Great Women Composers

Women's contribution to classical music is too often forgotten or overlooked - but that doesn't mean it never existed.

New statistics show that around 95% of concerts feature music only written by men - and yes, this music is undeniably great, but so is the music written by women.

To celebrate the ~ very real ~ contributions of women, I have gathered a list of some of my favourite female composers.

1. Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)

Hildegard von Bingen was a German abbess, writer, philosopher and composer. Alongside producing one of the largest repertoires among Medieval composers, Hildegard also founded two monasteries, invented a language known as Lingua Ignota and is considered by many to be the founder of natural history in Germany.

2. Maddalena Casulana (1544-1590)

Maddalena Casulana was an Italian composer and lute player of the late Renaissance. She was the first female composer in the history of Western music to have her works published and printed.

In the dedication to her first book of madrigals, Maddalena writes:

"I want to show the world, as much as I can in this profession of music, the vain error of men that they alone possess the gifts of intellect and artistry, and that such gifts are never given to women."

3. Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677)

Barbara Strozzi was an Italian composer and virtuoso singer - almost three-quarters of her works are written for soprano. She was the most prolific composer of printed secular vocal music in Venice and composed more in this genre than any other composer of her time.

4. Maria Hester Park (1760-1813)

Maria Hester Park was a British composer, pianist and singer. After ending her performance career in 1787, Maria gained more fame as a composer and teacher. She went on to teach many students in the nobility, including the Duchess of Devonshire.

In 1794, Maria received a letter from Joseph Haydn - a copy of his sonata No. 61 and a thank you note in exchange for two of her pieces.

5. Maria Szymanowska (1789-1831)

Maria Szymanowska was a Polish composer and one of the first virtuoso pianists in the 19th century. She toured extensively through Europe, visiting England, Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands. She became known for her virtuosity and was one of the first pianists to perform from memory in public (almost a decade before Franz Liszt!).

6. Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983)

Germaine Tailleferre was a French composer and the only female member of Les Six (A group of six French composers including Poulenc and Honegger).

As a young woman, Germaine changed her name from "Taillefesse" to "Tailleferre" to spite her father who had refused to support her musical education. She went on to study at the Paris Conservatory where she met members of Les Six. In 1981 she was awarded the Grand-croix de l'ordre national du Mérite .

We have so much to gain from rediscovering some of history's forgotten composers - so make an effort to learn more about the great women composers!

If you want to explore more, here's a list from Oxford Music Online of women composers, organised by time period:

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