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Clara Schumann
Clara Schumann, wife of Robert Schumann, began life as Clara Wieck, the daughter of a prominent piano teacher called Friedrich Wieck. As a musician, she was very much a figure in her own right, particularly as a pianist. In fact, it was a piano performance of hers that stole the limelight at the premiere of her husband's Symphony No 4. The pair met because Robert Schumann, nine years her senior, was also a pupil of her father, but Friedrich vehemently opposed the marriage. After her fathers death Clara ceased composing and devoted herself to teaching and performing. She was considered her husband's finest interpreter on the concert platform for a while. She was also an important friend to Johannes Brahms; she premiered works of his such as the Variations on a Theme by Handel, and was frequently the person he would approach for a first opinion on his compositions. Her Piano Trio in G minor is the only chamber work she produced, written during the summer of 1846. She'd recently been studying the music of Johann Sebastian Bach with her husband, and you can very much hear that in the way in which she frequently has the instruments playing their own melodically independent lines, all woven in together. She also breaks with tradition, because her second movement – usually where the slow movement sits – is a lighthearted scherzo. All in all, it's a trio that has had musicologists wondering what else she might have produced had she continued as a composer.
Barbara Strozzi
Barbara Strozzi lived in Venice between 1619 and 1677. She was a composer of vocal music, and was a virtuoso singer herself. She was also a very prominent figure in the musical life of Venice, and this was thanks in no small part to her family connections, because she was the adopted daughter (possibly the illegitimate daughter), of the poet Giulio Strozzi. So not only did art run in her family, but she had the right contacts. For instance her father secured as her composition teacher one of Venice's most prominent seventeenth century musicians and composers, Francesco Cavalli. It would appear that she took after her father in more ways than one, though, because rumours abounded that she combined her musical activities with a sideline as a courtesan, and certainly the portrait believed to be of her, painted by one Bernardo Strozzi, certainly hints in that direction; it's called Female Musician with Viola da Gamba, and the eye is drawn less to the viola da gamba and more to her semi-nude state! Her serenata Hor che Apollo (that's a longer vocal piece made up of different sections which change according to the dramatic demands of the poetry), was composed in 1644. Strozzi wrote her music first and foremost for herself to perform to private audiences, and this work shows just what a competent singer she must have been. Also how daring she was as a composer, because this is not safe, tame music; the vocal melody leaps around, and it's not hummable as such. It's all about dramatic effect. It's also very beautiful.
Louise Farrenc
Louise Farrenc was a French composer who lived between 1804 and 1875. She was admired by Robert Schumann and Hector Berlioz, and a much respected teacher to the extent that she was the only female throughout the whole of the nineteenth century to hold a professorship at the Paris Conservatoire, which she did for 37 years. She composed her Symphony No 3 in 1847 – the year Mendelssohn died - and the fact that it was her third is remarkable not just for that fact that she was a woman, but because symphonic music just wasn't in vogue in mid nineteenth century Paris. Instead it was operatic music that reigned supreme, and so besides the fact that symphonies just weren't the savvy route to fame for an ambitious composer, there was also the problem that without public appetite for symphonic music, there were relatively few symphony orchestras even available to composers. Still, thank goodness Farrenc forged on with this medium anyway, because she was an expert symphonic writer.
Kaija Saariaho
Kaija Saariaho is a Finnish composer but she's been based in Paris since 1982. She is a prominent member of a group of Finnish composers and performers who are now, in mid-career, making a worldwide impact. At IRCAM in Paris, Saariaho developed techniques of computer-assisted composition and acquired fluency in working on tape and with live electronics. In the profusion of large and small works which Saariaho has produced in recent years, two features which have marked her whole career continue to stand out. One is a close and productive association with individual artists. The other is a concern, shown equally in her choice of subject matter and texts and in the profusion of expression marks in her scores, to make her music not a working-out of abstract processes but an urgent communication from composer to listener of ideas, images and emotions.
Maria Hester Park
Maria Hester Mark was an English pianist, singer, composer and teacher who lived between 1760 and 1813. She was one of the most prolific of eighteenth century women composers, with thirteen sets of opus numbered music to her name. As a teacher, she was in demand in the highest circles; members of the nobility she taught included the Duchess of Devonshire and her daughters. Her early career included a good deal of public performance. This appears to have stopped after she married, but some of the dedications on her works would indicate that she kept up with her former colleagues. When Haydn visited London she struck up what appears to have been a fond friendship with him, and musicologists suspect that she was “the lady in England” to whom Haydn dedicated his “English” D major Sonata of 1794.
Nadia Boulanger
Nadia Boulanger is better known as a teacher than she is a composer, but she wasn't any old teacher. She was in fact one of the most revered and influential compositional teachers of the entire twentieth century, and someone who would encourage revolutionary new musical directions out of her pupils. She was also a composer and pedagogue who lived through an extraordinary period of change and development in musical history; she was born in 1887, the year Brahms composed his Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, but by the time she died in 1979, Schoenberg's first ripping up of conventional tonality with his twelve tone system was old hat, and we were well into modernist, minimalist and experimental music, not to mention an era that was exploring the musical possibilities of electronics. We can also almost still touch her, because whilst the students who came to her in Paris included the major American composers Aaron Copland and Elliott Carter, other prominent pupils of hers are still very much with us, such as the American minimalist composer Philip Glass, and the conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim.
Unsuk Chin
Unsuk Chin was born in Seoul, studied with Ligeti in Hamburg and is now based in Berlin, where she was composer-in-residence for the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. For more than two decades Unsuk Chin has been a familiar figure on the contemporary musical scene in France, the UK, the USA, her native Korea and her adoptive city of Berlin. And yet the impact of her music goes far beyond these cultural confines: her works regularly feature in the programmes of international orchestras; they reveal an extraordinary sense of sonority with a sure grasp of developing structures and dramatic energies; and they meet with an enthusiastic response from people who are otherwise sceptical about the world of classical music.
Jennifer Higdon
Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Higdon is one of America’s most acclaimed and most frequently performed living composers. Higdon started late in music, teaching herself to play flute at the age of 15 and beginning formal musical studies at 18, with an even later start in composition at the age of 21. Despite this late beginning, she has become a major figure in contemporary Classical music and makes her living from commissions. Hailed by the Washington Post as "a savvy, sensitive composer with a keen ear, an innate sense of form and a generous dash of pure esprit," her works have been performed throughout the world, and are enjoyed by audiences at several hundred performances a year and on over sixty CDs.
Alissa Firsova
Alissa Firsova is a Russian-British composer, pianist and conductor. Born in Moscow to the composers Elena Firsova and Dmitri Smirnov, she moved to the UK in 1991. Her music is a gorgeous blend of tradition and modernity; of Russian orthodox influences spiced up with twenty first century harmonic surprises. In 2001 she won the BBC/Guardian/Proms Young Composer Competition with her piano piece “Les Pavots”.
Anna Clyne
The British, New York-based composer Anna Clyne was composer in residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She is a Grammy-nominated composer of acoustic and electro-acoustic music. Described as a "composer of uncommon gifts and unusual methods" in a New York Times profile and as "dazzlingly inventive" by Time Out New York, Clyne’s work often includes collaborations with cutting-edge choreographers, visual artists, filmmakers, and musicians worldwide.

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