NFA Convention Anaheim 2010

NFA 2010 poster

The Feminine Flute - Lecture Recital by Christine Hankin

Welcome to this celebration of the feminine side of the flute! My European perspective is by no means comprehensive and is completely personal but it will illustrate the artistry that these women composers have brought to flute music – often against all the odds and in the face of the most incredible prejudice.

Anna Bon di Venezia

Anna Bon di Venezia was Italian and born in 1740. She was lucky, as we know that her parents were both employed at the court of Frederic the Great of Prussia. He was the most powerful man in Europe at the time but he was also a man of culture – he played the flute! This is Quantz’s employer. When she was 16 Anna was appointed as a court musician to Frederic’s brother-in-law, Ferdinand, who also played the flute and it is likely that she composed the 6 Sonatas da Camera Op 1 in 1756 as an application for the job. So far so good, but Frederic didn’t get where he was by playing the flute all day and in that same year of 1756 he plunged Europe into turmoil yet again by starting the Seven Years War. The Bon family had to move on. They ended up at the Esterhazy court dominated by Haydn where Anna was employed as a singer. Whilst there, she married a tenor. This was obviously a bad move as there is absolutely nothing known about her after this!  She was just 22 and slipped into oblivion. This is a great shame because the 18th century is supposed to be a golden age for flute music and who knows how she may have developed.

There was in fact quite a lot of music written by women in the Classical and Romantic periods – it’s just that not much of it survives. A woman’s place was in the home and we were not encouraged to engage in any kind of activities that could be considered unusual.  A lack of a proper musical education was another stumbling block. If they were lucky, girls were born into either a musical family or the aristocracy where they were able to grow up with music around them. If not the chances of succeeding at all were very slim. Even if you came from a privileged background, it wasn’t enough. Not even a big name could protect you. Mr. Mendelssohn wrote this wonderful put-down to his daughter Fanny:

“Perhaps for Felix music will become a profession, while for you it will always remain but an ornament; never can and should it become the foundation of your existence.”
Clara Schumann - virtuoso pianist, composer, teacher and mother of seven - wrote in her diary in 1839:
“I once thought I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose - there has never yet been one able to, and why should I expect to be the one?
It was also the case that the flute wasn’t even taken seriously as a solo instrument by the men so it’s no wonder that repertoire by women from this period is virtually non existent!"

Cecile Chaminade

We tend to think of Cecile Chaminade as a twentieth century composer but she was actually born in 1857. Her early career was afflicted by these same problems but she was one of the lucky ones in that she was born into a privileged musical family. She was a brilliant child pianist and came into contact with influential figures such as Saint Saens at her well-to-do mothers’ musical soirées. These were an important part of the Salon culture of upper class French society in which light music entertained the rich and privileged. Her father was another one who thought women should only be wives and mothers though, and it was only with the support of Saint-Saens that she was able to continue studying the piano – much against her father’s wishes. Women were not able to enter the Conservatoire at this time so she had to study privately.
As flute players we mainly know her for the famous Concertino, but she was nearly 45 when she wrote this piece. Her real claim to fame is that she became incredibly successful as a writer of small lyric piano pieces. Chaminade knew her audience and she spoke directly to women. Most of her pieces were simple and in the Salon style, and were primarily aimed at women who could play them at home without too much practice. She was hugely popular in the USA where Chaminade Societies sprang up to promote her latest pieces.

The Serenade aux Etoiles was written after the Concertino and is dedicated to Hennebains, Taffanel’s successor at the Paris Conservatoire. It is completely typical of her salon style – what she lacked in depth she made up for in elegance and beautiful melody. It is chanson on the outside and starry and sparkly in the middle. What more could you want in a flute piece?

Elizabeth Maconchy

Elizabeth Maconchy spent her formative years in Ireland studied music first in Dublin and then at the Royal College of Music in London. She was very successfully as a student but it was by no means all plain sailing. She was denied the coveted Mendelssohn Scholarship for composition despite the committee being in her favour. The Chairman cast his vote against her, telling her ’you will only get married and never write another note’. It was also difficult to get her works published - Boosey and Hawkes said ‘they would not consider publishing orchestral music by a young lady’! It is quite clear that attitudes towards women in England had not moved on at all and that the success of the Suffragette movement in securing the woman’s right to vote did not mean that all doors were automatically flung open. The 2nd World War and its aftermath made an impact on everyone and she struggled. But gradually, as times and attitudes slowly changed, she became one of England’s foremost composers.

I’m not sure that she had a great affinity for the flute. Concertinos exist for the clarinet and bassoon and there are various wind chamber works from which the flute is notably absent. She didn’t get around to writing Colloquy, her only flute and piano piece, until 1979 and then only as a result of a commission by the New Zealand born flute player Ingrid Culliford. Stylistically, Maconchy was influenced by Bartok and Janacek, and she constantly pushed the boundaries of tonality in all her music. Colloquy is a therefore a challenging piece but well worth the effort!

Claude Arrieu

Times were changing – even in Paris. The Conservatoire had decided to admit women by the time Claude Arrieu wanted to study there in the 1920’s and when she won the first prize for composition in 1932 she was allowed to keep it!

She was keen on the neo-classicism of the time and was influenced by Stravinsky amongst others. She also had a natural feel for melody.  In 1935 she took a job at French Radio where she remained for over 15 years. This sets her apart from the other composers featured today – her composing was underpinned by a regular salary! It enabled her to write prolifically - her music includes 10 operas, several stage works, film scores, numerous wind chamber pieces as well as music for radio. She even has a French government composition prize in her name – not bad for a woman!

