Read CHAPTER VI - ENGLAND of Woman's Work in Music , free online book, by Arthur Elson, on ReadCentral.com.

England’s period of musical greatness has been said to be the past and the future. During the contrapuntal epoch her music flourished as never before or since, and side by side with the Shakespearian period in literature came an era of musical glory scarcely inferior to it. During the Restoration, too, music still held its own, thanks to the genius of Purcell in opera. But no names of women are recorded, and it is only in the eighteenth century, and the latter half at that, that they begin to appear on the roll of fame.

The year 1755 witnessed the birth of two women who were gifted enough to leave worthy works behind them, Maria Parke and Mary Linwood. The former was the daughter of a famous oboist, who gave his child an excellent training. She became well known as a pianist and singer, and among other works produced songs, piano sonatas, violin pieces, and even a concerto for piano, or rather harpsichord. Miss Linwood devoted herself more entirely to vocal compositions, and published a number of songs and the oratorio, “David’s First Victory.” Two operas by her were left in manuscript.

Mrs. Chazal, who flourished at a still earlier date, won reputation as an orchestral conductor. This work is hardly deemed to come within woman’s sphere, but the many choral and orchestral festivals of England offered her a better chance in this direction than her sisters in other lands could obtain. Mrs. Chazal’s works included overtures and an organ concerto, as well as piano and violin music. Organ compositions seem to have been fairly numerous in England a hundred years ago, and we find Jeanne Marie Guest, daughter and pupil of a well-known organist, writing a number of voluntaries and other selections, also some manuscript concertos and some piano music. Other instruments were not neglected, as may be seen from Ann Valentine’s “Ten Sonatas for Harpsichord and Violin,” published in 1798. Another good organist was Jane Clarke, who issued a setting of psalms, as sung at Oxford, in 1808.

Coming nearer to our own times, Elizabeth Stirling, who died in 1895, was considered one of the very best of English organists. Her works for that instrument include two grand voluntaries, a half-dozen excellent pedal fugues, eight slow movements, and many other pieces. She has done much unselfish labour in arranging selections of Bach and the other great organ masters, besides publishing songs, duets, and piano works of her own. In 1856 she tried for a musical degree at Oxford, presenting an orchestral setting of the 130th Psalm; but, although the work won high praise, no authority existed for granting a degree to a woman. Marian Millar, a composer of songs and orchestral-choral works, met with more success in hunting for the coveted “Mus. Bac.” and obtained it by applying to Victoria University. Augusta Amherst Austen, another organist, has written songs and hymn tunes, while Elizabeth Mounsey, also a performer, has published songs and piano pieces as well as organ works.

Ann Shepard Mounsey (1811-91), afterward Mrs. Bartholomew, a sister of Elizabeth, is mentioned by Spohr as a child prodigy. She was a friend of Mendelssohn, who wrote his “Hymn of Praise” for her sacred concerts in London. A set of “Thirty-four Original Tunes and Hymns” may be classed as organ work, but her greatest effort took the shape of an oratorio, “The Nativity.” She also wrote a sacred cantata, and many lesser vocal works, including excellent solo and ensemble songs. Emma Mundella (1858-96) received an education both long and broad, and brought forth part-songs, piano pieces, church music, and an oratorio, “The Victory of Song.” Elizabeth Annie Nunn (1861-94) also produced religious works, and, besides songs and various church music, published a Mass in C.

In the early part of the nineteenth century, the mechanical skill of Sebastian Erard made the harp extremely popular. At that time English households contained harps much as they do pianos at present. Excellently adapted as it was for women’s performance, it is not surprising to find women composing for it also. Elizabeth Anne Bisset, Hannah Binfield, and Olivia Dussek, afterward Mrs. Buckley, were three famous examples of female skill in writing for the instrument.

