Women in Classical Music History

March is Women's History Month as we make up for lost time, all that time lost by glossing over—or entirely ignoring—the contributions of women in history.

While we fill in the blanks by telling the stories of women who contributed to math, science, innovations, politics and cultural development, we also recognize the contributions women have made to classical music throughout history.

They had quite a time of it, those talented women in past centuries who had a mark to make in the field of composition and music performance. In polite society, it was considered immodest for women to perform in public, and it was a common belief that women's brains weren't designed to handle the complex work of composing. They made excellent audience members, though, and their piano and vocal skills were great fun at parties.

The thing is, women did make great contributions to music, despite the restraints put on them.

Of course, we know about Mozart and Mendelssohn's sisters, Maria and Fanny. And we're familiar with Clara Schumann's work. But are we as familiar with Hildegard von Bingen, the 12th-century composer of music and morality plays for the church? Most of her work survives today.

What about Francesca Caccini, whose songs and operas were often attributed to her father? In the 1620s, she was the highest paid musician in the court. And then there was Louise Farrenc, the 19th-century pianist, composer and respected educator who successfully campaigned to receive equal pay for her work at the Paris Conservatory.

There are many more composers and performers who also happened to be women. You can read about a few of them here, in a New York Times article complete with sound files.

Note: The painting above is of Hildegard von Bingen.

Share this: