• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

Let’s get on with England.

Ethel Smyth versus Holst doesn't appear to be much of a contest except for the fact that Ethel Smyth is one of only two women who will be competing in the cup.

Smyth’s father was a Major General and vehemently opposed his daughter’s interest in being a composer. Ethel had a monumental fight with her father and finally got his support to study composition.

Smyth studied privately in England before traveling to the Leipzig Conservatory. While in Leipzig she met Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Clara Schumann, Dvorak, and Grieg.

Smyth was also friends with George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf.

Virginia Woolf

I find Smyth’s music to be refreshingly un-English. Yes, I’m a big fan of English music but I must agree with this quote from a short biography of Ethel Smyth.

Neville Cardus, writing for the Manchester Guardian, had this to say about The Prison, an opera by Smyth:

"To-night homage has been done to a great Englishwoman ... Dame Ethel's genius goes beyond music; it is a genius of character, and it expresses itself in all the ways of her life ... The Prison is one of the most remarkable works of our time. The beauties of it are not common. Dame Ethel writes from convictions not shared by the crowd. She measure her art against big subjects. Not for her the male pipings which nowadays are to be heard in too many British works that apparently cannot run a dozen bars without making a noise like a cuckoo ..."

Ethel Smyth was a leader in the women’s suffrage movement and served time in jail for breaking the windows of politicians who were unsympathetic to the movement. She took two years off from music to dedicate herself completely the movement. She did, however, compose what became the women’s sufferage anthem, The March of the Women.

Virginia Woolf had this to say about seeing Smyth for the first time:

“I suppose I told you how I saw you years before I knew you? -- coming bustling down the gangway at the Wigmore Hall, in tweeds and spats, a little cock's feather in your felt, and a general look of angry energy, so that I said, 'That's Ethel Smyth!' -- and felt, being then a mere chit, she belongs to the great achieved public world, where I'm a nonentity.”

Ethel Smyth

By all accounts Smyth’s Mass in D Major is her masterpiece. It is available on Amazon.

I am surprised that she doesn’t have too many pieces available on YouTube. Her Serenade in D Major is there and I thought it was wonderful.

Holst has The Planets for sure but in a stunning upset, Ethel Smyth knocks him out and advances to the second round.

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

Comments

Sign in to comment

Join our
newsletter list

Enter to win $25 at Broken Yolk Cafe

Each newsletter subscription
means another chance to win!

Close