Tag: women composers (page 1 of 2)

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 ethelsmyth.org.

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.”

Sources:

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.

Happy 200th Birthday, Pauline Viardot!

In celebration of Pauline Viardot’s 200th birthday on July 18th, we are sharing three music manuscripts held in Harvard’s collection. The music, L’hirondelle et le prisonnier (The Swallow and the Prisoner), was first published in 1841 in Paris by Bureaux de La France musicale, as advertised in the contents pages from the January 3rd issue of this publication. The text was adapted from the poem by Hector-Grégoire de Saint-Maur (first published anonymously in the Gazette de Sainte-Pélagie in 1834).

Newspaper clipping from Bureaux de La France musicale stating the publication of L’Hirondelle et le prisonnier by Pauline Viardot Garcia.

Paris: Bureaux de La France musicale, 3 January 1841.

Before jumping into the manuscript, let’s take a look at an early publication of this work digitized by Hathi Trust Digital Library.

First page of L’Hirondelle et le prisonnier

First page of L’Hirondelle et le prisonnier, published by Bureaux de La France musicale.

Our first example is a manuscript held in the Pauline Viardot-Garcia papers held at the Houghton Library, and is contained in a notebook owned by Pauline, along with 22 other songs.

Oblong manuscript of song for voice and piano from notebook. One stave of the music has been slightly extended in order to finish a phrase on the same line.

L’hirondelle et le prisonnier. Pauline Viardot-Garcia papers, MS Mus 232 (60) no. 10. Houghton Library, Harvard University.

The next example is a manuscript also in the Houghton Library as part of the Pauline Viardot-García Additional Papers. This edition is part of a Collection of Songs, Autograph Manuscripts and Manuscript Scores containing incipits of works.

Oblong music manuscript, the first page from Collection of Songs for voice and piano.

Pauline Viardot-García additional papers, MS Mus 264 (97). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Our final manuscript is signed and dated Paris, March 18, 1842. It is part of a collection of autographs compiled by Jenny Vény, daughter of oboist Louis-Auguste Vény. The album contains 75 autographs and 120 leaves of music.

In March of 1842, Pauline was three months shy of her 21st birthday. She married Louis Viardot two years prior, and made friendships with Fredrick Chopin and author George Sands, but had not yet met her lifelong friend Ivan Turgenev.  According to The Life and Work of Pauline Viardot Garcia, in March of 1842 the Viardots were visiting family (her sister’s widow) in Brussels at Ixelles to show off their new baby, returning to Paris in April.

A page from an autograph album manuscript with two lines of music for voide and piano and the signature of Pauline Viardot.

Autograph Album: Manuscript, 1841-1880. MS Mus 103. Houghton Library, Harvard University.

For more information on this work, see page 5-6 of Sarah Christine Ballman’s 2021 doctoral dissertation, A Catalog of Mélodies Composed by Pauline Viardot.

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