As chamber music is one of my musical passions – and in particular, the string quartet – inspired by Venus Blazing, I decided to see what the library had to offer in terms of String Quartets by women composers. To help me do this, I was able to use the new “women only” search limiter in the Jerwood Library Catalogue.
At the time of writing, my search (as pictured above) returned over 70 search results. These results contained a mixture of scores, parts, online scores and ensembles including string quartet and voice, for example. These are by composers such as Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté (1899-1974), Doreen Carwithen (1922-2003), Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994), Doroth Gow (1893-1982), Elisabeth Lutyens (1906-1983), Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) and Priaulx Rainier (1903-1986), to name just a few!
From my search results, I noticed that the library has several string quartets by Elizabeth Maconchy and Elisabeth Lutyens.
Maconchy, Elizabeth (1907-1994) String quartets 1 – 12 (Shelved at 782.3 MAC)
On the Music Sales website it says, “Maconchy studied at the Royal College of Music with Vaughan Williams, who remained a lifelong friend; but she was attracted less by English pastoralism than by the central European modernism of Bartók and Janáček, and she completed her studies with K.B. Jirák in Prague.”
Lutyens, Elisabeth (1906-1983) Sets of parts for 7 string quartets (Shelved at 782.3 LUT)
“Lutyens was known and respected as a creative artist for whom compromise was impossible. She was also a provocative and inspiring teacher who gave herself unstintingly to her pupils. Her output was large and varied, and the importance of her contribution to the country’s musical life was recognised in 1969, when she was made a Commander of the British Empire.” http://www.musicsalesclassical.com/composer/long-bio/elisabeth-lutyens
When using Quicksearch [available to TL staff and students only] to research women composers and the string quartet, I came across a very interesting article in the Journal of the Royal Musical Association, by our very own Dr Sophie Fuller.
‘Putting the BBC and T. Beecham to Shame’: The Macnaghten–Lemare Concerts, 1931–7. Journal of the Royal Musical Association; 2013, Vol. 138 Issue 2, p377-414, 38p. 2013
The article looks at how in 1930’s Britain, a group of young women set up their own concert series in order to promote new music and that of women composers which was being overlooked by conductors, orchestras and concert series in general at this time. As it says in the abstract for the article, “the Macnaghten–Lemare concerts were also remarkable for the central role played by women – as performers, organizers and composers – and for the space they provided for the unconventional and ignored.”
Sophie Fuller kindly gave me some exclusive background perspective about how the article came about:
“This article took a very long time to get into print. I originally started researching this particular concert series back in the 1980s, for my BMus dissertation at King’s College, London. I was initially interested in investigating the links between British musical and political life in the 1930s. One of my earliest essays, as a mature music undergraduate, was on Britten and Auden’s song cycle Our Hunting Fathers (1936). When researching performances of Britten’s early music, I came across the Macnaghten-Lemare concerts, a fascinating series of chamber, choral and orchestral concerts given in London by an enterprising group of three young women – violinist Anne Macnaghten, who led an all-woman string quartet, conductor Iris Lemare and composer Elisabeth Lutyens.”
The article also explores the ‘role of gender in the promotion and performance of contemporary British music’. The title of the article is in fact a quote from Ralph Vaughan Williams, taken from a letter of encouragement he wrote to Anne Macnaghten! “You are doing great work and putting the BBC and T. Beecham to shame.”
Sophie Fuller goes on to say:
“It quickly struck me that one of the most unusual things about these concerts, which focused on new music, was how much music by women was programmed – alongside their male contemporaries such as Britten. Back then, both Macnaghten and Lemare were still alive. A crucial part of my research was going to visit and talk to them both. I can still vividly remember drinking sherry with Iris Lemare as she dug out her old scrapbooks, before driving me to her local library so I could photocopy them.”
A Selection of Women Composers of the String Quartet
If you need help searching for repertoire by women composers, please don’t hesitate to ask and don’t forget that if there is a particular piece of music you would like to play, which the library doesn’t have, you can fill in a Purchase Request Form available from the library or via Moodle. You can also read Sophie’s full article via Quicksearch or take a look at the hard copy in the library. Also, why not check out this new book on the subject: ‘British Women Composers and Instrumental Chamber Music in the Early Twentieth Century’ by Laura Seddon. You can find more books on Women Composers on the new items shelf, by using the ‘Women only’ filter in the catalogue and by looking at our new books in the library catalogue.
My sincere thanks go to Dr Sophie Fuller for taking the time out of her busy schedule to give me these fascinating behind-the-scenes insights into her research for this article. I leave you with a few final words of summary from her:
“In many ways, this project lit the fire for my twin obsessions with unusual archival research and the overlooked musical work of women. One of the first pieces of music programmed for these concerts was Elizabeth Maconchy’s String Quartet No. 1 (1932-3), which remains the keystone work whose neglect still drives me to campaign for the forgotten music of women to this day.”