Of song composers there have been a multitude. Among the early ones, Ellen Dickson (1819-78), under the nom de plume of Dolores, won a wide reputation. Her works are still sung, the most popular being her setting of Kingsley’s brook song, “Clear and cool.” Frankly simple in style, but full of pretty melodies, were the songs of Mrs. Charles Barnard (1834-69), who became widely known under the pseudonym of “Claribel.” With her may be classed the ballad writers, such as Mrs. Jordan (Dora Bland), who composed the “Blue Bells of Scotland,” or Lady Scott (Alicia Anne Spottiswoode), the author of “Annie Laurie” and other well-known songs. Mary Ann Virginia Gabriel (1825-77) was best known by her many tuneful songs, but wrote also part-songs, piano pieces, and a number of cantatas and operettas. Charlotte Sainton-Dolby (1821-85), the famous singer and friend of Mendelssohn, was also most widely appreciated because of her songs, though her cantatas, “The Legend of St. Dorothea” and “The Story of the Faithful Soul,” were often performed. Sophia Julia Woolf (1831-93) won fame by her piano pieces and her opera, “Carina,” as well as through her songs.

Kate Fanny Loder, not content with songs and the opera “L’Elisir d’Amore,” has composed an overture for orchestra, two string quartettes, a piano trio, piano and violin sonatas, minor piano pieces, and some organ works. Caroline Orger (1818-92) was another talented composer whose work possessed sincerity and artistic value, and was above the merely popular vein. Among her productions, which have been often performed, are tarantellas, a sonata, and other piano pieces, a ’cello sonata, a piano quartette and trio, and a piano concerto.

Alice Mary Smith (1839-84) seems to have been on the whole the foremost woman composer that England has yet produced. A pupil of Sterndale Bennett and Sir George A. Macfarren, she devoted herself wholly to composition, and made it her life-work. Her music is clear and well balanced in form, excellent in thematic material, and endowed with an expressive charm of melodic and harmonic beauty. Among her orchestral works are two symphonies, one in C minor and the other in G; four overtures, “Endymion,” “Lalla Rookh,” “The Masque of Pandora,” and “Jason, or the Argonauts and Sirens;” a concerto for clarinet and orchestra, and an “Introduction and Allegro” for piano and orchestra. Her chamber music is also successful. It consists of four quartettes for piano and strings in B flat, D, E, and G minor, also three string quartettes. With the orchestral works should go two intermezzi for “The Masque of Pandora,” finished later than the overture. Her published cantatas include “Ruedesheim,” “Ode to the Northeast Wind,” a strong work, “The Passions” (Collins), “Song of the Little Baltung” (Kingsley), and “The Red King” (Kingsley). Her many part-songs, duets, and solos are imbued with rare melodic charm, as may be seen from the famous duet, “Oh, that we two were maying.” Her career, though none too long in years, was one of constant creative activity.

There are a number of English women who have done excellent work in the large orchestral forms, if we may count festival performances as a measure of success. Edith Greene has composed a symphony, which was well received at London in 1895. To her credit may be placed many smaller works of real merit, among them a worthy violin sonata. Amy Elsie Horrocks, born in Brazil, brought out her orchestral legend, “Undine,” in 1897. She has also composed incidental music to “An Idyl of New Year’s Eve,” a ’cello sonata, variations for piano and strings, several dramatic cantatas, a number of songs, and many piano and violin pieces. Besides doing this, she has won fame as a pianist. Mrs. Julian Marshall, born at Rome, has produced several orchestral works, as well as several cantatas, an operetta, a nocturne for clarinet and orchestra, and a number of songs. Oliveria Louisa Prescott, a native of London and a pupil of the Royal Academy of Music, is responsible for two symphonies, several overtures, a piano concerto, and some shorter orchestral pieces, besides vocal and choral work.

