Ethel Smyth’s Sonata for violin and piano, dedicated to a friend

The Loeb Music Library recently acquired a first edition of Ethel Smyth’s Sonata for violin and piano in A minor, Op. 7, composed in 1887. Born in 1858, Smyth is remembered as an independent and strong-willed woman who studied music against her father’s wishes. She was a leading suffragette, and in later life actively authored polemical writings. For a brief introduction to Ethel, see Five facts about Dame Ethel Smyth on the Oxford University Press blog, and for much more, including a discography and list of her manuscripts, check out the work of Drs. Liane Curtis and Amy Zigler, and Chris Trotman at

Sonata for violin and piano title page

Sonate (A moll) für Violine und Clavier von E.M. Smyth, Merritt Room Mus 810.6.383, Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library, Harvard University. The stamp on this copy is from the Glasgow Athenaeum, which closed in 1929.

This first edition was published by J. Reiter-Beidermann, a reputable Swiss music publisher. Founded in 1848, the company was later purchased by C.F Peters in 1917. A subsequent edition of Smyth’s Sonata Op. 7 was printed by Universal Edition in 1923, also held in the Loeb Music Library collection. The manuscript of the work is held at the British Library, Add. MS 45950, as well as an additional manuscript, MS Mus. 1781, with an inscription date of 27/5/[18]87 referring to the date this exact manuscript was delivered for printing.

In the same year as publication, 1887, the Sonata premiered at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. Performers included Fanny Davies (piano) and Adolph Bordsky (violin).

Postcard of Konzerhaus in Leipzig

Leipzig, Germany: Konzerthaus (the second “Gewandhaus”, opened 1884, destroyed 1943/1944). Public domain image from wikicommons.

The performance was praised by The Monthly Musical Record in December 1887, which states, “The work was played by Fraulein Fanny Davies, from London, and Herrn Brodsky, to such a way that the composer had every reason to be thankful.” The same review casts an unfavorable posture on Ethel as a female composer, stating “The sonata for violin and piano by E.M. Smyth…proved to be the clever work of a lady who makes no pretensions to originality, but slavishly follows Brahms, and who possesses but little taste.”

Smyth remembers this common characterization in her memoirs, Impressions that Remained, by acknowledging “the critics unanimously said it was devoid of feminine charm and therefore unworthy of a woman – the good old remark I was so often to hear again.” A listen to the piece will prove just how wrong the reviewers were!

Clipping from The Monthly Musical Record, January 1, 1887.

Clipping from The Monthly Musical Record, January 1, 1887.

Both the 1887 and 1923 published editions include the dedication “Frau Lili Wach geb. Mendelssohn-Bartholdy in alter Freundschaft gewidmet” “Mrs Lily Wach, née Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, dedicated in old friendship” Elisabeth Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Wach (Lili), was the daughter of composer Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy and Cécile Charlotte Sophie Jeanrenaud. Ethel and Lili first met in 1877 at a musical gathering at the house of Frau Livia Frege, a soprano living in Leipzig. Their friendship can be observed through their letters. For example, Lili concludes a June 21st, 1891 letter to Ethel with “So farewell, my dearest, and remember now and again that no one is fonder of thee than – Thy Old Lili.”


Smyth, Ethel. Impressions That Remained: Memoirs. 3rd ed. New York: Longmans, Green, and Company, 1923, p. 170, 290.

“Music in Leipzig (From Our Special Correspondent. Leipzig, December 1887)” The Monthly Musical Record XVIII, no. 205 (January 1, 1888): 9–10.

What We Did On Our Summer [Not] Vacation

As we hurtle into the second month of the semester, I thought it was a good time to take a look back at what some Music Library staff have been working on over the past 18 months, and to get their suggestions about what not to miss around campus. Welcome to, or back to, Cambridge; we hope we’ll see you around the library soon!

Tell us something you’ve been working on!

