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Welcome to the Female Composer Poster series online companion. Our hope in writing this is to share with young musicians information about the colorful lives of some composers who are often left out, but have enormously contributed to our musical world. In the following biographies, teacher guides, student activities, and assessments students will explore a diverse group of female composers from a wide range of time periods and styles. Every page may be reproduced by the teacher for classroom use. Parents may read with their children to discover more complete picture of our world of music.

We encourage all students and adults to learn about and appreciate the forgotten female composers that are not yet a part of the classical music canon. If we nurture in each child an awareness and appreciation of fine music and allow our young students to see themselves in the music they are studying, future generations may be encouraged to discover they too can be their own Beachs, Boulangers, Prices, and Smyths.

Explore the composers below–download and use these resources in your classrooms. If you need help with using this online companion, download the user guide. Remember, all of these resources are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Thank you for abiding by these guidelines.

Hildegard von Bingen Biography

Hildegard von Bingen lived around 900 years ago. Even though she lived so long ago, we know quite a bit about her since she kept journals and exchanged many letters with others. Both her father and mother were nobility. Hildegard was their 10th child, and tradition required that the 10th child should be dedicated to the church. When Hildegard was 8, her parents sent her to a convent which was part of a monastery. There she joined a religious order led by a nun, known as Jutta, who had dedicated her life to God. Many believe Jutta was a psychic and mystic. Jutta trained Hildegard and taught her about the church. Hildegard became a nun at age 15.

When Jutta died in 1136, Hildegard succeeded her as the Mother Superior of the order when she was only 38 years old. Within a few years, she claimed to have visions from God. Jutta taught Hildegard how to read and write in Latin, which allowed her to understand language and write down her visions. The church considered her a prophetess and visionary, and many church members began to seek her advice on both personal and religious matters.

Sometime between 1147 and 1150, Hildegard founded a new monastery near Rudesheim, Germany. She wrote at great length on many subjects, and she exchanged letters with popes, kings, dukes, archbishops, and politicians. Many important and powerful men consulted her on matters of church and state. She also wrote poems and set nearly 80 of them to music.

During Hildegard’s time, music for the church consisted mostly of chants that were sung by male monks. Hildegard, however, composed her music to be sung by the female nuns of her order. No other composer of the period wrote music for female voices.

Hildegard seemed to write music and text endlessly. She composed much of her music between 1150 and 1160. In addition to her music, she wrote an encyclopedia describing various herbal medicines she had developed. She wrote biographies of several saints, numerous religious books, and even a play.

At age 60, Hildegard began traveling and preaching throughout Germany. She was controversial during her lifetime because she claimed to have mystical powers, but not everyone believed her. In 1165, she moved her order of nuns to Bingen, Germany. After her death at age 81, there were several efforts to officially make her a saint, but they all failed.

Hildegard’s music is known as “plainsong chant,” the type of music sung in churches during the Middle Ages. But Hildegard’s compositions are unique because they were written for female voices. She often claimed that she received her music from God. Because of her many writings, Hildegard is considered one of the greatest women of the Middle Ages.

Quick Facts:

  • 10% of everything a family had was given to the church, Hildegard was given to the church as 10% of her family’s children.
  • Despite many people trying to officially maker her a saint, she has not yet become one, so calling her Saint Hildegard von Bingen is not quite correct.
  • She lived in a one-room cell in a Benedictine monastery and only communicated with the outside world through a single window.
  • Hildegard invented her own language to use in many of her poems and song lyrics.
Selected Compositions for Listening
  • Alleluia, O virga mediatrix
  • Ave generosa, hymn
  • Kyrie, eleison
  • O euchari in leta via, sequence
  • O Frondens Virga, antiphon
  • O quam mirabilis est, antiphon
  • Ordo Virtutum, liturgical drama
    • Finale: In principio omnes
    • Prologue: Qui sunt hi, ut sub nubes?
Other Suggested Listenings
  • Hildegard. The Origin of Fire: Music and Visions of Hildegard von Bingen.
  • Bingen, Hildegard of, and Anonymous. Hildegard von Bingen: Heavenly Revelations.
  • Hildegard, et al. 900 Years: Hildegard of Bingen: 1098-1998.
Learn More about Hildegard von Bingen
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Barbara Strozzi Biography

Barbara Strozzi was a big name in 17th-century Italy. She was widely considered the most prolific composer of printed secular vocal music in Venice. Strozzi was one of the first women who dared to publish music under her own name. Many of the women composing during Strozzi’s time were forced to publish their music under a fake male name. She was the adopted daughter of the famous poet Giulio Strozzi. Giulio used his connections with the elite of Venice to allow his daughter to study music with a famous composer of their time, Francesco Cavalli. Cavalli tutored Strozzi privately, teaching her how to compose and write down her music.

Very little is known about Barbara Strozzi’s personal life. We do know that although she never married, she had four children. Her two sons were Giulio Pietro and Massimo. Her daughters were Isabella and Laura. Three of her children most likely shared the same father, but she chose not to marry him and decided to remain a single mother. Both of her daughters became nuns in a convent and one of her sons became a monk.

Strozzi published her first compositions in 1644. These were a set of madrigals with texts written by her father. She published eight other collections of music after her father’s death. Most of Barbara Strozzi’s music is for female voice and lute. Strozzi learned how to treat text with detailed attention in her composing from her father. She set the texts of her music carefully to develop a strong and beautiful relationship between the words and the music. In addition to being a composer, Barbara Strozzi was also a performer. She was a very talented lute player and had a reputation for being one of the best singers of her time, often performing for private parties and wealthy social gatherings.