Dora Bright, born at Sheffield in 1863, another student of the Royal Academy, is one of England’s most gifted musicians at the present time. She became assistant teacher of piano, harmony, and counterpoint, and won many prizes, being the first woman to obtain the Lucas medal for composition. Her two piano concertos are praised by critics for their “bright and original fancy and melodious inspiration of a high order, coupled with excellent workmanship.” The orchestral colouring is said to be thoroughly exquisite. A fantasia for piano and orchestra was given at the London Philharmonic Concerts in 1892, the first instance of a woman’s composition being given by that orchestra. Her string quartettes have won notice, also her piano duos, a violin suite, some flute and piano pieces, and several piano solos and songs.

Alice Borton has published an “Andante and Rondo” for piano and orchestra, as well as several piano works (suite in old style) and a number of songs. Edith A. Chamberlayne has composed two symphonies, as well as a manuscript opera, a sextette for harp, flute, and strings, and various harp, organ, and piano music. Edith Swepstone has had some movements of an unfinished Symphony performed, also an overture, “Les Ténèbres,” at London in 1897. She has written a piano quintette and a string quartette, besides short cantatas and the usual lesser pieces for violin, piano, and voice. Marie Wurm, born at Southampton in 1860, is a successful pianist as well as composer. Her concerto in B minor is highly praised for excellent workmanship, originality, and melodic strength and charm. Among her other works are a concert overture, a string quartette, violin and ’cello sonatas, some five-voiced madrigals, with various piano pieces and songs.

Rosalind Frances Ellicott has won a place of honour among women composers. She was born in 1857, and is a daughter of the Bishop of Gloucester. Her music is not especially ecclesiastic in vein, but includes many notable secular compositions. Among her important works are dramatic, concert, and festival overtures, and a fantasia for piano and orchestra, all given at various English festivals. Of her various cantatas, the “Birth of Song,” “Elysium,” and “Henry of Navarre” have met with the most success. She has written two piano trios, a string quartette, and much music for ’cello, piano, and voice.

Ethel M. Smyth, who recently was brought into notice in America by the performance of her opera, “Der Wald,” is one of England’s talented musical women. In purely orchestral vein she has produced a serenade in D and the overture “Antony and Cleopatra,” both being given at the Crystal Palace in 1890. She has shown originality in other than operatic fields, and her greatest work is a Mass in D. This is a composition of decided merit, and is full of sustained dignity and breadth of style. It is intensely modern in quality, and its expressive feeling is somewhat reminiscent of Gounod, but it is not in any sense an imitation of the great Frenchman. Her string quintette has been performed at Leipsic. She has written a violin sonata and the usual number of minor pieces and songs. Her opera has received much praise, but the final verdict rates it as rather confused and undramatic, in spite of much good music in the score.

Many women have attempted opera, but none have met with more than temporary success. In England, owing to the example of Gilbert and Sullivan, light operas and operettas have flourished to a considerable degree. Mary Grant Carmichael met with some success through her operetta, “The Snow Queen,” but like Miss Smyth gave the world a more important work in the shape of a mass. Ethel Harraden, sister of the novelist, had her opera, “The Taboo,” brought out at the Trafalgar Square Theatre, London, with excellent results. She has composed an operetta, “His Last Chance,” besides vocal, choral, and violin pieces. Harriet Maitland Young has completed several operettas, of which “An Artist’s Proof” and the “Queen of Hearts” were successfully performed. Annie Fortescue Harrison witnessed the production of her “Ferry Girl” and “Lost Husband” at London. Louisa Gray’s “Between Two Stools” has been given at many places. Ida Walter’s four-act opera, “Florian,” received a London performance in 1886. Florence Marian Skinner has made Italy the scene of her work. Her “Suocera,” in serious vein, appeared at Naples in 1877, while her “Mary, Queen of Scots,” after being given at St. Remo and Turin, received a London hearing.