Christina Linklater, Keeper of the Isham Memorial Library and Houghton Music Cataloger

Eileen Southern, smiling, sitting in three quarter profile in a seminar-style classroom, with an open binder of papers and a copy of The Music of Black Americans on the table in front of her.

Eileen Southern, photographed by Martha Stewart. Radcliffe College Archives PC 479-1-1

Since 2018, I have been involved with a student-faculty-library collaboration called The Eileen Southern Initiative. Working from home allowed me to focus more energy on this project than I otherwise would have been able to do. I am proud and excited to report that it is leading up to some big events in the coming academic year: virtual symposia, a student-created documentary film, a digital exhibition and, coming in January 2022, an actual in-person exhibition in the Music Library. I can’t wait to share what we’ve discovered about Professor Southern, a musicologist who was the first African-American woman to receive tenure at Harvard.

[Editor’s note: the Initiative’s first online event, “Black Women and the American University: Eileen Southern’s Story” will be held from 4:00-5:00 PM Eastern time on November 15, 2021; register now to receive the link.]

Joe Kinzer, Senior Curatorial Assistant, Archive of World Music

I have been working on the long and tedious processes of metadata corrections and additions to finding aids, such as the James A. Rubin Collection of South Indian Classical Music or Somali Songs, 1955-1991: The Maryan “Aryette” Omar Ali Collection. Another project, “Singing the Story of Dhrangadhra,” is a digital exhibit highlighting our Jayasinhji Jhala Collection of Dhrangadhra Music (Western Indian Court Music).

Liz Berndt-Morris, Reference and Research Services Librarian

Throughout the summer I’ve been a member of a Harvard Library task force on inclusive spaces. We worked to gather and analyze data about current library spaces and other spaces on campus and are currently using that information to inform us on next steps to make our library spaces welcoming to everyone.

Lingwei Qiu, Library Assistant for Print Music

I have processed 1200+ musical scores, cataloging and sewing them into pam folders, the covers we add to help them stay in good condition and open flat on a music stand, to make them ready for use. I completed some projects that could be done online, and attended music library related conferences and meetings, like MLA (the Music Library Association’s annual conference) and NEMLA (the New England Music Library Association).

A paperback score being sewn into a stiff plastic cover. A large needle rests on the cover, and four more are stuck through the spine of the score to guide the thread.

Hand-sewing scores into pamphlets.

A hallway filled with piles of shipping boxes and overflowing mail bins.

Only a few of the new journals and scores waiting for Lingwei!

Kerry Masteller, Reference and Digital Program Librarian

Liz and I gave a presentation for the New England Music Library Association – We’re Still Here! Teaching Research Remotely (PDF) – and now that we’re on campus again, we’re translating some of the things we learned about working with large classes online to our in person teaching. Spoiler alert: it’s tough getting used to not having the chat for low-stakes feedback!

Whether or not you’re new to campus, don’t miss…

The Employee Assistance Program has found me a dentist, a lawyer, and a childcare scholarship. They will triage and direct any inquiry, no matter how odd: there must be limits to the EAP but in 21 years at Harvard I haven’t managed to stump them!

Take a stroll from Cambridge Common to Radcliffe Quad.

Use your Harvard ID to get into free or discounted museums around Boston! Find these and other deals at Harvard Outings and Innings.

Look for rabbits! Try the brand new Peter J. Solomon gate outside the main entrances to Lamont and Houghton Libraries, then spend some time in the Dudley Garden, behind Lamont.

A tabletop-sized model of the Harvard music building, complete with landscaping.

A Lego masterpiece: Paine Hall and the Music Building

I think the most amazing moment was when I saw building manager Jonathan Savilonis’ Lego music building in his office. [Ed.: Read more about this labor of love and 3000 red bricks in the Harvard Gazette, and find it on display outside the Music Building’s Taft Lounge.]

Collected and lightly edited by Kerry Masteller.

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