Saturday, 7 March 2015
I couldn't resist the heading which refers to the dismissive description by one of his characters of the fictitious Dame Hilda Tablet in the radio plays by Henry Reed. She was not alone in being a caricature, since the whole cycle was a satire of its times, but sadly I cannot think of another depiction of a woman composer (as opposed to performer) in another medium apart from that.
It's not as if there was a dearth of women composers. Inspired by a piece on Jessica Duchen's blog, (JD has a timely piece in the Guardian, too), Lorna Dupré and I had an interchange of names on Facebook. I believe we reached a total over fifty spread over the history of western music, but weighted towards the last fifty years. (Before I forget, I must also name-check Elaine Fine, both performer and composer.)
The sad thing is that I can't remember much of what they wrote. This piece was indirectly inspired by International Women's Day, but more directly by the recent Composer of the Week on Radio 3. I found the music of Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre pleasing but I can remember being struck by only one piece and that a comic song. Apart from Dame Ethel Smyth and Grace Williams I have the same trouble with other women composers. But even if this is not just a personal lacuna, it has to be said that Radio 3 gives a lot of air-time to male composers of pleasant but undemanding music. Perhaps this is the key. Women's music just does not receive the repeated playing to enable it to become familiar. This could be changing as more female conductors are establishing themselves - a genuine 21st and late-20th century development.
Publishing houses and conservatoires must also take a share of the blame, as today's Music Matters made plain. Women are doing it for themselves, though. By-passing the publishers and record companies, they are organising their own concerts and putting their stuff out on the Web directly.