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Remembering the Ladies!

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Abigail Adams, in a letter dated March 31st, 1776 to her husband John Adams, advised him to “remember the ladies” in the creation of the new government, independent from Great Britain. This post will be published after March 31st and while Women’s History Month is past, I beg your patience as I also ask you to remember the ladies; women composers and artists available from the NLS Music Section.

Talent does not discriminate–both genders prove that. In the past, a show of talent was considered an advantage in upper class social circles. But, as a lady, you wouldn’t want to show off too much or call attention to yourself.  That’s why I enjoy the idea of this post; these ladies did not attempt to hide their talents or love of music.

Anna Magdelena Bach, second wife of J. S. Bach, no doubt had her hands full, with many children and the running of a household of the Kapellmeister.  But, she must have had a musical gift to attract his attention as a singer, worthy of having a set of clavier pieces dedicated to her, Notenbuch der Anna Magdalena Bach.  We have this in the large print music collection at LPM 00045 and braille music collection at BRM 23830.

Anna Magdelena title page
Title page of “Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach”

Always a figure of interest to me, Clara Schumann developed her musicianship under the tutelage of her father, and then fell in love (as romantic period artists do, of course) with Robert Schumann. Her father refused to allow them to marry. But Schumann sued, and won, followed by the couple uniting in matrimony. However, this relationship did not have a totally happy ending: Robert was institutionalized for the last two years of his life, suffering from mental health issues.

Robert and Clara promoted young composers like Brahms. Robert, in addition to composing, was also a music critic.  He had high regard for her talent and voiced regret that her status as a mother and wife would not allow time for her to evolve as a composer.

Clara Schumann Deutsche mark
Deutsche Mark with image of Clara Schumann.

Brahms respected Clara’s opinion, and submitted piano compositions to her for critique.  As a pioneering female musician, she was the first artist to perform music from memory.  And while she faced many trials, she was committed to her family as a mother, ran the household, continued to concertize, and won respect from her male peers. NLS Music Section has audio titles about the Schumanns at DBM 02423, DBM 03456, and a beloved work by Robert Schumann, Album for the Young, op. 68, edited by Clara, in large print at LPM 00049 and in braille at BRM 08147.

Fanny Mendelssohn, born into fortunate circumstances, had parents who supported her as a pianist and composer, even though she had tough competition while living in the shadow of her brother, Felix. She was not able to travel around the continent as he did, but carried on with her composition and succeeded in having her work published. Songs for Pianoforte is available from the Music Section in large print at LPM 00722.

Nadia Boulanger
Photo of Nadia Boulanger, Library of Congress photo collection.

Nadia Boulanger and her sister gifted the musical world with their talents for teaching and composition. Nadia was a major influence on young American composers like Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber. She taught at the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau, a finishing school of sorts for American composers and founded by conductor Walter Damrosch. NLS Music Section has an audio book with Madame Boulanger speaking about her philosophy at DBM 00296 and DBM 00173. Unfortunately her sister Lili died at an early age, but the Music Section is able to offer her lovely violin pieces, Cortège, BRM 04504, Nocturne, BRM 04315, and Psalm 129, BRM 09291.

Young female American composers in the 20th century are noted as well. Amy Beach (Mrs. H.H.A. Beach), earned considerable fame in her lifetime as a composer and performer of her own compositions. She composed widely: choral works, songs, chamber music and opera. Known primarily for her songs, the best known of these is Three Browning Songs, op. 44.  NLS Music Section has a piano work in braille, Piano Sketches, op. 15, at BRM 35285 and Children’s Album at BRM 34647. Both of these titles are available for download from BARD.

There are women represented in the popular field as well in the NLS Music Section.  Bernice Reagon and Jean Ritchie perform and talk about folk songs with Pete Seeger on DBM 00271. Jazz great Marian McPartland shares many conversations with invited jazz greats as part of her Piano Jazz program.  Guests include Mulgrew Miller (DBM 01243), Herbie Hancock (DBM 01229), and Gerry Mulligan (DBM 01248), to name a few.

Perhaps the last frontier of music, in the classical world at least, is the post of conductor at major orchestras.  This has changed recently with conductors like Marin Alsop at Baltimore, and some years ago with Sarah Caldwell and the Boston Opera.

Keep in mind what Abigail (Mrs. John) Adams reminded her husband: “Remember the Ladies” when you think of musical accomplishments in the past and present.

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