When Library of Congress music specialist Susan Clermont agreed to participate in a special event featuring works by women composers from the collections of the Library’s Music Division, she volunteered to explore the division’s holdings of women’s music composed before 1800. Within days, she discovered far more treasures than she had ever anticipated. What surprised her most was learning that all of the early manuscripts and imprints she found were specifically selected and purchased for the Music Division’s collections more than 80 years ago. Former Music Division chiefs Oscar Sonneck and, later, Carl Engel, collected the work of women composers long before studies in women’s music were fashionable.
Clermont’s discoveries include two of the earliest works by women to be found in the Music Division’s collections: Barbara Strozzi’s “Diporti di Euterpe Overo—Cantate & Ariette a Voce Sola” (1659) and Isabella Leonarda’s “Motteti a Voce Sola” (1676). They were among nearly 60 items documenting the work of women composers that were showcased in the Whittall Pavilion of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building on March 22, 2006, in celebration of Women’s History Month. The display included first editions, original copyright deposits, music manuscripts, photographs and letters. The display was accompanied by presentations by Library music specialists on women composers such as Marianne Martinez, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Cécile Chaminade, Amy Beach and Louise Talma.
Read more about Clermont’s discoveries in Women of Note: Music Division Celebrates Women Composers in the Library of Congress Information Bulletin. Read more about Amy Beach, and view several of her compositions, in the web presentation American Choral Music, 1870-1923 in the Performing Arts Encyclopedia.