Strozzi died in Padua in 1677 at age 58 after an illness that lasted over a month. Being a composer was rare among women during Strozzi’s life. In fact, only a few women composers came before Strozzi, such as Francesa Caccini. Male composers who visited Venice were surprised by her talent. Given the little information we have about Strozzi’s private life, it is clear she was an extraordinary woman of great talent and knowledge.

Quick Facts:

  • A portrait of Strozzi named “Female Musician with Viola da Gamba” painted by Bernardo Strozzi (no relation) hangs in the art museum Gemäldegalerie in Dresden, Germany.
  • Three of her children entered the church as nuns and monks.
  • Her father founded a famous social group for the elite of Venice.
Selected Compositions for Listening
  • Madrigali, Op. 1: Merce di voi
  • Cantate, ariette e duetti, Op. 2:
    • La Vendetta
    • L’eraclito amoroso
  • Ariette a voce sola. Op. 6: Non paventoio non di te
  • Diporti di Euterpe, Op. 7: Lagrime mie
  • Arie a voce sola, Op. 8: Che si puo fare
Other Suggested Listenings
  • Musica Secreta. Barbara Strozzi: La Virtuosissima Cantatrice.
  • Consort Baroque Laurentia. Strozzi: Cantate, Ariette e Duetti, Op. 2.
  • Strozzi, Barbara. Ariette a Voce Sola, Op. 6 (Excerpts) (Tadashi Miroku, Rambaldi).
  • Ensemble Galilei. Barbara Strozzi Diporti Di Erterpe.
Learn More about Barbara Strozzi
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Fanny Mendelssohn Biography

Fanny Mendelssohn is mostly known as the beloved older sister of Felix Mendelssohn. The Mendelssohn family was wealthy, well-educated, and active in cultural affairs. Fanny was born in 1805 in Hamburg, Germany where her brother was also born four years later. In 1811, the Mendelssohn family moved to Berlin, Germany because of a threat of war. Fanny was well-educated studying everything from music to physics.

When she and her brother Felix were very young, their mother Leah began to give them music lessons. Fanny’s talent was apparent early on. By the age of 13, she was a very talented pianist. She wrote her first song, in honor of her father’s birthday, in 1819, at the age of 14. But it wasn’t until 1827 that her first two songs were published with her brother Felix listed as the composer. Composing was not considered respectable for a young lady, so she did not list her own name.

In 1822, when Fanny was 17, her father began a tradition of Sunday afternoon concerts in their home. Sometimes these concerts would feature music written by Fanny or Felix. Family friends, poets, writers, and other creative people were hosted by Fanny’s mother. Fanny continued the Sunday afternoon concert tradition for the rest of her life, taking over the role of hostess after her mother’s death in 1842. Although she was an excellent pianist, Fanny rarely performed in public concerts, and limited her performances to the Mendelssohn Family Sunday concerts.

Fanny married an artist named Wilhelm Hensel in 1829. The following year, she had her only child, Sebastian Hensel. Together they traveled throughout Europe, and eventually spent several years in Italy.

During the first half of the 19th century, women were discouraged from writing music. People believed women did not have the appropriate artistic ability. Fanny’s father and brother discouraged her from writing music. Thankfully, Fanny’s mother and husband persuaded her to continue. Her husband convinced her to submit some of her compositions to be published, which she did, and eventually several of her songs were published under her own name.

Like other female composers of her era, Fanny composed piano music and songs which were designed to be performed at small, private gatherings. This music was considered a lower art form and was much more appropriate for women to write. During this time, concert hall music, which was more complex and considered a higher art form, was composed almost exclusively by men. Although she was a talented musician and composer, she spent more time promoting her brother’s music and often neglected her own. Many of Fanny’s compositions remain unpublished and her manuscripts can be seen in The New York Public Library and at the Library of Congress.

Throughout her life, Fanny was an ardent supporter of her brother Felix’s music, and Felix relied upon her musical advice. Although she wrote several oratorios and cantatas, as well as some small instrumental works including trios and quartets, Fanny Mendelssohn is most well-known for her songs and piano compositions.

She died of a stroke at the age of 41 while rehearsing one of Felix’s compositions for a performance at a Mendelssohn Family Sunday concert. Until her death, Fanny and Felix remained close to one another. The news of Fanny’s death was too much for Felix to handle and he became ill and died just six months after his beloved sister Fanny.

Quick Facts:

  • Fanny composed over 500 musical works. Few were ever published during her lifetime but most were performed at the Mendelssohn Family Sunday concerts.
  • She was greatly influenced by the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.
  • Fanny was a better pianist than her brother, Felix, so most of her piano compositions are harder to play.
Selected Compositions for Listening
  • Das Jahr: September
  • Dämmrund senkte sich von oben
  • Notturno in G Minor
  • Sonata in G Minor: I. Allegro molto agitato
  • Ich kann wohl manchmal singen
  • 4 Lieder: Waldseligkeit
  • String Quartet in E flat major: II. Allegretto
  • Piano Trio in D Minor for piano violin and cello: III. Lied: Allegretto
Other Suggested Listenings
  • Heine, Heinrich, et al. Mendelssohn-Hensel, F.: Lied Edition (Grimm, Koningsberger, Muller, Rensburg). 2012.
  • Hensel, Fanny, et al. Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, Piano Chamber Music. 2012.
  • Hensel, Fanny Mendelssohn, et al. Complete Songs. Fanny Hensel, the Other Mendelssohn. 2017, Vol. I-III.
  • Lorensen, Wolfram. Mendelssohn-Hensel: Das Jahr. 2012.
  • Mendelssohn-Hensel, Fanny. Piano Music – Sonatensatz, Das Jahr, 6 Melodies, 4 Lieder. 2014.
  • Mendelssohn-Hensel, Fanny. Best Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel. 2014.
Learn More about Fanny Mendelssohn
  • Citron, Marcia J. “Mendelssohn(-Bartholdy) [Hensel], Fanny (Cäcilie)”. Grove Music Online, Deane Root, editor, 2007.
  • Citron, Marcia J., ed. and trans. “The Letters of Fanny Hensel to Felix Mendelssohn. With introductory essays and notes”. Pendragon, NY, 1987.
  • Cooper, John Michael. “Hensel (née Mendelssohn), Fanny (Cäcilie) (1805–1847)”.  Historical Dictionary of Romantic Music, 2013, pp. 275–276.
  • Sirota, Victoria. “The Life and Works of Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel.” DMA diss., Boston University, 1981.
  • Todd, R. Larry. Fanny Hensel: The Other Mendelssohn. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2010.
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Clara Schumann Biography

