Happy Women’s History Month! If you are stuck on composers to focus on, here are five essential women that you could introduce to your students this month (or any time of year).
Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)
Let’s go back to the 12th century to learn a little about Hildegard von Bingen, a German abbess (mother superior) who was brilliant in many areas – excelling in both the arts and sciences. She even created her own language. This medieval composer is widely recognized as one of the greatest writers of sacred monophony (music consisting of a single melody). Among her works are hymns, antiphons, poems, and plays. Listen to her antiphon, O Frondens Virga, for a glimpse of her mysterious, ethereal style. In liturgical settings, an antiphon is a melodic response sung before and after a verse from the Psalms.
Clara Schumann (1819-1896)
Clara Schumann was a celebrated German pianist and composer of the Romantic era. She performed extensively throughout Europe as a soloist, accompanist, and with orchestras. Schumann was also one of the first pianists to perform from memory. Her husband, fellow composer Robert Schumann, was inspired to study music after hearing her play, and they often collaborated with each other. He passed away 40 years before she did, and she mainly performed his compositions after his death. While he was living, she taught and performed and became the family’s breadwinner. Her compositions include piano music, songs, chamber music, choral, and orchestral works. Her music is characterized by lyricism, emotional intensity, and virtuosity.
Ethel Smyth (1858-1944)
Dame Ethel Smyth was an English composer, author, and suffragette. She was the first woman to have an opera performed at Covent Garden in London. Smyth battled discrimination as a composer but was finally celebrated near the end of her life. By this time, she was completely deaf and could not hear her music being performed. She also stated that she was more attracted to women than men but had relationships with both. Her compositions include operas, orchestral works, chamber music, and songs. Her music is characterized by its robust and bold expression, use of folk and dance music, and unconventional harmonic language.
Amy Beach (1867-1944)
Amy Beach was an American composer and pianist of the Romantic era. She was a child prodigy and later became the first American woman to compose and publish a symphony (Gaelic Symphony). She was also a member of the Boston Six, a group of classical composers from New England. She was the youngest member and the only woman. Her music is characterized by lyricism, dramatic contrasts, and lush harmonies. Beach’s husband did not want her to teach music, but she became a highly sought-after speaker and music educator after his death.
Florence Price (1887-1953)
Florence Price, an accomplished American composer, made history as the first African American woman to have her symphony performed by a major orchestra. She performed on the piano from age four and published her first composition at 11. Price composed over 300 works, including symphonies, concertos, chamber music, and songs. Her unique musical style features a blend of rich harmonies, captivating melodies, and inspiration drawn from African American spirituals and folk music. Despite facing major professional obstacles due to racial discrimination, her works are currently undergoing a revival, and her legacy as a remarkable composer is being celebrated.
Incorporating the works of women composers into our music curriculum helps students challenge gender stereotypes in music. By introducing the music of these incredible women, we can inspire the next generation of composers and musicians to break down barriers and create their music. If you could use a variety pack of music activities for a sub, centers, or to supplement your lessons, check out my Women’s History Month Printable Activities. Thanks for visiting!