Tune in every day @ 1PM for a complete chamber work composed by a woman. We'll hear from composers like Louise Farrenc, Fanny Mendelssohn, Rebecca Clarke and more!
This Wednesday March 08, is International Women's Day. And what better way to celebrate than be featuring some of the amazing musical contributions made by women in the classical music world--whether through composition, performance or education. On Wednesday we'll be doing that all day on Classic 107. On Intermezzo, starting Monday, host Chris Wolf has chosen five chamber works composed by women to be featured each day @ 1PM
We end this week of women composers with the incomparable Clara Schumann and her Trio for Piano, Violin and Violincello, Op. 17.
In an era when women, apart from singers, almost never performed in public or composed, Clara Schumann did both. She distinguished herself as the foremost interpreter of her husband Robert’s work, but she was also a primary force in reintroducing eighteenth-century keyboard music to the public. Unfortunately, her own compositions remained unknown until the second half of the twentieth century. Many are still unpublished and owned by private collectors, so we still cannot appreciate the full extent of her compositional achievements.
Clara Josephine Schumann (née Wieck) was born into a musical family September 13, 1819 in Leipzig, Germany. Her father, Friedrich Wieck, studied theology in school but made his career in music. After concluding his studies, he settled in Leipzig where he taught piano, opened an instrument-selling business, and began a music lending library.
He soon gained a reputation as a first-rate piano teacher and he even taught his future wife Marianne, whom he married in 1816, and his future son-in-law, Robert Schumann. When Clara was five, Wieck and Marianne divorced after eight years of marriage. Clara and her four brothers became the legal property of their father. Marianne remarried and moved to Berlin, limiting contact with her daughter to letters and intermittent visits.
Wieck recognized his daughter’s talents and saw to it that Clara had the finest musical education, but unforunately, he somewhat neglected her general education. She studied piano with her father and violin, theory, and various areas of composition with the best teachers in Leipzig, Dresden, and Berlin. Clara also attended all of the important performances given in Leipzig and learned about the business of music by copying her father’s letters into her diary.
In 1828, at the age of nine, Clara performed for the first time in the Leipzig Gewandhaus and made her formal debut at the age of eleven. Until 1838, when she turned nineteen, Wieck acted as Clara’s manager and mentor as she toured Germany, France, and Austria. During this time, Friedrich sometimes behaved cruelly towards her, but Clara considered his strictness a blessing because it made her a more solid musician.
Clara was one of the few pianists of her time to perform music from memory. In addition, not only did she promote her own compositions, but she also introduced the works of other major composers, including Johann Sebastian Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, and Robert Schumann. Due to a self-inflicted injury to his right hand, Schumann was the only composer of piano music among his contemporaries who did not perform in public, so Clara took on this task for him, beginning at the age of twelve, when she gave the first performance of his piano work Papillons in 1831.
Clara and Robert Schumann
By 1836, Clara had become completely infatuated with Robert Schumann and her father’s concern over the suitability of the match was apparent. In his view, Robert Schumann was simply another unknown composer, while his daughter was already a famous and accomplished performer. Wieck loathed the idea of Clara, the supreme achievement of his life, marrying someone who he considered beneath her. In order to limit contact between the two, Wieck sent Clara, then seventeen, to Dresden and broke off all ties with his former pupil. Clara was kept on a hectic performance schedule with some tours lasting up to seven months. For years, she was torn between the father she revered and the man that she loved. While she was touring, Clara and Schumann wrote to each other secretly through an intermediary.
The couple faced resistance from Wieck after announcing their plans to marry. According to German law, a woman could not marry without her father’s consent and Wieck refused to give it. Since Clara was still underage, Schumann turned to the courts in order to force Wieck into consenting, but Wieck countered with charges against Schumann, claiming everything from financial irresponsibility to alcoholism. After nearly a year of legal battles, the court sanctioned the marriage. Clara and Schumann wed on September 12, 1840, one day before her twenty-first birthday and settled in Leipzig. Four years later, in 1844, Schumann experienced a severe breakdown and the couple moved to Dresden at the recommendation of his doctors.
