Ethel Smyth
  • Ethel Smyth
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I had promised to feature some women composers here, and this summer lull provides an excellent opportunity. Once August comes around the La Jolla Music Society cranks up the Summerfest and then September is upon us, which means the Masterworks season is just around the corner along with an October production of La Cenerentola at San Diego Opera and we’re into the season again without listening to the women — yet again.

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Ethel Smyth

Serenade in D, BBC Philharmonic, Odaline de la Martinez

Serenade in D, BBC Philharmonic, Odaline de la Martinez

I’m waiting for the biopic film of Ethel Smyth's life starring Cate Blanchett. Smyth was a firebrand serving time for destruction of property during the suffrage movement of the early 20th Century. She fell madly and awkwardly in love with Virginia Woolf and was a star pupil of Johannes Brahms.

Here dedication to Brahms could explain why her music is void of delicate larks ascending from the Fen Country while the queen's troops parade to Pomp and Circumstance. Her music is not heavily programed and stands on it’s own.

Smyth’s music steers away from the nationalism that infected her male counterparts. It could be because she felt disenfranchised as the daughter of a brigadier general who was thwarted in her early attempts to pursue composition.

I’ve chosen her Serenade in D as a piece of music that represents her well as a composer. Her opera The Wreckers is ripe for a production on the West Coast. Mahler was planning to produce the opera at the Vienna State Opera but was run out of office before the program was finalized.

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