildegard von Bingen.