England is preeminently a land of musical festivals, at which choral work plays an important part. London and the larger cities have their regular series of concerts, and the size of the capital attracts outside artists, but many of the smaller towns have annual occasions, at which local talent is sure to receive a full appreciation. This accounts for the prevalence of cantatas in the English musical repertoire. Subjects of all sorts are used, and dramatic, romantic, or even simple pastoral themes appear to delight the British ear when set to music and given by some singing society.

Among the many women who have attempted this form of composition, some have already been mentioned, but a number have been satisfied with it for their only efforts in extended style. Lizzie Harland produced her dramatic cantata, “C[oe]ur de Lion,” in 1888, following it with the “Queen of the Roses” for female voices. Ethel Mary Boyce, winner of various prizes, has composed “Young Lochinvar,” “The Sands of Corriemie,” and other cantatas, as well as a March in E for orchestra. Miss Heale, another London aspirant, is credited with “Epithalamion,” “The Water Sprite,” and other choral works. Emily M. Lawrence has produced “Bonny Kilmeny” and “The Ten Virgins,” both for female voices, while Caroline Holland has written the cantata, “Miss Kilmansegg,” and the ballad, “After the Skirmish,” for chorus and orchestra. Miss Holland has won laurels as a conductor, besides being known as a composer. All of these have done a greater or less amount of work in the small forms, for piano, voice, or violin.

Still longer is the list of women who have worked wholly in the shorter forms. Yet the absence of ambitious work must not be taken to indicate a lack of musical genius, for many of England’s best known musical women rest their fame upon a few short pieces. There is a vast difference between good music and great music, and a song of real worth often outlasts an ambitious but overswollen symphony that is laid on the shelf after one hearing.

In the field of violin music, there are many women deserving mention. Margaret Gyde, after taking prizes and scholarships, produced two excellent violin sonatas, besides piano pieces, songs, and some organ music. Contemporary organists, in passing, are well represented by Kate Westrop, who has published four short voluntaries for organ. Laura Wilson Barker, wife of Tom Taylor, has entered the classical arena with a violin sonata, and has done more ambitious work in the music to “As You Like It” and the cantata “[OE]none.” Caroline Carr Moseley has produced several pieces for violin and ’cello, and has written one or two dainty works for toy instruments. Mrs. Beatrice Parkyns, born of English parents at Bombay, has several charming violin compositions to her credit, and the same may be said for Kate Ralph, a native of England. Emily Josephine Troup is another violin composer, who has also tried her hand at songs and piano pieces. Maggie Okey, at one time wife of the pianist De Pachmann, and now married to Maitre Labori, famous as the advocate of Dreyfus, has composed a violin sonata, a violin romance, and several piano pieces. Kate Oliver is responsible for some concerted music, while Alma Sanders has produced a piano trio, a violin sonata, and a piano quartette. To-day Ethel Barns heads the list of violin composers among women.

By far the most important name in this field of woman’s work is that of Agnes Zimmermann. Born in Cologne in 1847, she received her musical education in London. At the Royal Academy of Music she studied piano under Pauer and Potter, afterward attaining high rank as a performer. In composition, her teachers were Steggall and George Macfarren. She won the silver medal of the Academy, and obtained the king’s scholarship twice, in 1860 and 1862. In the next year she made her London debut, and a year later appeared with the Gewandhaus orchestra at Leipsic. Her fame as a classical pianist was soon established, and her excellent work in editing the sonatas of Beethoven and Mozart bore added testimony to her musical knowledge. Her compositions include a piano trio, three violin sonatas, a suite and other pieces for piano, and a number of songs. Her clear style and thorough musicianship have given these works more than a passing value, and she is reckoned to-day as one of England’s leading women composers.

