How many female composers do you know? Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn… and then? We have to jump more than a hundred years to finally come across Bacewicz, Gubaidulina and Ustvolskaya. And because it has recently become quite a hip subject, Hanriette Bosmans has also been rediscovered.
The Hague String Trio, an ensemble that had previously more than pleasantly surprised me with a plea for (mostly forgotten) works by ‘Entartete componisten’, has now recorded a CD that puts female composers at the center. Kudos to them! On their CD, titled Celebrating Women, they have recorded previously unrecorded string trios by female composers from the second half of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century. All four composers are as different as can be. Not only do they come from four different countries (and three continents), but their cultural and social backgrounds could not be more diverse.
‘Not recorded before’ is a euphemism because actually none of the composers recorded are (well) known.
The only exception (I hope?) is Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944), whose name we still come across here and there. But the remaining three? Miriam Hyde? Emmy Frensel Wegener? Irene Britton Smith? Who were they?
Bertha Frensel Wegener-Koopman (1874 – 1953) was born in Bloemendaal. She studied piano and composition at the Amsterdam Conservatory. She often performed, as a pianist, until her marriage with John Frensel Wegener. But she continued to compose. Songs in particular, which were performed by Julia Culp and Jo Vincent, among others. Her Suite for violin, alto and cello from 1925 is wonderfully light-hearted and cheerful. Something that makes you happy. But don’t forget the serious undertone in the Andante. Something that really gives the composition more cachet.
Australian Miriam Hyde (1913 -2005) was not only a composer, but also a pianist, music teacher and poet. She composed more than 150 works for various instruments (mainly piano) and orchestra, 50 songs, and she performed as a concert pianist with the greatest conductors of the time. She also published several books of poetry. Her string trio from 1932 is very melodious and at times very exciting. High-flyer? Not really, but wonderful to listen to.
And then we come to Irene Britton Smith (1907-1999). For me, she is a real discovery. This student of Nadia Boulanger and others was not only a composer, she was also a teacher. Britton Smith came from Chicago and had Afro-American, Crow and Cherokee roots.
About Irene Briton Smith
Miriam Hyde, Emmy Frensel-Wegener, Ethel Smyth and Irene Britton-Smith could not have wished for better ambassadors of their music than The Hague String Trio. I so hope that this CD will be emulated and that female composers will be performed and recorded more often. Many of their compositions are real gems that do not deserve to be forgotten.