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Women composers that made history

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Clara Schumann once 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?"

We can easily say that yes, she was the one!

But not the only one, since she was one of many, so many amazingly talented women composers that made history.

From the Middle Ages to the 20th century, we will tell the story of the most iconic women composers and allow you to download their sheet music masterpieces into the Newzik reader app for free (sign-up required).

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), Germany

Hildegard von Bingen

Hildegard von Bingen was not only a composer but also a mystic, writer and visionary. She founded two monasteries as a Benedictine Abbess. “Ordo Virtutum”, which is one of her compositions, is the oldest surviving morality play of the world. The work presents melodies for the human soul and 16 virtues, but the Devil never gets any tunes, since he only has a speaking role.

Louise Farrenc (1804-1875), France

Louise Farrenc

Louise Farrenc got her piano lessons from the great masters such as J.N. Hummel and Ignaz Moscheles. After her marriage, she discontinued her studies in order to play concerts with her flautist husband Aristide Farrenc. Even though she was a brilliant performer and composer, for nearly a decade, she was paid less than her male counterparts. Only after the greatly successful premiere of her Nonet for wind and strings (in which the very famous violinist Joseph Joachim also played in) she demanded and finally received equal pay.

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1847), Germany

Fanny Mendelssohn

A very active composer herself, Fanny composed more than 460 works(!), including an amazing piano trio and many books of piano pieces and songs. Unfortunately, some of her works were originally published under Felix’s name, since she was the sister of the famous composer Felix Mendelssohn. Her piano works are mostly formed as songs and have the title Song without Words. This style of music was very well developed and distributed by Felix, though some suggest that Fanny actually preceded his brother in this genre.

Clara Schumann (1819-1896), Germany

Clara Schumann

As one of the most distinguished pianists of her time, Clara enjoyed an amazingly successful 61-year concert career. Her father Friedrich Wieck taught her to compose and she wrote her Piano Concerto at the age of 14. Clara was one of the central figures of Romantic Era. Especially with her close friend Johannes Brahms and her husband Robert Schumann, they have shaped the music of 1800s together, with their amazing musical talents and creativity. Today, we are lucky that we can play, hear and study her amazing musical and compositional talent, and she continues to be the musical idol of so many women around the world.

Amy Beach (1867-1944), United States

Amy Beach

The first successful American woman composer, Amy Beach was a famous pianist, who unfortunately accepted to limit her piano performances to one charity recital a year after her marriage. Following her husband’s death, she toured Europe as a pianist, played her own compositions and received great acclaim. She mainly composed music in the style of Romantic, although her later works experiments more exotic harmonies and techniques. Some of her famous works include the Mass in E-flat major and the fascinating “Gaelic Symphony”.

Lili Boulanger (1893-1918), France

Lili Boulanger

Even at the age of two, Boulanger’s talent became evident when the famous composer Gabriel Fauré discovered that she had perfect pitch. Her musical education was supported by her parents, thankfully. She was only 19, when she won the Prix de Rome composition prize with her Faust et Hélène, and she became the first woman composer ever to win this special prize. Unfortunately, she died tragically young, at the age of only 25. The asteroid “1181 Lilith” was named in her honour.

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