Clara Wieck’s father, Friedrich Wieck, was a famous piano teacher and composer in the German city of Leipzig. He encouraged his daughter Clara to pursue a career in music. Clara became one of her father’s students, and mentored her in music theory, composition, and counterpoint, in addition to piano, voice, and violin. By age eleven, Clara was a talented pianist, and her father accompanied her on a concert tour of Europe. She had her first compositions, all piano music, published at age thirteen. She was the first to introduce Chopin’s music to Germany and the first to play Beethoven’s Appossionata Sonata in Berlin.

In 1830, Clara’s father began teaching a twenty-year-old piano student named Robert Schumann. Seven years later, when Clara was eighteen, Robert asked Clara to marry him. Clara’s father was violently opposed to their marriage, and at one point threated to kill Robert if he continued to see Clara, but eventually they wed in 1840. Clara managed to continue her piano career while bearing 7 children over 16 years. When Robert Schumann died in 1856, Clara moved to Berlin where she lived until 1878. She continued her concert tours with performances in England and Russia.

Clara composed very little after husband Robert’s death. Her music was like her husband’s music: conservative, straightforward, and melodic. In fact, Robert used several of Clara’s melodies in his own compositions. After Robert’s death, Clara befriended many fine young composers including Johannes Brahms, and encouraged them in their work. Clara and Brahms fell in love although they never married. She continued to introduce many of Robert Schumann’s works to the public, while also editing and promoting his compositions.

When she was 59, Clara settled in Frankfurt, Germany and taught at the Hoch Conservatory of music. In her own concert tours, which continued until 1891, she frequently preformed her late husband’s music and, on occasion, her own. Throughout her career, Clara was highly regarded as a piano teacher, and she attracted outstanding students from throughout Europe.

During Clara Schumann’s lifetime, composing music was considered a job for men. And although Clara had done some composing as a teenager, she cut back on her writing after her marriage to Robert. Still, even though her husband demanded complete silence in the house when he was composing, Clara managed to complete many successful works during their marriage. She mostly wrote songs and music for piano, while writing a few orchestral and chamber pieces.

Her music is performed more frequently today than it was during her lifetime. She lived during a time when female musicians of her talent were extremely rare and despite being one of the few women in a male-dominated field, she enjoyed a productive career that spanned almost 60 years.

Quick Facts:

  • In March 1838, she was named a Royal and Imperial Chamber Virtuoso, Austria’s highest musical honor.
  • She was a teacher of the piano at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt. As a music teacher, she contributed greatly to the improvement of modern piano playing technique.
  • She was one of the first pianists to play music in her concerts from memory.
Selected Compositions for Listening
  • Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 7: II: Romanze
  • Piano Trio in G Minor, Op. 17
    • I. Allegro moderato
    • III. Andante
  • 4 Pieces Caracteristiques, Op. 5: No. 1: Impromptu “Le Sabbat”
  • Romance, Op. 22: I: Andante molto
  • 4 Polonaises, Op. 1: No. 1: Polonaise in E-Flat Major
  • Voice: Ich Stand in Dunklen Träumen, Op. 13: No. 1
Other Suggested Listenings
  • Jochum, Veronica, et al. Clara Schumann Klavierkonzert: Piano Concerto Op. 7, Piano Trio Op. 17, 3 Romanzen.
  • Grützmann, Susanne. Clara Schumann The Complete Work for Piano Solo.
  • Polk, Joanne and Uecker, Korliss. Completely Clara: Lieder by Clara Wieck Schumann.
  • Russo, Eugenie. Clara Schumanns Klavier.
  • Waschinski, Jorg and Berlin Aulos String Quartet. Schumann, C.: Vocal Music.
Learn More about Clara Schumann
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Ethel Smyth Biography

Young Ethel Smyth was not a prim and proper Victorian lady—she was very active and enjoyed golf, cycling, horse riding, foxhunting, and mountaineering. Her father was involved in the military which led to their family traveling between India and England and gave Ethel a taste for travel and adventure. When she was only 19 years old, she insisted on traveling to Leipzig to study music and composition. There she composed music which was performed in Germany and England (often with herself conducting) and attracted the attention of such musical giants as Brahms, Dvořák, Clara Schumann, Grieg, and Tchaikovsky. While she attained great success as a composer, she is also well known for her role in the suffragette movement, and at one point was thrown in jail for her protesting.

Besides music, she wrote ten books in which she discussed everything that interested her, from feminism and politics to Old English sheep-dogs, which she raised throughout her life. She was a militant feminist determined to bring about social change. Undaunted by her arrest, she wrote a song entitled “The March of the Women,” which she conducted from her prison cell with a toothbrush. “The March of the Women” later became the battle song of the Women’s Social and Political Union. Despite her non-conformist reputation, she was made a Dame of the British Empire (DBE) in 1923.

