Rhinegold Florence B. Price

Katy Wright

Deputy Editor, Classical Music

Radio 3 recording project to highlight forgotten works by female composers

8:30, 8th March 2017

Radio 3 has announced a large-scale recording project to bring the lost works of five historical female composers into the spotlight.

Previously unheard works by Leokadiya Kashperova, Marianna Martines, Florence B Price, Augusta Holmès and Johanna Müller-Hermann will be recorded by the BBC Orchestras and Choirs and BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists, and premiered on the station on International Women’s Day 2018.

At a workshop in February, five academics, selected with the help of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), each put forward a composer for consideration by a Radio 3 panel.

Dr Graham Griffiths presented Leokadiya Kashperova (1872 – 1940), a Russian pedagogue and pianist who wrote Romantic songs and instrumental music. Her role as a composer is largely unknown today, and she is recognised primarily as Stravinsky’s piano teacher.

Professor Jeremy Llewelyn chose Marianna Martines (1744 – 1813), an Austrian composer, singer and keyboard virtuoso. She wrote extensively for the piano and enjoyed fame throughout Europe in her lifetime, but has since had little recognition.

Dr Shirley Thompson put forward Florence B. Price (1887 – 1953), an esteemed African-American symphonist who had her first music published by the age of 11. In 1903, she was accepted to the New England Conservatoire of Music, where she achieved a double first and a piano teaching diploma, but she was later denied a place on the Music Teachers’ Association because of her skin colour. In 1925 and 1927 Price won the Holstein prize, and her first symphony was performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1932. She achieved success at a time when restrictive Jim Crow laws were in place in the South, and the ‘Harlem Renaissance’ movement was taking flight.

Augusta Holmès
Augusta Holmès

Dr Anastasia Belina-Johnson proposed Augusta Holmès (1847 – 1903), a French-Irish writer of large-scale oratorios and operas. Discouraged by her parents, Holmès had to wait until their deaths to embark on a composing career. She had a large circle of artistic friends and admirers, including Liszt, Rossini, Saint-Saëns and Cézar Franck. Her music was premiered at the 1889 Universal Exhibition, and in 1895 she was the first woman to have an opera premiered in Paris. The first recordings of Holmès’s music were made in 1994, but much of her catalogue remains undiscovered.

Carola Darwin presented Johanna Müller-Hermann (1868 – 1941), an Austrian composer renowned for her orchestral music, chamber music and songs, and her use of subtle chromatic harmonies. Müller-Hermann studied composition under Alexander Zemlinsky and Josef Foerster, and became a theory and composition tutor at the New Vienna Conservatory in 1918. Despite teaching there for more than 20 years, she is relatively unknown today and there are only a handful of recordings of her work, largely due to the suppression of progressive Viennese culture and the closure of the New Vienna Conservatory by the Nazis after 1938.

All five academics have now been invited to choose a major, previously unrecorded work by their composer to be recorded for broadcast on Radio 3. In some cases this will involve creating orchestral parts from an original manuscript for the first time ever, and it is likely that some of the music chosen will not have been heard since its first performance.

Edwina Wolstencroft, Radio 3 editor and diversity lead, said Radio 3 was ‘very excited to embark on this ground-breaking project to bring incredible works by female composers, forgotten for years, to the large modern-day audiences they deserve’, adding: ‘It is a privilege to help celebrate the musical genius of these women in its own right.’

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