For the remaining weeks of March, we will be celebrating Women’s History Month by sharing some of the most astonishing women musicians and composers both throughout history and at work today.
On the 8th March, we celebrated International Women’s Day. The aim being to celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness against bias and take action for equality. That is why we will be sharing some great artists, with fascinating stories as well as their music. This years’ theme is #ChooseToChallenge, in that collectively we can all create an inclusive world by calling out and choosing to challenge gender bias and inequality. Join us in celebrating women in music this month with our weekly WildKat blog.
Ethel Smyth (1858-1944)
Famously linked with the suffragette movement, she served a two-month prison sentence for her involvement. When fellow conductor Thomas Beecham went to visit her, he found her conducting a choir of inmates.
Her ‘March of the Women’ became an anthem for the suffragettes and her involvement continued up until the First World War, when suffragette activities were halted.
‘Against her father’s wishes she decided to pursue a musical career. In 1887 Smyth entered the Leipzig Conservatory, staying for one year only after becoming disenchanted with the tuition and staff. Remaining in Leipzig, Smyth then took harmony and counterpoint lessons with Heinrich von Herzogenberg. During this period she met many of the most significant composers of the day, including Johannes Brahms, Antonín Dvořák, Clara Schummann and Pyotr Tchaikovsky. The latter was especially encouraging, describing Smyth in his memoirs as ‘one of the few women composers whom one can seriously consider to be achieving something valuable in the field of musical creation’.’ – The British Library
In her later life, she was awarded a D.B.E. and in 1926 she became the first female recipient of an honorary doctorate in music from Oxford University.
Read more from The British Library
Selected Piece – The Wreckers (Overture) 1906
During her lifetime, she composed symphonies, choral works (musical pieces written for a choir), and operas including The Wreckers,1906, and is most well known for The March of Women, an anthem for the women’s suffrage movement. In 1922, she was named a Dame of the British Empire.
What do you admire about this artist and their piece of music?
‘I think when reading her life’s story, you can definitely hear her resilience in the face of challenges in this work’
‘Ethel Smyth was absolutely fearless in her feminism, and it comes out in her music – it’s not “feminine” or subdued in any way‘
‘Her life is really interesting… such a bold and strong woman! Talented too, as this music piece shows… Really happy to hear her music more as years go by!
Where does this piece transport you to?
‘I see a world, entire cityscapes in timelapse, cranes working and building up skyscrapers, the vitality and restlessness of a city’
‘A ship at nighttime – traversing treacherous waters but finding moments of calm to marvel at the vast black sky’
‘The sounds take me to the war front’