HomeEducationWomen Composers – A Graded Anthology For Piano

Women Composers – A Graded Anthology For Piano

Over the centuries, women have certainly lacked a prominent voice, be it in opera, on the concert stage, or as writers and composers. However, there is a now a distinct movement, not just towards the female composer, but seemingly to readdress the significant gender in-balance throughout the arts. In light of this long overdue shift, it seems appropriate to highlight the many female composers who have written for the piano, and particularly those who have contributed to the educational piano music repertoire. This list is extensive, beginning nearly four hundred years ago, when women were writing with just as much vigour, innovation, and dedication as they are today.
Due to the fact that female composers’ music has not been as visible as their male counterparts, it’s therefore more challenging to locate. I started the project in 2019, and my research has led to some wonderful discoveries; this series has been compiled with variety in mind, and I’ve consciously included a large collection of styles and genres from the Seventeenth Century to the present day. I’ve also focused on diversity, promoting an interesting group of women composers from all around the world.

Women Composers – A Graded Piano Anthology (published by Schott Music: ED 23422, ED 23423, ED 23475) is arranged over three volumes, and contains works by fifty-one different female composers. Each book consists of a group of works within a suggested graded level. These grades might be approximately similar to the levels found in various examination boards. Every piece includes the composer’s biography as well as practice or performance suggestions (‘Performance Notes’). And each score has been annotated with added metronome markings, pedalling and fingering.
Book 1 features twenty-one pieces. Arranged over three levels, there are seven pieces in each level; Elementary, Late-Elementary and Early Intermediate (approximately Grades 1 – 4). Composers include familiar names such as Elisabetta de Gambarini, Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre, Anna Bon, Maria Szymanowska, Agathe Backer Grøndahl, Ethyl Smyth, and Mélanie Bonis. These sit alongside lesser-known, but equally fascinating composers such as Florence Ada Goodrich, Narcisa Freixas, Felicitas Kukuck, Marjory Kennedy-Fraser, Hedwige Chrétien, and Ivana Loudová.

One element which I feel is very important in any anthology is to feature music by contemporary composers. With this in mind, there are compositions by a total of twelve living contemporary composers spread over the three volumes; styles range from jazz and blues, to minimalist and more adventurous ‘dissonant’ contemporary music. In Book 1, British composer Rachael Forsyth has written a delightful swing number, Soggy Shoes Blues, Australian composer Wendy Hiscocks has penned an energetic jig entitled Fig and Fennel, and British composer Samantha Ward, has written a lively, fun blues work, Rockin Fingers – these pieces, along with my own piece, Mirage, were written especially for this series.
Book 2, also arranged over three levels; Intermediate, Late-Intermediate, and Early Advanced, or Grade 4 – 7.The Intermediate level contains seven pieces, and the Late-Intermediate and Early Advanced both contain six works; nineteen pieces in total. There are Baroque numbers by Elizabeth Turner and Maria Teresa Agnesi, Classical style works by Hélène de Montgeroult, Helene Liebmann, Maria Hester Park, and Cecilia Maria Barthélemon, and Romantic pieces by Louise Farrenc, Luise Adolpha Le Beau, Mon Schjelderup, Maria Görres and Theodora Dutton. Contemporary composers include a beautiful jazz-inspired piece German composer Julia Hülsmann. British composer Jenni Pinnock and Malaysian composer Jessica Cho both wrote their pieces especially for this series.

Book 3 has been arranged over two levels; Advanced and Late-Advanced (Grade 7 – diploma). There are twelve pieces in this volume. Composers include Marianna von Martinez, Amy Beach, Lili Boulanger, Fanny Hensel, Clara Schumann, Teresa Carreño, Chiquinha Gonzaga, Lady Viola Kinney, and Vítězslava Kaprálová. Contemporary music has been written by Russian composer Tatjana Komarova, Japanese composer Mai Fukasawa, and Israeli composer Chaya Czernowin.
I hope these volumes inspire pianists, whether they be young or old, and that women composers will continue to shine, contributing substantially to the ever-expanding range and breadth of piano music.

Melanie Spanswick is a pianist, teacher, writer, and composer. She is author of the three-book best-selling course Play it again: PIANO, intended for adult returners (Schott Music ED 13935, ED 13945, ED 14017), and she has also composed much educational piano music, including No Words Necessary (Schott ED 23075), A String of Pearls (Schott ED 23164) and Simply Driven (Schott ED 23222).
Spanswick is a member of the piano faculty at Junior Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London, a piano tutor at Eton College in Berkshire (UK), and master teacher at the Tom Lee Academy in Hong Kong. Her new three-book series featuring piano music by women composers is published by Schott on February 9th 2022.

Must Read