Women composers have always had a raw deal in classical music. No more so than when it comes to having their compositions published. It’s no surprise then that a glorious array of choral music by female composers only made it to publication by resorting to crowdfunding. This Women’s History Month, let’s have a listen to (and learn about) some of the music included there.
Multitude of Voyces
Multitude of Voyces is a registered not-for-profit Community Interest Company set up by Louise Stewart. She and her husband, Andrew, volunteer their time and expertise as do many of the other people listed. That they’ve succeeded in publishing over 60 works by female composers (most not seen before) is astonishing. Stainer and Bell is also due some credit as the music publisher who is now acting as distributor for the project. There are three volumes. We have the first two and will be acquiring the third as soon as we can.
Maria Xaveria Perucona: Cessate, tympana
Women living in religious communities through the ages have been a reliable source of compositions. Even more so at times when other women in general life appear silenced. Very little is known about Maria Xaveria Perucona other than she was a nun living in northern Italy in the second half of the seventeenth century.
The music here is for the period around Easter.
Cecilia McDowall: The Lord is good
Cecilia McDowall is a contemporary British composer who mostly specialises in choral music. A quote from The Gramophone magazine gives some insight into her style:
‘McDowall’s work has qualities that include a communicative gift that is very rare in modern music, a composer well worth seeking out; she is very gifted, and always knows exactly what she is doing, and why.’
Undine Smith Moore: We shall walk through the valley (arr.)
As an African-American female composer, Undine Smith Moore had not one, but two barriers to surmount in her professional life. Despite gaining a deep musical education, she then felt unable to aspire to be a composer.
“One of the most evil effects of racism in my time was the limits it placed upon the aspirations of blacks, so that though I have been ‘making up’ and creating music all my life, in my childhood or even in college I would not have thought of calling myself a composer or aspiring to be one.”
Despite this, she gained a lasting reputation as a music educator and composer.
Amy Bebbington: I sing of a maiden
Often, being a composer isn’t viable on its own. Amy Bebbington is also a choral director and instructor. Choirs thrive even more if their directors or conductors take time to learn new things – repertoire, routines, and rehearsal methods.
Anna Semple: Ad Te, Domine
Another really heartening thing about the Multitude of Voyces publications is their promotion of new composers, some of whom composed material specially. However, it can make finding recordings of their music tricky. Anna Semple is only at the start of her career as a composer and singer, yet her CV makes for an impressive read. In that light, I decided to include a piece by her. Yes, it’s not the one in the publications but that doesn’t matter. It’s still her music.