In music, while the likes of Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann and Ethel Smyth are regarded as having made some impact on composition, their names are among only a handful that crop up in the history books under the ‘female composer’ heading.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been numerous other important women in music. Composers such as Hildegard von Bingen and Louise Farrenc were revered in their day. And much more recently, 2014 saw the historic appointment of Judith Weir as the first female Master of the Queen’s music and the inclusion of Anna Meredith’s Connect It in the repertoire list for BBC’s ‘Ten Pieces‘.
Here we celebrate nine women who are writing brilliant music today…
1. Cheryl Frances-Hoad
In 1996, Essex born Cheryl Frances-Hoad (pictured above) won the BBC Best Young Composer Competition at the age of 15. Her success has continued and in 2010 she became the first young composer to win two BASCA British Composer Awards in the same year.
Her recent commission for Chamber Music 2000, entitled Five Rackets for Trio Relay, has been met with critical acclaim, with performances described as ‘fresh and funny’. A prolific chamber composer, Hoad’s works have premiered in some of the world’s top chamber venues including Wigmore Hall and the Purcell Room.
2. Dobrinka Tabakova
Originally from Bulgaria, Dobrinka Tabakova studied Composition at Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. In 2014, she collaborated with filmmaker Ruth Paxton to create Pulse, a work commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society combining film and music in an innovative way.
Her album String Paths was nominated for a Grammy award and features a work for viola, harpsichord and strings, titled Suite in Old Style. The piece has a dreamlike quality and conjures up a rustic folk dance, demonstrating how Tabakova’s music combines both eastern and western European styles.
Dobrinka Tabakova composed the BBC Music Magazine‘s specially commissioned Christmas carol in 2018.
3. Charlotte Bray
In 2012, she was commissioned by the BBC Proms to compose an orchestral work, entitled At the Speed of Stillness. Inspired by the music of Benjamin Britten, she describes the piece as having ‘energy and endless movement’.
4. Meredith Monk
Meredith Monk is known as a pioneer for ‘extended vocal techniques’. She has been awarded an honorary Doctorate from the Juilliard (among others) and has been named the Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall.
Her basic style has remained virtually unchanged and can be heard in works such as Songs for Ascension. Monk’s music combines old and new styles and is characterised by the use of modal harmonies and wordless vocal writing.
5. Anna Clyne
Having earned her masters from the Manhattan School of Music, British composer Anna Clyne currently resides as the Mead composer in residence at Chicago Symphony. She has gone on to compose works for the London Sinfonietta and Carnegie Hall to name but a few. A BBC Radio 3 commission, entitled Masquerade, was premiered at the Last Night of the Proms in 2013.
6. Joan Tower
Over the past 50 years, Joan Tower has made a lasting impact on music in the USA as not only a composer but also a performer, educator and conductor. Her works have gained incredible success, with her 2008 album Made in America receiving 3 Grammy awards.
Her composition Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman is something of a response to Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. Tower’s Fanfare boasts a terrific rhythmic energy coupled with crisp articulation.
7. Kerry Andrew
Thousands of schoolchildren will soon become familiar with Kerry Andrew’s No Place Like, as it has been included as one of the works in the BBC’s latest Ten Pieces scheme. Being commissioned to write the a cappella work for Ten Pieces is just the latest feather in the cap of the 38-year-old British composer who, in 2014, won two British Composer Awards for her works Woodwose: A Community Chamber Opera and Dart’s Love.
In 2016, her who we are was sung by the massed forces of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain at the Royal Albert Hall.
8. Hannah Kendall
At the age of 32, Hannah Kendall already holds the rare distinction of having been a subject of BBC Radio 3’s flagship Composer of the Week programme. The London-born composer’s most substantial works to date include the one-man chamber opera The Knife of Dawn, which was premiered by baritone Eric Greene at The Roundhouse last October, and The Unreturning for tenor and mixed ensemble (listen here).
Other notable premieres, meanwhile, include that of the orchestral work Shard, which was performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at the Cheltenham Music Festival in 2012.
9. Judith Bingham
A fine mezzo-soprano and former member of the BBC Singers, Judith Bingham has put her intimate knowledge of all things vocal to good use in becoming one of today’s most important choral composers. Born in Nottingham in 1952, Bingham started composing at an early age and by her 20s had already racked up commissions by performers as prestigious as the King’s Singers and tenor Peter Pears.
There is, though, considerably more to her portfolio than just vocal music, and her four British Composer Awards to date have included one for her Fantasia for violin. As well as the BBC Singers, performers such as the Choir of Wells Cathedral and organist Stephen Farr have also recorded discs of her music.