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Thread: Ethel Smyth

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    Senior Member Joachim Raff's Avatar
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    Default Ethel Smyth

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    Ethel Smyth- ‘She was a feisty, and sometimes radical, activist for equality, whether it was in the voting booth or in the male-dominated world of classical music.’ (Lucas Reilly, 2016)
    Feminist, radical, musician; Ethel Smyth was one of the most influential turn-of-the-century composers.

    From writing 'The March of the Women’ for her and her fellow suffragettes, to being arrested and then conducting the march through the bars of her prison cell with a toothbrush, Ethel was an advocate for women’s rights. She continued to fight for her rightful place as a respected composer.

    Born in 1858 in Kent, Ethel defied the demands of her father and left home for Germany in 1877 to study music at the Leipzig conservatoire. Shortly after this move, Ethel studied privately with Heinrich von Herzogenberg, as well as Johannes Brahms, and met with a body of influential musicians including Pytor Tchaikovsky, Edvard Grieg, Clara Schumann, and Antonin Dvořák.

    Ethel’s repertoire includes her famous ‘Mass in D’, which even caused playwright George Bernanard Shaw to remark that Smyth "cured me forever of the old delusion that women could not do man’s work in art and all other things". Yet perhaps Ethel’s most influential achievement remains her contribution to opera. Determined to have her second opera, Der Wald, produced, Smyth wrote in 1902 that she wanted women “to turn their minds to big and different jobs, not just to go on hugging the shore, afraid to put out to sea”; in 1902 Der Walk premiered in Berlin, going on to be performed at the New York City Metropolitan Opera, where the first performance become the highest grossing production all year. She was the first woman to have an opera produced at the Metropolitan Opera.

    By the time of her death 1944, Dame Ethel Smyth had written a concerto, countless orchestral works, ten books, and six operas. She was, and remains to be, an advocate for female composers, women’s rights, and equality in music.

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    Senior Member Joachim Raff's Avatar
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    Recommended Listening:
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    Smyth: The Prison

    Sarah Brailey (soprano), Dashon Burton (bass-baritone)
    Experiential Chorus, Experiential Orchestra
    James Blachly

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    Last spring I was working with a local orchestra to put on a concert in commemoration of the 19th Amendment and the program was all-women composers. Opening was going to be Smyth's overture to The Wreckers. I procured a copy from a rental library in London. Needless to say, no one in the orchestra had ever played it before and no one even had heard it. But what a great overture it is! Everyone fell in love with it; it's so well written and fun to play. Alas, Coronavirus intervened and the whole concert had to be called off. As I was running around town collecting the parts to return there were so many people begging to please reprogram the Smyth! Wonderful composer, amazing life story. Her work must be better known and the music needs to be easier to get hold of. The recording of her Mass is also quite beautiful.

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    Senior Member elgars ghost's Avatar
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    I admire her for being undaunted and determined in what was almost exclusively a man's world. Here in the UK there has been sporadic debate on how more women should be considered for having their image put onto the country's banknotes. Of course, we have seen Jane Austin (author of Regency-era chick-lit), Elizabeth Fry (a tireless advocate for prison reform in what was a brutal age) and Florence Nightingale (lobbyist for increased sanitation and a better standard of nursing in 19th century healthcare based on her experiences in a squalid military hospital during the Crimean War) grace our banknotes but since then I can't remember Smyth's name being suggested at all, despite her achievements.
    Last edited by elgars ghost; Oct-11-2020 at 23:08.
    '...a violator of his word, a libertine over head and ears in debt and disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, the companion of gamblers and demireps, a man who has just closed half a century without a single claim on the gratitude of his country or the respect of posterity...' - Leigh Hunt on the Prince Regent (later George IV).

    ὃν οἱ θεοὶ φιλοῦσιν ἀποθνῄσκει νέος [Those whom the gods love die young] - Menander

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