She wrote six operas, the most famous being The Wreckers. In another, The Boatswain’s Mate, she voiced her political inclinations and this opera became part of the standard repertory of the Old Victoria. Critics speak of the “sincerity and seriousness” of Dame Ethel’s works, but in her own opinion she never became “even a tiny wheel in the English musical machine.” She confessed to having the attributes of “an iron constitution, a fair share of fighting spirit, and, most important of all, a small but independent income” without which she was sure she would not have been as successful.

Compared with the conventional music of the late nineteenth century, Dame Ethel’s music contains some unusual harmonic experiments. In The Wreckers, for instance, there is an odd blend of the styles of Richard Wagner and Sir Arthur Sullivan. Her deafness, which began later in her life during the late 1920’s, may have had something to do with this. She died in 1944 at age 86 of pneumonia after a prolonged illness. Her music is as curious and interesting as herself. 

Quick Facts:

  • In 1903 at age 45, her opera Der Wald was performed at the Metropolitan Opera of New York. It remained the only opera written by a woman to be performed at the Met for more than 100 years.
  • In prison, she organized sports activities and was observed conducting the inmates marching in the yard by keeping time with her toothbrush.
Selected Compositions for Listening
  • 3 Songs: No. 1: The Clown
  • The March of the Women (Excerpt: Last Two Verses)
  • Serenade in D Major: II. Scherzo: Allegro vivace – Allegro molto
  • Trio for Piano, Violin, and Cello in D Minor: I. Allegro non troppo
  • String Quintet in E major, Op. 1
    • I. Allegro con brio
    • V. Allegro molto
  • Violin Sonata in A Minor, Op. 7: I. Allegro moderato
  • Piano Sonata No. 1 in C Major: I. Allegro vivace
  • Concerto for Violin, Horn, and Orchestra: I. Allegro moderato
Other Suggested Listenings
  • The Boatswain’s Mate. Nadine Benjamin, Rebecca Louise Dale, Edward Lee, Ted Schmitz, Jeremy Huw Williams, Simon Wilding, Mark Nathan, Lontano Ensemble, c. Odaline de la Martinez. Retrospect Opera RO001
  • Serbescu, Liana. Complete Piano Works. 
  • The Wreckers. Anne-Marie Owens, Justin Lavender, Peter Sidhom, David Wilson-Johnson, Judith Howarth, Anthony Roden, Brian Bannatyne-Scott, Annemarie Sand. Huddersfield Choral Society, BBC Philharmonic, c. Odaline de la Martinez. Conifer Classics.
Learn More about Ethel Smyth
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Amy Beach Biography

Amy Beach was born in Henniker, New Hampshire to a musical family. Her sister taught voice and piano, and her niece studied music in New York, Boston, and Paris. Amy showed every sign of being a child prodigy. She could sing 40 songs accurately by age 1, and by age 2 she could improvise counter-melodies easily. By age 3, she had taught herself how to read. She composed three waltzes for piano without being in front of a piano at age 4, and could play four-part hymns by ear. The family struggled to keep up with her musical interests and demands. Her mother sang and played for her, but attempted to prevent young Amy from playing the family piano herself, believing that to indulge the child’s wishes in this respect would damage parental authority.

Amy began formal piano lessons at age 6 and made her concert debut at age 16 at Boston’s Music Hall. The following year, she starred in the final performance of the Boston Symphony’s 1884-85 season. In addition to studying piano, Amy studied harmony and counterpoint with Junius W. Hill for one year in 1884. This was her only formal training in composition. She collected every book she could find on music theory, composition, and orchestration and taught herself counterpoint, fugue, double-fugues, composition, and orchestration. She even went as far as to translating Gevaert’s and Berlioz’s French treatises on orchestration into English so she could learn from these masters. During this time, she produced a substantial body of work including her Mass in E op.5, an 85-minute work for chorus and orchestra. Almost all of her compositions were performed and published, but her art songs and choral music are especially well known.

After her husband’s death in 1910 and her mother’s in 1911, Beach went to Europe to establish a reputation there as both performer and composer as well as to promote the sale of her own works. She gave recitals in German cities, playing her sonata and quintet and accompanying her songs; her Gaelic symphony and concertos were performed in Leipzig, Hamburg, and Berlin. Beach gained respect for the musical ability of the Americans among Europeans. At the outbreak of World War I, Beach returned to the United States with dozens of concerts already scheduled across the nation.

As a composer, she was highly disciplined and could produce large-scale works in a few days. Beach was also energetic in the promotion of her compositions, arranging for performances as soon as her works were completed. As a pianist, she had a virtuosic technique and an extraordinary memory.

Beach’s earliest works demonstrate her ability to create lush flowing phrases, beautiful melodies, and sensitive relationships between music and text. Art song is at the core of her style and she even used some of the melodies from her songs as themes in her instrumental works. Her remarkable ear for harmony and tonal color is also apparent from her earliest compositions. As her compositional style developed, she increasingly used chromaticism and displayed the influences of the late Romantics, as well American and European folk music.

In her life, she wrote over 150 pieces including songs, piano music, chamber music, symphonies, large works for chorus and orchestra, and one opera, Cabildo. Her creativity allowed her to freely make use of European musical tradition while avoiding a restricted American Style of the time. Heart disease caused Beach to retire to New York City in 1940 and led to her death in 1944.