During their marriage, Clara was pregnant ten times and bore eight children: Marie, Elise, Julie, Emil, Ludwig, Ferdinand, Eugenie, and Felix. Even with such a large family, Clara continued to perform, compose, and teach piano, while at the same time she supported Robert and his career. Schumann encouraged Clara’s composing and contracted publishers for her, but made it clear that his creative work took priority over hers.
On the surface, the relationship seemed to be confining, but it proved to be quite beneficial for her as well as for him. Clara arranged many of his instrumental works for piano and performed them during her concert tours. Conversely, he paid homage to her compositional efforts by including many quotations from her works in his.
As the years passed, Robert suffered from increasing mental illness and eventually attempted suicide in 1854 by throwing himself into the Rhine. Fishermen pulled him out of the icy water before it was too late. He entered a sanatorium in Endenich (near Bonn). Because his doctors considered him to be dangerous, they forbid Clara to visit him for the two-and-a-half years he was there. During this time, Clara relied on support from her close friends, including the singers Pauline Viardot and Jenny Lind, the violinist Joseph Joachim, and the composers Felix Mendelssohn and Johannes Brahms. It was with Brahms in particular that she developed an especially close bond. Clara did not see her husband again until the days just before his death. Schumann died in July of 1856 and Clara became a widow at the age of thirty-seven.
Clara resumed her concert tours after Robert’s death, but ceased composing except for a march (titled simply, March) that she wrote in honor of a friend’s anniversary in 1879. Her compositions remained relatively unknown until interest in her creative output developed in the 1870s. During these years Clara devoted a considerable amount of time to tasks related to Schumann’s work, including editing the Gesamtausgabe of his works and a volume of his Jugendbriefe. In 1878, Clara became the principal teacher of piano at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, while simultaneously continuing her career as a performer. She appeared publicly for the last time in 1891 but continued to teach until she passed away in Frankfurt on May 20, 1896.
Thursday we'll listen to Mélanie Bonis' Quartet No. 2 in D Major, Op.124
Mélanie Bonis was born into a modest Parisian family. She was in no way prepared for a career in music. Her family was opposed to her taking piano lessons, so she taught herself how to play Cesar Franck, who opened the doors of the Conservatoire to her in 1876. For the next five years she studied harmony, piano accompaniment and composition--sharing the benches with Claude Debussy and Gabriel Pierné.the instrument until the age of twelve, when a close friend of the family finally convinced her parents to send her to music school. An exceptionally gifted student, she soon was introduced to
At the time, it was clear that musical composition could in no way be a profession for a woman, that a woman could not compose anything of value. Mélanie gave herself the pseudonym Mel Bonis to avoid any feminine connotation in her name.
In singing class, she fell under the charms of Amédée Landely Hettich, a brilliant young man who was already known in Paris as a music critic. Her parents were against the marriage and withdrew their daughter from the Conservatoire in order to separate the couple.
So, Mel Bonis, first prize in harmony, near the top of her class in piano accompaniment, a student showing great promise in composition and progressing rapidly, had no choice but to leave the Conservatoire in 1881.
The Bonis family arranged a marriage for their daughter. In 1883, she wed Albert Domange, a rich dynamic industrialist, 25 years her elder, already twice widowed and a father of five boys. For nearly ten years, she would devote herself entirely to raising her husband’s five sons and would give him three more children. Then, she met Hettich again who still had strong feelings for her and who encouraged her to continue composing. Thus began a secret relationship, which brought forth a child under dramatic circumstances. Its true identity was not revealed. Mel Bonis would feel guilty and suffer for the rest of her life by this insoluble situation, which wounded her sense of morality and would finally lead to a rupture with Hettich.
The prolific and diversified corpus of Mel Bonis contains: sixty piano pieces, as well as pieces for four hands, for two pianos, and volumes of piano lessons, 27 melodies, including a dozen for duets or for chorus, 25 religious songs, about thirty organ pieces, about twenty pieces of chamber music, including three sonatas (flute, violin, cello and piano), two quartets for piano and strings, a suite in the old style for seven wind instruments, a septet which is a grand fantasia concertante for piano with limited scoring for two flutes and a string quartet, eleven orchestrated works including the Suite en forme de Valse (Suite in Waltz form) and the concert piece Bourrée-Pavane-Sarabande.
