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Discovering Choral Music by Women from the Past

An introduction to repertoire for MA Choral Conducting Students

Introduction: Grace Williams Psalm 150: (end) Let everything that hath breath, praise ye the Lord:

Women as Equals?

Some women published extensively during their lifetime, consequently finding international recognition. e.g. Barbara Strozzi (1619-77).

The Music of the Convent

An estimated 20% of women in Renaissance Europe were housed in convents. Well-educated minor nobility were a significant presence. As far as we have been able to establish, and this is an emerging area of research, there is an incredible amount of repertoire out there in dusty archives. Read more here: Composers we’ve already uncovered and included in the Multitude of Voyces (MoV) Anthologies are Maddalena Casulana (1544-1590), Raphaella Aleotti (1570-1646), Sulpitia Cesis (1577-1619), Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704), Maria Xaveria Peruchona (1652-1709).

Example: Alleluia from Cessate tympana, cessate praelia by Maria Xaveria Peruchona:

The Classical Era

An era somewhat dominated by Mozart and Haydn! In MoV Anthologies are Maria Theresia von Paradis (1759-1824) and

Louise Reichardt (1779-1826).

Example: First verse from Es ist ein’ Ros’ by Maria Theresia von Paradis:

The Age of Romanticism

Significant barriers often put in place by men (e.g. fathers, husbands) but also examples of independent women composers emerging. In MoV Anthologies are Fanny Hensel (1805-1847), Clara Schumann (1819-96), Alice Tegnér (1846-1943), Emma Mundella (1858-96), Ethel Smyth (1858-1944), Amy Beach (1867-1944), Morfydd Owen (1891-1918)

Example: final verse from Gebet in der Christnacht by Fanny Hensel:

The turn of the 20th Century

Women finding traction and setting up their own societies for the promotion of (mostly) their own music. In MoV Anthologies are Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979), Lili Boulanger (1893-1918), Avril Coleridge-Taylor (1903-98), Undine Smith Moore (1904-89), Elizabeth Poston (1905-87), Grace Williams (1906-77), Imogen Holst (1907-84), Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-94), Greta Tomlins (1912-1972), Julia Perry (1924-79).

Example: beginning of A Hymne to Christ Imogen Holst:

Specialist Publishing Houses

Multitude of Voyces Sacred Music by Women Composers

Distributed by Stainer & Bell:

Banks Music Publications - Kassian Choral Series - Choral Music by Women:

Selah Publishing Co. (Canada) Sarah MacDonald Choral Series - Music for the Church by Women:

Hildegard (Massachusetts, USA)

Furore Publishing House (Germany) music publishing house which was dedicated exclusively to music and books written by and about women from various centuries:

Since raising awareness of this on social media in 2018, other publishing houses are starting to respond with their own, dedicated databases and publications: e.g. OUP; Chester

Databases (the most useful sort are the ones with links to scores and recordings)

Musforum - The online network for women organists (a RSCM Sunday by Sunday but for music by women)

Great Host - database of sacred music by women composers for the three-year Revised Common Lectionary. Spreadsheet including links to scores and recordings:

Cecilia’s List - suggestions for pieces by women according to seasons of the Church year:

Archiv Frau und Musik (Frankfurt, Germany)

My suggestions for a programming mindset change:

Pair… with…

Pair Vivaldi Gloria with

Dixit Dominus - Marianna Martines (7 movements) Publisher A-R Editions, inc. (buy or hire)

Marianna Martines (1744–1812) first woman to be elected in any capacity to the Accademia Filarmonica Honorata composed the Dixit Dominus (1774) as her contribution in response to her election. (25 minutes)

Example: (beginning):

Pair Bach Motets with

Five sacred part-songs - Ethel Smyth, available from Multitude of Voyces.

Five sacred part-songs based on chorale tunes: 'Komm süsser Tod', 'Kein Stündlein geht dahin', 'Gib dich zufrieden und sei stille', 'O Traurigkeit, O Herzeleid', and 'Erschienen ist der herrlich Tag'

Pair Britten Ceremony of Carols with either:

A Revelation of Love - Settings of Dame Julian of Norwich published in Multitude of Voyces Vol.2 (c.14 minutes)

All Shall Be Well

Our Endless Day

Love Was His Meaning

We Sekyn Here Rest

Or my other suggestion of a companion cycle to Ceremony of Carols (SSA+harp): All 5 pieces from the same Upper Voices anthology (c.17 minutes)

Te Lucis - Elizabeth Poston

All Shall Be Well - Carol J. Jones

Our Endless Day - Hilary Campbell

Love Was His Meaning - Gemma McGregor

Lux Aeterna - Olivia Sparkhall

Example: Lux Aeterna by Olivia Sparkhall (extract)

Pair a Bach Cantata with

‘Cholera’ Cantata - Fanny Hensel (45 minutes)

Cantata nach Aufhoren der Cholera im Berlin, 1831 (Cantata after the Cessation of the Cholera in Berlin, 1831)

Publisher: Furore

Example: (extract) [08:00 - 11:17]

Instead of… Try…

Instead of Noye’s Fludde, try

or Cecilia McDowall e.g. Everyday Wonders: The girl from Aleppo

Or other works for choral society (tip of the iceberg):

Instead of an oft-performed Mass, try

Ethel Smyth - Mass in D (60 minutes) 1891 Buy score and parts:

Example (opening):

Amy Beach (1867–1944) - The Canticle of the Sun, SATB chorus, SMTB solo voices, and orchestra (or organ) 22 minutes.

C.F. Grand Mass in Eb (same publisher)

Example: The Canticle of the Sun (opening):

Florence Price (1887-1953) - Abraham Lincoln walks at midnight (30 minutes)

Margaret Bonds (1913-72) - The Ballad of the Brown King (11 movements) (25 minutes) 1954

Example: Movement II The brought fine gifts:

Eleanor Daley - Requiem (22 minutes) 1994 SATB a cappella Publisher:

Example: extract (Do not stand):

Follow me on twitter @OliviaSparkhall to stay in-the-loop and to discover more.


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