Quick Facts:

  • Beginning in the 1880s, she was a frequent piano soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
  • She was the only female member of the Second New England School of classical composers, a group that included Arthur Foote and Horatio Parker.
  • She often published music under the pseudonym Mrs. H.H.A. Beach, after her husband Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach, who wanted to limit her public performance, to promote his name and not her own.
  • Amy Beach is considered the first major American Composer.
Selected Compositions for Listening
  • Hermit Thrush, Op. 92: No. 2, A Hermit Thrush at Morn
  • Symphony in E Minor, op. 32, Gaelic
    • I: Allegro con fuoco
    • II: Alla Siciliana; Allegro vivace
    • III: Lento con molto espressione
    • IV: Allegro di molto
  • Piano Concerto in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 45: II. Scherzo: Vivaco (Perpetuum mobile)
  • Grand Mass in E-Flat Major
    • Gloria
    • Graduale
  • Romance, Op. 23
  • 3 Songs, Op.21: 1: Chanson d’amour
  • Children’s Album, Op. 36: No. 1: Minuet
  • Sonata for Piano and Violin in A Minor, Op. 34: I. Allegro moderato
  • Trio for Violin, Violoncello, and Piano, Op. 150 – Allegro con brio
  • Three Shakespeare Songs, Op. 37: II. Take, O take those lips away
Learn More about Amy Beach
  • Ammer, C. A History of Women in American Music. Westport, CT, 1980.
  • Block, Adrienne F., and Bomberger, E. Douglass. “Beach [Cheney], Amy Marcy [Mrs H.H.A. Beach]”. Grove Music Online,
  • Elson, L. C.The History of American Music. New York, 1904, pp. 294–305.
  • Jenkins, W. S.The Remarkable Mrs. Beach: American Composer. ed. H. Baron, Warren, MI, 1994.
  • Merrill, E. L.“Mrs H.H.A. Beach: her Life and Music.”, U. of Rochester, 1963.
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Florence Price Biography

Florence Price was born in 1887 in Little Rock, Arkansas to a mixed-race family. Despite racial issues of the era, her family was well respected and thrived within their community. Her mother was a music teacher who guided Florence’s early musical training. By the time Florence was 4, she had performed her first piano recital, and by age 11, she had her first composition published. By the time she was 14, she had graduated high school and enrolled at the New England Conservatory of Music with a major in piano and organ performance.

After graduating from the conservatory, Price was unable to find employment. In 1912 she married Thomas J. Price, an attorney in Little Rock. After being refused admission to the all-white Arkansas Music Teachers Association, she founded the Little Rock Club of Musicians and taught music at the segregated black schools. They moved to Chicago with their two daughters due to heightening racial tensions in their community in 1927.

Florence Price’s career flourished after the move to Chicago. It was around 1928 when the G. Schirmer and McKinley publishing companies began to publish her songs, piano music, and especially her instructional pieces for piano. She filed for divorce from Thomas Price in 1928. As a single mother, she earned a living from the sales of her piano works and as composer of popular songs (under the pseudonym of Vee Jay). She also played organ for the silent films and orchestrated for a radio station.

After her divorce, she and the children moved in with her student and friend Margaret Bonds. Florence Price’s friendship with Margaret Bonds gained national recognition and performances of their music for composers. Price and Bonds had submitted compositions for the 1932 Wanamaker competition and both won awards that year. Price gave music lessons at home and composed more than 300 works including symphonies, organ works, piano concertos, works for violin, arrangements of spirituals, art songs, and chamber works.

Even though she was trained in the European classical tradition, Price’s music also consists of American idioms and is steeped in her Southern roots. She wrote with a vernacular style, using sounds and ideas that fit the reality of urban society. She often used the music of the African-American church as material for her arrangements since she was a deeply religious woman. She incorporated elements of African-American spirituals, emphasizing the rhythm and syncopation of the spirituals rather than just using the texts. Her melodies were blues-inspired and mixed with more traditional, European Romantic techniques. This weaving of tradition and modernism was a signature element of her compositional style.

Florence Price became the first African American female composer to have a symphony performed by a major American orchestra when Music Director Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra played the world premiere of her Symphony No. 1 in E minor on June 15, 1933. Although this premiere brought instant recognition and fame to Price, she was still not as successful as other male composers. All through her life, Price continued to wage an uphill battle facing segregation, the Jim Crow laws, entrenched racism, and sexism of the times.

Price continued to compose throughout the 1940s and early 1950s, until her death in 1953. Many of her works have been lost including one of her last compositions, Symphony No. 2. In 2009, a substantial collection of her works and papers were found in an abandoned dilapidated house on the outskirts of St. Anne, Illinois. These consisted of dozens of her scores, including her two violin concertos and her fourth symphony.

Quick Facts:

  • She was the first African American woman to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra.
  • She enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music at the young age of 14 years old.
  • She played organ for silent films and orchestrated for a radio station.
Selected Compositions for Listening
  • Negro Folksongs in Counterpoint: No. 5: Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
  • My Dream
  • Fantasie negre
  • Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major: I. Tempo moderato
  • Violin Concerto No. 2
  • My Soul’s Been Anchored in de Lord
  • Symphony in E Minor
  • Concerto in One Movement
Other Suggested Listenings
  • Corley, Maria. Piano Music (African American Women). Albany, 2006.
  • Price, Florence. Piano Concerto in D Minor/ Symphony No. 1. Albany, 2011.
  • Price, Florence. Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2. Albany, 2018.
  • Price, Leontyne. Leontyne Price Sings Spirutals. RCA Records, 2012.
Learn More about Florence Price
  • Brown, Rae Linda. “Price [Smith], Florence Bea(trice)”. Grove Music Online,
  • Brown, Rae Linda. “Price, Florence Beatrice”.  International Dictionary of Black Composers, by Samuel A. Floyd, Jr., Fitzroy Dearborn, Chicago, 1999. pp. 937-945.
  • Brown, Rae Linda. “Florence B. Price and Margaret Bonds; The Chicago years”. Black Music Research Journal, 12 No. 2, 1990, pp. 11-15.
  • Brown, Rae Linda. “Florence B. Price, 1887-1953”. Women Composers; Music Through the Ages, vol. 7:Composers Corn 1800-1899, G. K. Hall, New Haven, CT, 2003, pp. 738-752.
  • Carpenter, Dale, and Greeson, Jim. The Caged Bird: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price. University of Arkansas Department of Music, 2015.
  • AfriClassical – African American Heritage in Classical Music: Florence Price
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Lili Boulanger Biography

