Sounds & Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music

Sounds & Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music

Revoice! Magazine was absolutely thrilled to collaborate with Oneworld Publications for a giveaway of the paperback edition of Anna Beers book which is coming out in April 2017.

The hardback edition came out last year and Revoice! editor Anthea Conway-White reviews it here. Congratulations to our three winners, and if you werent lucky enough to win a copy, we hope this review will encourage you to get your own copy!

Did you know that a woman composed music for many of the grand spectacles at the Medici court in the early 1600s, or that she continued to do so while both a wife and a mother?  You may have heard of this woman, Francesca Caccini, but you probably only knew that she was Guilio Caccini’s daughter. 

You may not have even heard of the Viennese classical composer Marianna von Martines.  Although performances of her music mostly occurred in private concerts as her upper-class status demanded, the prestigious Accademia Filarmonica in Bologna unanimously elected Martines as a member.  She was the first woman to be so honoured.

Caccini and Martines are only two of the eight composers whose fascinating but little-known lives Anna Beer’s book describes.  The other six are: Barbara Strozzi, Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Fanny Hensel, Clara Schumann, Lili Boulanger, and Elizabeth Maconchy.  By covering a diverse array of women who lived between the early baroque and the twentieth century in countries from Italy to England, Beer explores how time and place as much as personality shaped what they accomplished.  The connections she points out between female rulers and the employment of female composers is particularly striking.

Carefully researched, this book features a wealth of details.  Sometimes these are amusing, such as the fact that Boulanger, who often cultivated the image of a femme fragile, had a large Pyrenean Mountain Dog rather than a lap dog.  Tragedy infuses other anecdotes, for example, Hensel’s belief that washing her hands in brandy would cure their recurring numbness.  Still other small details focus on parts of everyday life that are often neglected, for instance, the process Jacquet de la Guerre went through to make feathers into pens.

This book’s compelling narratives and accessible writing style will draw in all music-loving readers.  A playlist at this book’s end helps to introduce listeners to long-forgotten gems.

ABOUT ANNA BEER

Anna Beer is a cultural historian and the author of biographies of Milton and Lady Bess Raleigh.  She is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Oxford.

 

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