Piano compositions by women?
February 29, 2016 7:34 AM   Subscribe

I was recently eying my books to try to see what the gender balance is for authors. For fiction I was more or less ok, but one thing I noticed is that my collection of piano music is approximately 100% male. I have some jazz but that's really it. Googling has given me some names to follow up on (Clara Schumann, Nadia/Lili Boulanger) but not a lot, and I was wondering if people here have some particular suggestions for pieces.

I can play most things given enough time, so all difficulty levels, and all eras (as long as it is composed for the piano).

Bonus: Are there any composers who were women who published or distributed their music in a gender-obscured way, a la George Eliot?
posted by advil to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Someone that comes to mind immediately for me is Fanny Mendelssohn, a sister of Felix Mendelssohn. Her piano compositions are of high quality but very different from Clara Schumann despite the fact that they were contemporaries. I believe some of her compositions were also published under Felix's name.

As far as more contemporary repertoire, I'd suggest checking out Canadian composer Alexina Louie. She's sufficiently well-established in Canada that her recordings should be available internationally. Most of her scores can be ordered from the Canadian Music Centre.
posted by bkpiano at 7:47 AM on February 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

I rather like Lera Auerbach’s Op. 41 Preludes.
posted by misteraitch at 7:56 AM on February 29, 2016

Also check out Violet Archer! Her Church Scene was in one of my conservatory books years ago, and it's one of my favourite pieces ever. Very easy to play; mostly chords, few melodic lines - the phrasing was the key thing, iirc. Couldn't have been at a level higher than grade 3 or 4. There's a copy of the sheet music at my city's reference library, I bet you could find one in your town.

(Aha, grade 5 or 6, sheet music here)
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:59 AM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Continuing with Canadians, Ann Southam wrote extensively for piano, especially her Glass Houses series. I also like Jean Coulthard, Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Grammate and Violet Archer but I'm not familiar with their piano music.

The music publisher Furore is exclusively for female composers and they've done quite a few publications of piano music so far.
posted by kyla at 8:02 AM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Julia Wolfe, one of the co-founders of Bang on a Can, has written at least one or two piano pieces.
posted by holborne at 8:19 AM on February 29, 2016

Oooh of course: Agathe Backer-Grøndal!
Some music here.

And yes...Fanny Mendelssohn or actually: Fanny Hensel!
If I remember right, her works were indeed sometimes published under Felix's name, or not published at all, because the family didn't find it suited for a woman to do so.

If you're interested in Baroque music as well and not averse to transferring harpsichord music to the piano, look also at Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre.
posted by Namlit at 8:23 AM on February 29, 2016

Lera Auerbach - Preludes, Dreams, other stuff (expensive and takes a long time to order, but worth it)
Amy Beach - Numerous pieces. Scottish Legend is my favorite.
Rachel Eubanks - Five Interludes (published by Vivace Press)
Libby Larsen - Piano Suite (not much solo piano output from her. She is normally a choral composer.)
Judith Lang Zaimont - Wizards: Three Magic Masters

Or, you can pick up Maurice Hinson's Guide to Pianist's Repertoire and look for woman composers that way.
posted by TinWhistle at 8:27 AM on February 29, 2016

Came in to suggest Alexina Louie too!
I remember learning Shooting Stars when I was studying for one of the RCM exams (probably level 7 or 8) and it was a really fun piece.
posted by winterportage at 8:45 AM on February 29, 2016

Germaine Tailleferre, a member of Les Six, wrote a good bit of piano music. It's been too long since I've listened to her music but based on a paper I wrote on her in college and the music I analysed, I remember it being typically Parisian (of the 1920s), very well-crafted, and oddly absent from the standard repertoire. Unfortunately I don't have specific recommendations of her works but now that I'm on the trail I will look closer into her stuff.
posted by bfootdav at 9:10 AM on February 29, 2016

Cécile Chaminade should not be overlooked, even if her "salon" style is less appealing to modern taste.
posted by in278s at 9:26 AM on February 29, 2016

My old school southern church organist piano teacher was very sympathetic to my budding feminism and shared with me an anthology of pieces by women, which sadly I gave back to her and cannot locate online. I definitely played Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann pieces out of it (I still have the 20 year old photocopies of those). I found At the Piano with Women Composers, which looks like what you're looking for, but is missing Schumann so it isn't the one my teacher had. Four Centuries of Women Composers from Mel Bay also looks good, and is available from Google Play, if you want to prop your tablet on the piano. This looks cool for more modern European works: 25 Plus Piano Solo: 27 Works by Contemporary Women Composers

I also found this and this, both of which seem to be more prose descriptions than sheet music collections, but would be great starting points.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:04 AM on February 29, 2016

Yoko Kanno (it's hard to find videos of her performing her works, but there's one here.) And there was actually an Ask about her piano compositions.
posted by wintersweet at 12:02 PM on February 29, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far, this is great and gives me a ton to look for. I've gotten or ordered a bunch of things so far from my institution's library, which has a pretty good selection of scores. I also noticed that my library has a series that converges with many of the suggestions here that should be viewable even if you don't work for them.
posted by advil at 12:52 PM on February 29, 2016

You mentioned jazz, so how about some modern piano jazz - Aziza Mustafa Zadeh! My favorite album is her 1991 debut. The great Nina Simone and Shirley Horn also have some amazing cuts.

On the modern classical-ish piano side, how about Agnes Obel (without and with vocals)?
posted by acridrabbit at 1:00 PM on February 29, 2016

I have a couple of CDs of piano rags composed by women. Much of it was published anonymously or pseudonymously because being a composer was Not Proper for a married woman. The scores must exist somewhere...
posted by clew at 1:08 PM on February 29, 2016

Response by poster: My favorite album

I was kind of unclear about this I realize but this question is about music to play, not to listen to (definitely an interesting question in and of itself but one where I'm in better shape).
posted by advil at 2:22 PM on February 29, 2016

Response by poster: Following up on clew's suggestion I found this rather impressive collection.
posted by advil at 2:24 PM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Many Many Women is an index of over 1000 women currently working in contemporary/post-classic composition, free improvisation and avant jazz, electronic/electroacoustic music, sound art, sound installations, radio art, etc. (May not be useful in directing you to a specific artist but worth sharing)

Rachel Grimes
Sophie Hutchings
posted by abhardcastle at 8:53 PM on February 29, 2016

Suzanne Ciani springs to mind if you like new age ish music. Her music is available in sheet form.
posted by kindall at 9:06 PM on February 29, 2016

Francesca Caccini (1587-1640)

I guess she is too early for piano music, but there may be some adaptations out there. I found some piano accompaniments for operatic arias, but I didn't sort through them all to see if there was straight piano music.

I came across this volume in Google Books:

Women & Music: A History (Second Edition) edit by Karin Pendle, Indiana University Press.

Gotta be some leads in there.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:06 PM on March 1, 2016

Elizabeth Lutyens wrote a few solo piano pieces e.g., her five bagatelles. They're serialist (or at least serialist-ish) if you're into that kind of thing. Dinnae ken where you'd find sheet music for it though, I'm afraid.
posted by Dim Siawns at 3:36 AM on March 3, 2016

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