Whilst she was at French Radio she was assigned to the music concrete project and she experimented with electronic sound effects most of the time. So it’s quite interesting that she wrote this lovely Sonatina for Jean-Pierre Rampal when she was right in the middle of it. Also, it’s dated 1943 when Paris was occupied by the German forces. You would never know it - it sounds as if it could have easily have been commissioned by Taffanel!

Cecilia McDowell

Cecilia McDowall is well-known to audiences in the US – last year the wonderful Phoenix Chorale won a Grammy for their recording of her piece Spotless Rose. This isn’t bad for someone who has only been composing seriously since 1998.

She was born in London into a musical family. Although she isn’t a flute player her father, Harold Clarke, was. He was principal flute at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and Professor at Trinity College, and so from an early age she was surrounded by music.  She started to compose as a child but only went back to university to formally study composition when her children were older.

She has been very successful – not at any time in the last 12 years has she been without a commission – and she has inevitably written a great deal of flute music. Her styles here range from 6 Pastiches, which are wonderful educational pieces, to the very challenging and difficult Moon Dances.

She has resisted all attempts to persuade her to join any organisation that promotes women composers feeling that this is completely irrelevant in today’s world.

Eleven was written in 2001:
"I visited Hungary in the mid nineties and gathered much middle European folksong material as Bartok had done. I found one particularly heart rending song called the Three Orphans which I have alluded to in this work. Eleven was written at the time of the troubles in Kosovo and I became obsessed with what happens to a culture when it is dispersed due to war. Eleven means alive in Hungarian and I dedicated it to ‘all those in danger of losing their cultural identity, in the hope that they can keep their voice ‘alive’."

Solfa Carlile

Solfa Carlile is 25 and Irish. She represents the new generation of composers at work in London today. She was born and raised in Cork in S. Ireland and trained in traditional Irish as well as classical music. She is also a flute player, which is how I met her, She is another lady with a facility for melodic writing - her motivation is hearing her ideas ‘come to life’ in performance”

I asked her if she found there was any prejudice against her as a female composer expecting her to say that there wasn’t any. This is after all cosmopolitan London in 2010!

" I’ve encountered some prejudice against female composers.There sometimes seems to be an assumption that ‘typical’ female composers write romantic, programmatic music, as opposed to intelligent, abstract music. This is an ignorant viewpoint because not only can programmatic music be intelligent and well structured, but also male and female composers are equally versatile. It seems excusable that male composers can write in any style, whereas it is considered ‘female’ to write a certain way. I have never heard someone say of a male composer “He writes like a girl!” "

The piece she wrote for us today is called Dystopia, which actually means the opposite of Utopia.

"The inspiration for the piece comes from the idea of a society, which juxtaposes the beautiful with the grotesque. It explores tension between fluid, improvised-sounding passages and a clear, lyrical melody line. The beauty is hidden in the depths and eventually comes to light, but is oppressed by the overpowering darkness."

Amanda Fox

There are really only 2 things you need to know about Amanda Fox. Firstly, she has never had a composition lesson in her life, and secondly she is completely mad. She learned the piano at school and went on to study the flute with Susan Milan. Sadly, her career has been blighted by ME (chromic fatigue syndrome) and she now lives at home with her mother. She did have enough energy to set up her own company - aptly named Foxy Sounds – and she does manage a little bit of teaching, but mainly she is a writer of pop songs and flute music. She is also a great jazz pianist.

She writes easy listening music. She has an undoubted talent for melody and all her flute music has gorgeous tunes. I asked her to write Levitation at a time when she was quite ill and it represented a huge challenge for her:
"I do feel that Levitation is very much about me and my fight to get well, but I have still maintained my Foxy Jazz/French style throughout the piece. I think perhaps that there are moments of Gaubert, as the various sections frequently change key and link together quite subtly. Also I’m hearing fragments of Poulenc but most of all I always compose from the heart and want to move people with strong melodies, romantic and sometimes Jazz/Funky rhythms and harmonies. I want the player and the listener to Levitate!"

List of composers and the works performed

Anna Bon de Venezia 1740 - ?

Allegro from Sonate da Camera Op 1 No 2 in C major.
6 Sonatas da Camera Op 1 Vol 1 published by Furore Edition - FE 4690

Elizabeth Maconchy 1907 – 1994

Colloquy for flute and piano published by Chester Music - CH 55229

Cecile Chaminade 1857 - 1944

Serenade aux Etoiles Op 142 published by Enoch – E&C. 7352

Claude Arrieu 1903 – 1990

Sonatina for flute and piano published by Amphion - A126

Cecilia McDowall 1951 –

Eleven for flute and piano published by Hunt Edition - HE57
Other recommended music:
6 Pastiches published by Pan Educational Music
Moon Dances published by Hunt Edition

Solfa Carlile 1985 –

Dystopia – as yet unpublished.

Amanda Jane Fox

Levitation for flute and piano to be published Autumn 2010 by Foxy Sounds
Other recommended music:
Infinity published by Foxy Sounds
In the Clouds published by Foxy Sounds

The Feminine Flute – Music for Flute and Piano - CD

Link to Feminine Flute cd booklet

Christine Hankin and Timothy Murray
Available from:
Carolyn Nussbaum Music Co
Just Flutes