19 Sep 2018

Five feminist moments in music

From Upbeat, 11:43 am on 19 September 2018
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Some of them threw rocks at glass ceilings, some of them were visionaries...

Here are just a few of music's feminist moments:

Composer (and suffragette) Ethel Smyth goes to prison

In 1912, Ethel Smyth was imprisoned after hurling a rock through the window of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lewis Harcourt, who had made a condescending remark about women.

Conductor Thomas Beecham went to visit her in Holloway Prison and found the inmates marching and singing while Ethel "beat time in almost Bacchic frenzy with a toothbrush".

Composer Hildegard of Bingen is canonised

Despite being dead for nine centuries, Hildegard of Bingen - a mystic, scholar, philosopher and the first identifiable composer of Western music - is now enjoying a career resurgence.

In 2012, Hildegard was canonised and she's now hailed as a pioneering feminist and environmentalist.

Composer Lili Boulanger wins the Prix de Rome

French composer Lili Boulanger, sister of pedagogue, conductor and composer Nadia Boulanger, was the first female winner of the prestigious Prix de Rome composition prize.

The Prix de Rome was established in 1663, but was only open to women in 1903. Nadia’s efforts to win the prize had come to nothing, but Lili won on her second attempt in 1913 with Faust et Hélène.

Composer Jenny McLeod releases Earth and Sky

Jenny McLeod studied with Stockhausen and Messiaen in the 1960s and became Victoria University’s youngest-ever Professor of Music aged just 29.

Her 1969 composition Earth and Sky – a huge musical re-telling of the story of Rangi and Papa – proved McLeod was truly far ahead of her time.

It involved 300 performers, mostly children: individual dancers, taped narration, three large choirs, two small choirs and forty orchestral players.

Earth and Sky’s success contributed to New Zealand's burgeoning biculturalism.

Conductor Simone Young conducts the Vienna Philharmonic

In November 2005, Australian conductor Simone Young was the first female conductor to conduct the notoriously conservative Vienna Philharmonic, which had only begun recruiting women players in 2003.

The orchestra had allowed women to audition since 1996, but none had been recruited previously.