Lili Boulanger was born in 1893 in Paris, France to a musical family. Her mother, father, and sister Nadia were all trained composers or performers. When her father, Ernest, was only 20, he won the Prix de Rome. This coveted prize, which provided a year’s study in Rome, was the greatest recognition a young French composer could attain. Other winners of this prestigious award include Hector Berlioz, Gabriel Fauré, and Claude Debussy. Ernest Boulanger was 62 when he married a Russian princess. He was 72 years old when Nadia was born and 79 when Lili was born. He died when both children were still young. Lili’s immense talent was recognized early on, and at the age of 2 she began receiving musical training from her mom and eventually her older sister.

In 1895 she contracted bronchial pneumonia, after which she was constantly ill. Because of her frail health, she relied entirely on private study since she was too weak to obtain a full music education at the Conservatoire.

In 1913, Lili became the first woman to win the Prix de Rome for her Cantata Faust et Helene at the age of 20, the same age her father was when he won this award. Her phenomenal success made international headlines. Due to her quick rise to fame, she signed a contract with Ricordi that offered her an annual income in return for the right of first refusal on publication of her compositions. While in Rome, she finished several compositions including the song cycle, Clairières dans le ciel. Her study in Rome was cut short by the outbreak of World War I. Upon her return to Paris, she founded an organization which offered material and moral support to musicians fighting in the war. 

In 1916 she returned to Rome to finish her study and began working on her five-act opera La princesse Maleine, as well as her large-scale settings of Psalms 129 and 130. This time a rapid decline in her health forced her to leave Rome and return to France. In the final two years of her life she concentrated her energy on finishing the compositions she had begun in Rome.

During her short life, she wrote many beautiful and complexly constructed pieces, including an unfinished opera. She had to dictate her last work, a Pie Jesu, to Nadia, because she was too weak to write. Lili Boulanger died of tuberculosis at the age of 25.

Quick Facts:

  • Lili Boulanger’s Paris Conservatoire teacher (also her father) Ernest Boulanger and both her grandparents (on the Boulanger side) had been musicians.
  • Lili played piano, violin, cello, harp, organ, and sang beautifully.
  • The cantata Faust et Hélène, for which she won the Prix de Rome, took her only 4 weeks to write.
  • Lili’s sister Nadia was so affected by Lili’s death that she stopped composing and turned her attention to teaching. Nadia became one of the most renowned teachers of the 20th century and taught famous composers including Aaron Copland, Elliott Carter, Thea Musgrave, Leonard Bernstein, and Phillip Glass.
Selected Compositions for Listening
  • Clairieres dans le ciel:
    • Elle etait descendue au bas de la prairie (She has gone down to the bottom of the meadow)
    • VIII: Vous m’avez regarde aven toute votre ame (You looked at me with all your soul)
  • Nocturne
  • D’un matin de printemps
  • Vieille priere bouddhique
  • Psalm 129, “Ils m’ont assez opprime”
  • Psalm 130, “Du fond de l’abime”
  • Faust Et Helene
  • Pie Jesu
Other Suggested Listenings
  • Naoumoff, Emile. Boulanger, Lili and Nadia: In Memoriam Lili Boulanger. 1993.
  • Boulanger, Lili. Psalm 24 / Faust Et Helene / D’Un Soir Triste / D’un Matin De Printemps / Psalm 130. 1999.
Learn More about Lili Boulanger
  • Fauser, Annegret, and Orledge Robert. “Boulanger, (Marie-Juliette Olga) Lili”. Grove Music Online,
  • Potter, Caroline. “Nadia and Lili Boulanger: Sister Composers”. Musical Quarterly, Vol.83 No.4, 1999, pp. 536–56.
  • Rosenstiel, L. The Life and Works of Lili Boulanger. Rutherford, NJ, 1978.
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Lili Boulanger – Biography
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Elisabeth Lutyens Biography

Elisabeth Lutyens, born in London in 1906, was the daughter of a respected and successful architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens. As a child, she learned to play the piano, like many respectable young women of the time. But by the time she was 9, it was clear that her interest and ability in music was serious, and she began to study for a career as a composer. She attended the Ecole Normale in Paris and, following that, the Royal College of Music in London, where she studied viola and composition. Her first public performance was a long and complex ballet, “The Birthday of Infanta” in 1952, but this has since been withdrawn from publication.

She was a perfectionist and spent many years refining her work. As her composing progressed, she felt that her earlier pieces did not represent her style, so she withdrew them. As a result, we have little to show the development which led to the astonishing music she produced in the 1940’s. Elisabeth Lutyens had to struggle to earn her place among the composers of classical twentieth century musical canon, and her music is still seldom heard or recorded. Her autobiography, A Goldfish Bowl, describing life as a female musician in London, was published in 1972.

Elisabeth was an innovative and dedicated composer. She wrote more than 15 stage works, including ballets and operas, over 60 pieces for solo voice or chorus with varying instrumentations, and at least 70 instrumental compositions. She chose evocative titles for her works such as “Time Off? Not a Ghost of a Chance!”, “Dirge for a Proud World,” and “Voice of Quiet Waters.” She also wrote film and radio music, educational works, light music, and theatrical scores. She was the first female British composer to score a feature film. Lutyens paid the bills by composing film scores for Hammer’s horror movies and for their rivals, Amicus Productions.