Essentially romantic, abundant in harmonic and melodic inspiration, Mel Bonis’s music became more and more influenced by a highly refined impressionism over the years. Her work was enriched by new rhythmic innovations and willingly turned towards humor.
Her music would be commissioned by some of the most prestigious editors in Paris: Alphonse Leduc, Max Eschig and Maurice Sénart.
From the turn of the century until the First World War, Mel Bonis tried to make her work known to a larger audience.
Having won prizes at composer competitions, her pieces could be heard at recitals in Parisian salons, as well as at student auditions. Her music was also played in Parisian concert halls such as the Châtelet, but not enough to receive the recognition it deserved.
Here is Mel Bonis' Carillons Mystiques
Numerous correspondence bears witness to the esteem which fellow composers and musicians of her time had for Mel Bonis. In the beginning of this century, when she came to full maturity as a composer, nobody helped her to promote her music. Manners and customs were evolving rapidly and the arts broke away from the academic rules. Mel Bonis was too much pervaded by her education and too mentally fragile to adapt in a changing society. She took more and more refuge in her religious beliefs.
She spent the last fifteen years of her life mainly bedridden, in pain and isolation, still writing music with fervor, but in too weakened a state to have it played. In a letter to her daughter, she wrote, in reference to her //Chant Nuptial// (Hamelle 1928): "My greatest sorrow: to never hear my music".
Tuesday, host Chris Wolf has chosen Fanny Mendelssohn's String Quartet in E-Flat Major
Felix Mendelssohn composed some of the baroque period’s most enduring, famous music. But it was Felix’s older sister, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, who first showed talent composing, and whose genius in composition was thwarted throughout her life by her brother and father who thought Fanny should be a wife, mother, and private individual — not a public composer. She is just one of a handful of female composers of the classical period who were “forgotten,” according to Anna Beer, author of Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music.
“In the earlier period, there were beliefs about the appropriate spheres and appropriate behavior for women. But if you were an exceptionally talented composer, and you did produce astonishing, wonderful music, people would make a kind of exception for you. They’d say, ‘Your music is equal to men,’” says Beer in an interview with NPR.
Fanny received her first piano instruction from her mother, who had been trained in the Berliner-Bach tradition by Johann Kirnberger, who was himself a student of Johann Sebastian Bach. Thus as a thirteen year old, Fanny could already play all 24 Preludes from Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier by heart, and she did so in honour of her father's birthday in 1818. She studied briefly with the pianist Marie Bigot in Paris, and finally with Ludwig Berger. In 1820 Fanny, along with her brother Felix, joined the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin which was led by Carl Friedrich Zelter. Zelter at one point favored Fanny over Felix: he wrote to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 1816, in a letter introducing Abraham Mendelssohn to the poet, 'He has adorable children and his oldest daughter could give you something of Sebastian Bach. This child is really something special'. Much later, in an 1831 letter to Goethe, Zelter described Fanny's skill as a pianist with the highest praise for a woman at the time: "She plays like a man." Both Fanny and Felix received instruction in composition with Zelter starting in 1819.
Fanny showed prodigious musical ability as a child and began to write music. Visitors to the Mendelssohn household in the early 1820s, including Ignaz Moscheles and Sir George Smart, were equally impressed by both siblings. She may also have been influenced by the role-models of her great-aunts Fanny von Arnstein and Sarah Levy, both lovers of music, the former the patroness of a well-known salon and the latter a skilled keyboard player in her own right.
However, Fanny was limited by prevailing attitudes of the time toward women, attitudes apparently shared by her father, who was tolerant, rather than supportive, of her activities as a composer. Her father wrote to her in 1820 "Music will perhaps become his [i.e. Felix's] profession, while for you it can and must be only an ornament". Although Felix was privately broadly supportive of her as a composer and a performer, he was cautious (professedly for family reasons) of her publishing her works under her own name. He wrote:
From my knowledge of Fanny I should say that she has neither inclination nor vocation for authorship. She is too much all that a woman ought to be for this. She regulates her house, and neither thinks of the public nor of the musical world, nor even of music at all, until her first duties are fulfilled. Publishing would only disturb her in these, and I cannot say that I approve of it.