Still more numerous than the violin composers are the women who have shown their ability merely in the form of a few piano pieces. Almost every eminent performer is at some time tempted to express his own musical thoughts in writing. Such has been the case with Arabella Goddard, the famous pianist. Born near St. Malo, in 1838, she played in her native place at the age of four. At six she was studying with Kalkbrenner at Paris. At eight she played before Queen Victoria, and published six piano waltzes. Among her maturer works are an excellent ballade and several other piano selections. Dora Schirmacher, born in 1862, was less precocious, but won the Mendelssohn prize at Leipsic, where she studied under Wenzel and Reinecke. Her works consist of a suite, a valse-caprice, a sonata, a serenade, a set of tone pictures, and so on. Amina Beatrice Goodwin was another child prodigy, first playing in public at the age of six. She studied with Reinecke and Jadassohn at Leipsic, Delaborde at Paris, and finally with Liszt and Clara Schumann. She has published many piano selections, besides founding a pianoforte college and publishing a good book of practical hints on technique and touch. She is married to an American, Mr. W. Ingram-Adams. The list of piano composers might be extended much further, but these are the most representative names.

Of the long list of song composers, but few have produced anything of marked artistic value. Foremost among these at present is Liza Lehmann, who has recently become famous through her song cycle, “In a Persian Garden.” She came of a gifted family, for her father, Rudolph, was an excellent artist, and her mother a composer of songs, which were modestly published over the initials “A. L.” Her grandfather was Robert Chambers, famed by his Encyclopædia. Born in London, she studied singing with Randegger, and composition afterward with Freudenberg, of Wiesbaden, and the Scottish composer, MacCunn. She expected to make a career as a singer, but found herself so extremely nervous whenever appearing that she was forced to abandon the idea. She persevered awhile, however, and has been frequently heard in Great Britain and Germany.

In 1894 she retired and married Mr. Herbert Bedford. Only then did she begin those efforts in composition that have since met with such great success. She has published a number of songs and some piano and violin pieces, but is always thought of in connection with her cyclic setting of the Persian poet, Omar Khayyam. When she composed this, she was little known, and fortune as well as fame was a stranger to her. Oddly enough, all the London publishers refused this work, which has since then charmed two continents. Finally it was sung at her house by a gathering of musical friends, the performers being Ben Davies, Albani, Hilda Wilson, and David Bispham. They were so delighted with it that they brought it out at the Monday “Pops,” and after that its success was assured. There are other song cycles by this composer, notably “In Memoriam,” but none equal the “Persian Garden.” It is full of rich passages of exquisite beauty, moving pathos, and strong expression.

Frances Allitsen passed a lonely childhood in a little English village. She would improvise warlike ballads for amusement, though her later works and her character are marked by gentleness of thought. She hoped to make a name by singing, but unfortunately lost her voice. Her family were all hostile to a musical career, and regarded her tastes as most heinous. She describes the scene of her youth as a place “where, if a girl went out to walk, she was accused of wanting to see the young men come in on the train; where the chief talk was on the subject of garments, and the most extravagant excitement consisted of sandwich parties.” Domestic misfortunes and illness left their mark on her, but could not hinder her musical progress. She finally sent some manuscripts to Weist Hill, of the Guildhall Music School, and with his approval came to London. Her days were spent in teaching, to earn money with which to pay for her studies in the evening, but she braved all difficulties, and finally won success. She is best known in America by her songs, which are really beautiful settings of Browning, Shelley, Longfellow, Heine, and other great poets. But she is a master of orchestral technique as well. Her overture, “Slavonique,” was successfully performed, and a second one, “Undine,” won a prize from the lady mayoress. Her room is a delightful gallery of photographs of artists and musicians. She has a picture of Kitchener, whose example, she says, ought to cure any one of shirking; hence the mistaken anecdote that she could not work without a picture of Kitchener on her desk.

Mrs. Rhodes, known in the musical world as Guy d’Hardelot, was of French ancestry and birth. She spent her childhood in a Norman castle, and her youth in Paris and London, studying music. After marriage she met with reverses, and was forced to earn a living by teaching. She studied composition with Clarence Lucas, and gives him great credit for developing individuality. She has three excellent guiding maxims, “Avoid familiar things, choose words so clear that people can see the picture, and be sure that the climax comes at the end.”