Unlike most of her contemporaries at this time who were writing tonal, lyrical, narrative, and folk or folk-inspired music, Lutyens is credited with bringing Schoenbergian serial technique to Britain. Her negative opinions of strict serialism caused an ideological rift between herself and her serialist colleagues. Elisabeth disapproved of the ‘overblown sound’ of Gustav Mahler and similar composers, preferring to work with sparse textures. She drew large inspiration from earlier British music, especially the music of Henry Purcell. She first used 12-note serialism in Chamber Concert No 1 (1939), but she didn’t always limit herself to it. Sometimes she used a self-created, 14-note technique.

Lutyens, the conductor Iris Lemare and the violinist Anne Macnaghten introduced composers such as Benjamin Britten, Elizabeth Maconchy, Grace Williams, Malcolm Williamson and Alan Rawsthorne to the public. In her later years, she taught many private students, including a young Richard Rodney Bennett, an English composer and Jazz Pianist. She was a provocative and inspiring teacher who gave herself fully to her pupils.

Lutyens was known and respected as a creative artist for whom compromise was impossible. Her output was large and varied, and the importance of her contribution to the country’s musical life was recognized in 1969, when she was made a Commander of the British Empire. Elisabeth Lutyens died in London in 1983, at the age of 76.

Quick Facts:

  • She composed in complete isolation, a process greatly impeded by her drinking, partying, and the responsibilities of motherhood.
  • She set the entire Book of Job from the bible to music in the style of Johannes Brahms.
  • Elisabeth’s favorite relative was her Aunt Constance, a suffragist active in British demonstrations. After her arrest for breaking windows, Constance went on a hunger strike and was treated roughly by the police which eventually led to her death. Elisabeth idolized her and set out to be as radical in music as her aunt had been in politics.
Selected Compositions for Listening
  • Chamber Concerto, Op. 8 No, 1
    • Theme and Variations
    • Scherzo: Allegro scherzando
  • 6 Tempi, Op. 42: No.1
  • Motet, Op. 27 “Excerpta Tractatus Logico-Philosophici”
  • String Trio, Op. 57: I: Molto moderato – Poco allegro – Meno mosso
  • Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis
    • Magnificat
    • Nunc Dimittis
  • Verses of Love
Other Suggested Listenings
  • Exaudi, Endymion. Lutyens: A Centennial Celebration, 2006.
  • Jane’s Minstrels, and Montgomery, Manning. Lutyens: Chamber Works, 1993.
Learn More about Elisabeth Lutyens
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Margaret Bonds Biography

Margaret Bonds was a prolific composer in the American Concert Spiritual tradition. She was also a famous pianist who performed all over the country. Born on March 3rd in 1923, Margaret grew up in a very musical household. Her father was a doctor and her mother was an organist. Her home functioned as a salon of sorts where many famous black musicians, writers, and thinkers would gather including Will Marion Cook and Florence Price. Early on, Margaret showed much promise on the piano. In high school, she took lessons with the famous composer and pianist Florence Price. While learning piano, she also studied composition.

Bonds fell in love with composing and later studied at Northwestern University, getting a Bachelor and Master’s degree in Music. She also studied both piano and composition at Juilliard. Margaret began gaining recognition for her amazing compositions early on. She won the Wanamaker prize, a composition award, for her piece Sea Ghost in 1932. The next year, she was the first African American person to appear as a soloist with the Chicago Symphony. She played a piano concerto by her former teacher Florence Price. It is interesting to note, however, that there is little of her piano music in print due to the fact that as an accomplished concert pianist and improviser, most of her piano music was committed to memory and not written down. Beyond her personal success as a performer and composer, Bonds was highly focused on giving back to her community. She opened a school called the Allied Arts Academy for musicians in Chicago. Later, she moved to LA and became the director of the Inner City Repertory Theater.

Bonds was known for writing vocal music. Bonds composed over 200 songs, over a dozen choral works, and composed for film; however, fewer than 75 of her compositions exist today. Most of her pieces were solo vocal settings of concert spirituals. She also wrote many works of musical theater including Shakespeare in Harlem, Romey and Julie and U.S.A. Musically, Bonds was a product of the Harlem Renaissance. She focused on combining jazz musical idioms into traditional European styles. She worked with many famous figures from the Harlem Renaissance including Langston Hughes, the poet, on her oratoria The Ballad of the Brown King. Bonds also wrote popular songs for Andy Razaf, Joe Davis and Harold Dickinson, the most famous of which is called “Peach Street.” Bonds also wrote a memoir called, A Reminiscence, where she recounts what it was like to be a black female composer in the mid 20th century.

Unfortunately, there is little written about Bonds’ life or musical works. She died unexpectedly in 1972, a few months after the LA Philharmonic premiered her work for chorus and orchestra, Credo.

Quick Facts:

  • Her mother was an organist and Bonds childhood home was a gathering place for black musicians, writers, and artists including Florence Price.
  • She wrote her first composition, “Marquette Street Blues” at the age of 5.
  • Bonds collaborated frequently with famous poet Langston Hughes. Hughes wrote the libretto for her musical Shakespeare in Harlem.
Selected Compositions for Listening (Spotify)
  • The Negro Speaks of Rivers (Solo Voice)
  • 3 Dream Portraits
    • 1, Minstrel Man
    • 2, Dream Variations
    • 3, I, Too
  • He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, arr. Margaret Bonds
  • Sit Down, Servant
Selected Compositions for Listening (YouTube)
  • Dry Bones, arr. Margaret Bonds
  • Troubled Water
  • The Negro Speaks of Rivers (Choir)
  • Simon Bore the Cross (Easter Cantata) – Recently found and premiered in 2018
    • This Easter cantata, Simon Bore the Crosswas found in a box by the dumpster outside of an auction and received its world premiere in February 2018 at the Kennedy Center.

