In honour of International Women’s Day, which we celebrated a couple of weeks ago, I am going to trace the emergence of female pianists and pedagogues throughout the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries up to the present day. I’ve always been fascinated by gender topics such as this, particularly the gradual change from amateur to professional status of piano teachers.
An abundance of female piano teachers existed even in the early Nineteenth century, mainly due to the art of piano playing being seen as a prerequisite for well-educated young ladies during the Nineteenth and early Twentieth century. Many well-bred young women taught the piano before getting married and whilst most were amateur teachers, a trend for piano teaching began amongst women which still continues to this day.
Concert pianists and piano professors at conservatoires or universities have not been so successfully represented. During the Nineteenth century, there were a handful of British female concert pianists; a few taught as well as performed. Increasingly, however, a growing number of women became accomplished concert pianists and held teaching posts at conservatoires; they were able to sustain careers as pianists and pedagogues which would simply not have been possible 100 years earlier.
I will kick-off today with a brief resume of the first important British female pianist and teacher, Lucy Anderson. Anderson (1797-1878) was the most eminent female English pianist of the early Victorian era. Born in Bath, her parents were both musicians; her father John was described as a ‘Professor of Music’ and her sister Fanny was also a piano teacher. Lucy Philpot married violinist George Anderson in 1820.
Lucy Anderson (This portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London)
Lucy studied with William Crotch and first achieved recognition as a pianist in her home town. She quickly gained a reputation and was the first woman pianist to perform for the Royal Philharmonic Society. Anderson was also the first pianist to play Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto (Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major Op. 73) with the Society and then went on to champion all Beethoven’s Concertos, playing them more often that any other English pianist. She became an honorary member of the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1869.
Anderson’s playing has been described as ‘formidable’ and she has the somewhat salacious reputation of being ‘a manipulator of wide patronage’. Her husband was appointed Master of the Queen’s Music in 1848, and having taught the piano to Queen Victoria and her children, Anderson was appointed pianist to both Queen Adelaide and Queen Victoria, proving she moved in illustrious circles. Amongst her many high-bred students was the Victorian pianist, Arabella Goddard, who became the most important British female pianist of the late 19th century. More about Arabella in future blog posts.
So Lucy, it seems, paved the way for British female pianists; she set the standard for which many future generations of women would follow.
Main Source: Wikipedia
Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.
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6 Comments Add yours
I think it’s wonderful you’re focusing on female pianists of the past – it just goes to show that music wasn’t a man’s world at all back then!! Can’t wait to read more!
Thank you so much Chrissa. So glad you like the post. It’s great to be able to highlight female musicians. I am so keen for them to have as many opportunities as their male rivals. Its fascinating to trace their development and popularity too 🙂
Fascinating. I would like to know if there are many other female pianists who have played The Emperor Concerto. It seems a very masculine piece somehow.
Hi Helen, I have often wondered how many women played The Emperor during this period too. Beethoven was definitely viewed as music that was more suitable for the male pianist! So glad you enjoyed the post 🙂
Looking forward to more blog posts! Family lore has it that my grandmother journeyed from Denver to England before WWI to study “to become a concert pianist” – that dream was apparently replaced by marriage to my grandfather, postmaster of the city with greater political ambitions. I would love to know more about the conditions – the teachers available, the prospects for performance, the realities that conditioned and possibly diminished that dream. There is, of course, no one left to ask now that I finally have the wits to ask questions like this.
That’s fascinating Linda. It would be very interesting to know just how difficult it would have been for a woman to become a concert pianist at that time. It is tough today so must have been almost impossible then! So glad that you are enjoying my blog – there will be many more posts looking at various female pianists and teachers.