Her songs succeed in combining the elegance and lightness of the French school with the appealing simplicity of the English. Her reputation was established with her first publication, the melancholy and dramatic “Sans Toi.” Her many succeeding lyrics range from liveliest humour to deepest pathos, and all are thoroughly artistic. Widely known are “Sans Toi,” “Mignon,” “Vos Yeux,” “Say Yes,” “Chanson de Ma Vie,” “La Fermière,” “Valse des Libellules,” and many others. Her favourite poets are Victor Hugo and Ella Wheeler Wilcox, a rather strange mixture. Her only attempt in larger form is the operetta “Elle et Lui.” She is a great friend of Mme. Calve, who is especially fond of her songs. She has accompanied Calve on an American tour, and has appeared with her before Queen Victoria at Windsor. She sings herself with a light but attractive voice and the most perfect diction. Of late she has composed for Calve some acting songs, such as “The Fan.”

Maude Valerie White takes rank among the very best of England’s song writers. Born at Dieppe in 1855, she entered the Royal Academy at the usual age, completing her studies at Vienna. During her student days she produced a mass, and at various times she has composed violin and ’cello pieces, but she has won most fame, as well as much money, by her songs. Grove considers the best of these to be the settings of Herrick and Shelley; he gives high praise to her setting of the latter’s “My soul is an enchanted boat,” and considers it one of the finest songs in our language. Her other lyrics include such gems as “To Mary,” “Ophelia’s Song,” “Ave Maria,” and so forth, besides a number of exquisite German and French songs. Her careful attention to the metre and accents of the words, combined with the excellence of the poetry she chooses and the real worth of her music, have won the admiration of all music lovers.

Florence Gilbert, a sister of the well-known dramatist, has won some renown as a ballad composer. She studied harmony and composition with Stainer and Prout, and after this excellent training spent much time in creative work. For a long time she let her songs remain in manuscript, out of diffidence as to their value. Finally Mme. Helen Trust, the singer, came upon them, and obtained permission to bring out the “Message to Phyllis.” Its success was pronounced, and the composer was easily persuaded to issue her other works.

One of the older group of song composers is Clara Angela Macironi, whose work has been known many years. Born in 1821, she studied in the Academy, and became one of its professors. Her suite for violin and piano is well written, but she is known to the general public chiefly by her part-songs. Some of these have been sung by three thousand voices at the Crystal Palace. She has published many songs for solo voice also, but these are hardly equal in musical worth to the productions of the more recent geniuses.

Less high in standard, but vastly popular, are the songs of Hope Temple, of whose works “My Lady’s Bower” and “In Sweet September” are probably familiar in many households. Edith Cooke has found a vein of dainty playfulness in “Two Marionettes” and other similar songs. The productions of Kate Lucy Ward are graceful and musicianly, while Katharine Ramsay has written some admirable children’s songs. Without enumerating more, it may be worth mentioning that the famous Patti has tried her hand at composing songs, and that Lady Tennyson has set some of her husband’s lyrics, although he is said to have been tone-deaf and unable to appreciate any music.

The Irish songs of Alicia Adelaide Needham are said to be exceptionally good, and thoroughly new and local in flavour. Ireland is also represented among women composers by Christina Morison, who produced a three-act opera, “The Uhlans,” and wrote many songs; Lady Helen Selina Dufferin, whose songs are widely known, especially the “Lay of the Irish Emigrant;” and Lady Morgan, born in the eighteenth century at Dublin, and known through her operetta, “The First Attempt.”

Scotland can show no great woman composer. There are a few ballad writers besides those already mentioned, but they are of little importance. Wales can boast one musical daughter in Llewela Davies, who won a large collection of prizes while at the Royal Academy. Her works include three sketches for orchestra, a string quartette, a number of songs, and a violin sonata that received a London performance in 1894, and was highly praised by the critics.