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New Book 'Sounds and Sweet Airs' Details Female Composers Consigned to Oblivion

By Philip Trapp on May 24, 2016 11:30 PM EDT

Anna Beer's new book, Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music, highlights overlooked but important female composers of the classical music genre. The author spoke with NPR Music about the project and touched on some of her favorite women symphonists. Listen below.

Many classical music fans may be unaware that Clara Schumann, wife of composer Robert Schumann, was an accomplished musician and composer in her own right. Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Felix Mendelssohn's sister, was also a pianist and music writer. Beer catalogues these unique women and six more in her text, including the enigmatic Venetian composer, Barbara Strozzi.

In the book's review from publication The Guardian, journalist Caroline Criado-Perez writes that while these above-named women were certainly extraordinary exceptions to the overarching rule, most aspiring female musicians of their time were suppressed in their compositional ability:

"Women were restricted in the forms they were able to write, which in turn restricted their public reach and their legacy. Large orchestral works, so crucial for the development of a composer's reputation, were usually off limits."

Over the course of Beer's interview with NPR, she summarizes the life and work of some of the amazing women composers outlined in her new book. Speaking to the sympathy she feels for these unfairly marginalized women, she characterizes correspondence from Schumann:

"[I]t's still very difficult. It breaks my heart every time I read Clara Schumann writing in the 19th century, saying, 'I can't be a composer; there haven't been any female composers. Why do I even try?' And you think, 'Of course there are! There's 300, 400, 500 years of women writing before you, Clara. You can do it.'"

Hear NPR's Rachel Martin interview Anna Beer about her new book:

Don't forget to check out our additional coverage on this topic: Women in Classical Music Celebrated with NWPR Broadcast and Does Classical Music Have a Built-In Gender Bias?

We want to hear from you. Let us know your favorite early or modern female composers or musicians in the comments section below.

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TagsAnna Beer, Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music, Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Barbara Strozzi, Classical Music, gender

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