Women in Music: Piano Music Written for One Hand by Women Composers: Part I
Wiley, Adrienne E., American Music Teacher
In the spring of 2011, I was able to finally enjoy a sabbatical, due in part because I selected a genre I am really interested in: piano music for one hand. Furthermore, I decided everyone knew the standard repertoire by male composers, such as Scriabin and Brahms, to name a few, thus my proposal was to investigate, study and practice works for one hand written by women composers.
The challenges that confronted me during my research were quite interesting. Often times biographical information on composers was either very sketchy or did not exist; acquiring some music scores resulted in dead ends: some publishing houses and companies folded and did not continue their music with another company; many of the pieces I found were permanently out of print; and finally, using my university's interlibrary loan service found scores, however certain universities deemed them permanently unavailable for lending.
With the help of several sources, I found 91 women composers who wrote piano music for the left and/or right hand alone, respectively. In no particular order, these women are from Great Britain, Switzerland, Argentina, Bucharest, Canada, Austria, Germany, Australia, France, Wales and the United States. Also, the majority of the pieces written by these composers are for the early- to late-intermediate pianist, with some works for the advanced concert pianist.
Before delving into the composers and their music, I would like to share just a few historical comments with respect to women, society and music. Jeannie Poole's book Women in Music History: A Research Guide was a valuable reference that explained the long-standing "traditions" of music study and music making by women from the earliest point in history to the present. The first available piece of piano music for one hand, written by a woman, dates from the romantic era, and thus my comments will begin there.
During the romantic era, women were often chastised for studying and composing music seriously--these remarks were made, as Poole pointed out by some of the most famous composers and pianists of the day, such as Chopin, Liszt and Tchaikovsky, to name a few--even though these composers taught quite a few women! Many articles appeared between the 1880s and 1930s that announced the failures of women as musicians and composers, and also questioned whether women really had any rights to being one of these entities. Interestingly, George T. Ladd's article on "Why Women Cannot Compose" (early 1900s) cites numerous reasons women can not compose:
1. Lack of ability.
2. Those who tried, didn't do it well.
3. Women composers who are not listed in critically acclaimed research catalogs are obviously not important.
4. Musical talent is inherited only by boys.
5. Men are natural musicians.
6. If anyone is a genius, HE is born with it.
We certainly can laugh a bit about these statements, however at the time, these were common thought and practice.
While it is true is that many women musicians or composers started with the intent of making music their entire profession, they often ended their career in this field when they married and had children, or it became of lesser importance--for example, playing their instrument in their house for family and friends rather than concertizing. Karin Pendel's book Women and Music: A History cites several social and cultural changes that greatly affected women in a positive way, thus affording them the opportunities to be a serious, fulltime musician or composer. For example, the advent of urbanization and industrialization allowed women to enter the work forces, thus putting them on nearly "equal" footing with men. Feminist movements in England and the states allowed women to gain access to jobs and education, thus narrowing the divide between the abilities of men versus women. By the 1880s, women could "take charge" of and had access to birth control, thus allowing them more control over the number of children they might have and how that might affect their creative endeavors. …