When I was very young, I learned how to read with my head tilted at odd angles, the better to comprehend rows and rows of shelved library books. One that caught my eye Saturday was Women Composers of Classical Music, hanging out in 780.922, and I started running down my own internal list: Hildegard of Bingen, Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, Germaine Tailleferre, Amy (Mrs. H. H. A.) Beach and then I drew a blank.
So I had to pick up the book, by Mary McVicker [Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2011], which has over 300 biographies, sorted by time frame and then by location. Better yet, there’s an LP discography, since many (most?) of these composers are not yet represented on CD. And yes, a few more names I’d known popped up, often of women I’d thought of more as performers than as composers: Wanda Landowska was perhaps the most prominent.
Inevitably, it is mentioned that men had an easier time of gaining acceptance, but as McVicker notes:
“[A]t various times in various countries between 1550 and 1900 good economic times and somewhat better acceptance for their music have coincided, and there have been brief windows of opportunity and sunshine for women composers.”
Whether the window is more open today will likely be judged by the author of a similar collection a hundred years from now.