Learn More about Margaret Bonds
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Julia Perry Biography

Julia Perry was born in Lexington, Kentucky on March 25th, 1924. Her father played piano so she grew up surrounded by music. Perry started taking piano, voice, and violin lessons when she was 6. Her family moved to Akron, Ohio. In high school, Perry began winning regional music competitions in violin and voice. She spent a year at the University of Akron before winning a scholarship that allowed her to transfer to Westminster Choir College in New Jersey where she was most successful. She was the concertmaster of the orchestra and gave the pitch for the choir and went on to get a graduate degree in music from Westminster in 1948.

After graduating from Westminster, Perry took composition lessons with Luigi Dallapiccola. She also took courses in operatic conducting at Juilliard. Dallapiccola liked Perry and invited her to study with him in Florence, Italy in 1952. In the summer of 1952, Perry studied composition with Nadia Boulanger, who believed that Perry was such an accomplished composer, she had nothing to teach her, but Perry insisted. Perry lived in Italy for most of the 1950’s. In Italy, she was well known and widely loved as both a composer and performer. During the 1950’s, she wrote many songs and orchestral works including her famous Study for Orchestra. Orchestras across Italy played her pieces and ritics around Europe loved her music.

Perry moved back to the United States in 1959. She wrote most of her orchestral pieces in the 1950’s and 1960’s. That decade also saw the performance of A Study for Orchestra by the New York Philharmonic. During the 1960’s, Perry developed serious health problems including a disease that caused her hands and feet to grow abnormally large. In 1971, Perry had a stroke that paralyzed her right side. Perry’s letters show that she worked tirelessly to regain the ability to walk, talk, conduct, and compose using only her left side. Her efforts didn’t pay off and her later compositions never attained the popularity or renown she hoped for. Perry died in 1979 at the age of 55.

Among black composers who wrote in the 1900’s, Julia Perry is considered one of the most significant. She effortlessly wrote in choral, opera, chamber, and orchestral genres. Her most famous pieces are her Stabat Mater (1951) for contralto and orchestra, likely written for her own voice, and her Study for Orchestra (1952) which premiered in Florence, Italy by the Turin Symphony. Perry wrote in a European neoclassical style and employed several black folk idioms in her writing, heavily influenced by African-American Concert Spiritual, especially in her early and later works. Unfortunately, many of her compositional manuscripts have been lost or are unreadable and only a handful of recordings of her music exists.

Quick Facts:

  • Perry translated 78 African fables from Italian to English and wrote a play while in Italy.
  • Perry won two Guggenheim Fellowships.
  • Perry won a scholarship to attend the prestigious Cleveland Institute of Music, but declined it because her parents wanted her to stay closer to home.
  • She wrote twelve symphonies in addition to choral, vocal, band, and orchestral works, yet there is no record of any of her works written after 1963 being performed.
Selected Compositions for Listening (Spotify)
  • Short Piece (Study) for Orchestra
  • Stabat Mater
Selected Compositions for Listening (YouTube)
  • Prelude
  • I’m a Poor Lil’ Orphan (Negro Spiritual)
  • Homunculus C. F.

Learn More about Julia Perry
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Delia Derbyshire Biography

Have you ever heard the theme song to Doctor Who? Or any music that relies on electronic sounds? Then you have Delia Derbyshire to thank. Born in 1937, Derbyshire was a gifted mathematician and musician: she earned degrees in both subjects from Cambridge. She wanted to work for a record company, and applied to DECCA records in 1957, but was denied a job because the company did not employ women. She eventually got a different job with the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Later, she moved to London to spend a short time working for the famous music publishing company, Boosey & Hawkes before being hired to work for the BBC Radio.

She worked in a place called the Radiophonic Workshop, a part of BBC Radio that focused on making experimental sounds using electronics. Derbyshire was interested in the physics of different sounds and used her amazing math skills to create several new sounds. Most of her compositions were written for television shows, but she also produced several extended radio features using her experimental techniques. The most famous of these radio features are called The Dreams and Amor Dei (1964). Many television producers wanted Derbyshire to write music for their productions that were set in the ancient past or a distant future: settings where a traditional orchestra wouldn’t feel right. Beyond working in drama and experimental radio, Derbyshire went on to found several important groups in the development of electronic music­­—Kaleidophon and Unit Delta Plus. Musically, she was famous for creating atmospheric sounds with a contemplative and ethereal quality. She used empty textures with lots of swirling and looping sounds to achieve an otherworldly sound.

In the 1970’s, Derbyshire stopped working for the BBC because she grew weary of the music and television industries.  She composed very few pieces between the 1970’s and the 1990’s. Instead, she worked in a museum and bookshop. In the 1990’s, Derbyshire began composing again and composed consistently until her death in 2001. Derbyshire’s music was largely unrecognized during her lifetime. Recently, she has finally been credited for her many musical contributions to the BBC. Now she is regaining recognition as one of the pioneering figures in British electronic music.

Quick Facts:

  • One of her favorite sounds was produced by hitting a lampshade in the radio studio and then taking apart and reconstructing the sound’s frequencies.
  • She worked with Yoko Ono on one of Yoko’s early projects called “Wrapping Event.”
  • She is the subject of a theater production, Standing Wave: Delia Derbyshire in the 1960’s and two documentaries called, Alchemists of Sound (2003) and The Delian Mode (2009).
  • She wrote twelve symphonies in addition to choral, vocal, band, and orchestral works.
Selected Compositions for Listening
  • Doctor Who (Opening Theme)
  • Quest
  • The Pattern Emerges
  • Celestial Cantabile
  • The Wizard’s Laboratory
  • Frontier of Knowledge
Learn More about Delia Derbyshire
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