discovering the hidden worlds of women composers

creativity against the odds

In a ground-breaking step, the composer Maddalena Casaluna published her own music because she wanted

to show to the world the foolish error of those men who so greatly believe themselves to be the masters of high intellectual gifts.

Surely these gifts can be equally common among women? Casaluna’s question, and her determination to write and to publish her music, are as relevant today as they were when she was writing her music, 450 years ago. They are the driving forces behind my new book, Sounds and Sweet Airs: the forgotten women of classical music. I tell the fascinating stories of the women who had these gifts and dared to use them; I explore their beautiful music; and I investigate the remarkable communities that allowed their talent to express itself.

Above all, however, the book is a celebration creativity against the odds – then and now.

Why ‘the shadow of the courtesan’?

For millenia, a woman’s voice has been deemed at best distracting, at worst dangerous, always inherently sexual. The sexualisation of women’s music is ancient and enduring, ratified by the pronouncements (if not the practices) of the three great religions of western Europe. Put simply, for any woman to make, let alone to write, music is to step into the territory of the courtesan. Each woman I write about had to live, and work, with this reality. Remarkably, each woman found her own way to compose ‘in the shadow of the courtesan’.

The Shadow of the Courtesan – a personal view

Listen to me talking about some of these issues on BBC Radio 6 and 3!

Talking with Cerys Matthews

and with Tom Service

and not forgetting the wonderful Radio Ulster, where I had a

great time talking music with John Toal

The featured composers are: Francesca Caccini, Barbara Strozzi, Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Marianna von Martines, Fanny Hensel, Clara Schumann, Lili Boulanger and Elizabeth Maconchy.



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