The siblings shared a great passion for music. Felix did arrange with Fanny for some of her songs to be published under his name, three in his Op. 8 collection, and three more in his Op. 9. In 1842 this resulted in an embarrassing moment when Queen Victoria, receiving Felix at Buckingham Palace, expressed her intention of singing the composer her favourite of his songs, "Italien", which Mendelssohn confessed was by Fanny.
In turn Fanny helped Felix by constructive criticism of pieces and projects, which he always considered very carefully. Their correspondence of 1840/41 reveals that they were both outlining scenarios for an opera on the subject of the Nibelungenlied: Fanny wrote 'The hunt with Siegfried's death provides a splendid finale to the second act'.
Fanny Mendelssohn composed over 460 pieces of music. Her compositions include a piano trio and several books of solo piano pieces and songs. A number of her songs were originally published under Felix's name in his opus 8 and 9 collections. Her piano works are often in the manner of songs, and many carry the name Lied ohne Worte (Song without Words). This style (and title) of piano music was most successfully developed by Felix Mendelssohn, though some modern scholars assert that Fanny may have preceded him in the genre.
She also wrote, amongst other works for the piano, a cycle of pieces depicting the months of the year, Das Jahr ("The Year").The music was written on coloured sheets of paper, and illustrated by her husband Wilhelm . Each piece was also accompanied by a short poem.
Here is Sarah Rothenberg performing 'September: At the River' from 'Das Jahr'.
Monday - Louise Farrenc's Piano trio in E Flat Major, Op. 33.
Louise Farrenc (May 31, 1804 – September 15, 1875) was a French composer, virtuosa pianist and teacher. Born Jeanne-Louise Dumont in Paris, she was the daughter of Jacques-Edme Dumont, a successful sculptor, and sister to Auguste Dumont.
Louise Farrenc enjoyed a considerable reputation during her own lifetime, as a composer, a performer and a teacher. She began piano studies at an early age with Cecile Soria, a former student of Muzio Clementi. When it became clear she had the ability to become a professional pianist she was given lessons by such masters as Ignaz Moscheles and Johann Nepomuk Hummel, and, given the talent she showed as a composer, her parents decided to let her, in 1819 at the age of fifteen, study composition with Anton Reicha, the composition teacher at the Conservatoire, although it is unclear if the young Louise Dumont followed his classes there, since at that time the composition class was open only to men. In 1821 she married Aristide Farrenc, a flute student ten years her senior, who performed at some of the concerts regularly given at the artists' colony of the Sorbonne, where Louise's family lived. Following her marriage, she interrupted her studies to give concerts throughout France with her husband. He, however, soon grew tired of the concert life and, with her help, opened a publishing house in Paris, which, as Éditions Farrenc, became one of France’s leading music publishers for nearly 40 years.
In Paris, Farrenc returned to her studies with Reicha, after which she reembarked on a concert career, briefly interrupted in 1826 when she gave birth to a daughter, Victorine, who also became a concert pianist but who died in 1859 aged thirty-three. In the 1830s Farrenc gained considerable fame as a performer and her reputation was such that in 1842 she was appointed to the permanent position of Professor of Piano at the Paris Conservatory, a position she held for thirty years and one which was among the most prestigious in Europe. Accounts of the time record that she was an excellent instructor with many of her students graduating with Premier Prix and becoming professional musicians. Despite this, Farrenc was paid less than her male counterparts for nearly a decade. Only after the triumphant premiere of her nonet, at which the famous violinist Joseph Joachim took part, did she demand and receive equal pay. Beside her teaching and performing career, she also produced and edited an influential book, Le Trésor des Pianistes, about early music performance style, and was twice awarded the Prix Chartier of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, in 1861 and 1869.
Here is Cappella Coloniensis with Farrenc's Nonet in E-flat major, Op.38 (1849)
Farrenc died in Paris. For several decades after her death, her reputation as a performer survived and her name continued to appear in such books as Antoine François Marmontel’s Pianistes célèbres. Her nonet had achieved around 1850 some popularity, as did her two piano quintets and her trios. But, despite some new editions of her chamber music after her death, her works were largely forgotten until, in the late 20th century, an interest in women composers led to the rediscovery - and thence to the performance and recording - of many her works.