I’m delighted to introduce my new three-book piano series: Women Composers – A Graded Anthology For Piano (Schott Music). This series was published in February/March 2022 and was one of my lockdown projects. Schott and I worked on these publications over a significant period. I’m happy to say that this series won a Presto Music Award for best New Series Of The Year in December 2022.
Over the centuries, women have certainly lacked a prominent voice, be it in opera, on the concert stage, or as writers and composers. However, there is now a distinct movement, not just towards the female composer, but seemingly to readdress the significant gender imbalance throughout the arts – and not just in the arts.
In light of this long overdue shift, it seems appropriate to highlight the numerous female composers who have written for the piano, particularly those who have contributed to the educational piano music repertoire. This list is extensive, beginning nearly four hundred years ago when women were writing with just as much vigour, innovation, and dedication as they are today.
Since female composers’ music has not been as visible as their male counterparts, it’s, therefore, more challenging to locate. For those who would like to do their research, the New Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians is a good place to start, and beyond this, it can be helpful to focus on various websites and publishers such as the Hildegard Publishing Company (who publish music written by women), Donne – Women in Music (a website for female composers), and the Archiv Frau und Musik or Archive of Women in Music (based in Frankfurt, Germany), as well as the Petrucci website or the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP).
There are several interesting publications, too, specifically The New Grove Dictionary of Women Composers by Julie Anne Sadie and Rhian Samuel (Macmillan Press: 1994), The Pandora Guide to Women Composers by Sophie Fuller (Rivers Oram Press: 1994), and Sounds and Sweet Airs by Anna Beer (Oneworld Publications: 2016).
Variety and Diversity
This project began in 2019, and my research has led to some splendid discoveries; compiled with variety in mind, there is a large collection of styles and genres from the Seventeenth Century to the present day. With a spotlight on diversity, I hope this selection promotes a disparate group of women composers from around the world.
Women Composers – A Graded Piano Anthology is arranged over three volumes, and contains fifty-two works by fifty-one female composers; I have written two pieces for this collection. Each book consists of a selection of pieces within a graded level. These might be approximately similar to the levels found at the various UK examination boards. The books include the composer’s biographies and practice or performance suggestions (‘Performance Notes’) for every piece. Each score has been annotated with added metronome markings, pedalling, and fingering, as is so often necessary in an educational piano resource.
Book 1 features twenty-one pieces. Arranged over three levels, there are seven pieces within each level; Elementary, Late-Elementary, and Early Intermediate (approximately Grades 1 – 4). Included are works by familiar composers such as Elisabetta de Gambarini, Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre, Anna Bon, Maria Szymanowska, Agathe Backer Grøndahl, Ethyl Smyth, and Mélanie Bonis. These more prominent names sit alongside lesser-known, but equally interesting, composers such as Florence Ada Goodrich, Narcisa Freixas, Felicitas Kukuck, Marjory Kennedy-Fraser, Hedwige Chrétien, and Ivana Loudová.
One element which I feel is important in any anthology is contemporary music. With this in mind, there are compositions by a total of twelve living contemporary composers over the three volumes. In Book 1, British composer Rachael Forsyth has written a delightful swing number, Soggy Shoes Blues. Australian composer Wendy Hiscocks has penned an energetic jig, Fig and Fennel, and British composer Samantha Ward has written a lively, fun blues work, Rockin’ Fingers. These pieces, alongside my piece, Mirage, were all written for this series.
You can hear all twenty-one pieces by clicking on the playlist below, where they appear in the same order as in the book.
Book 2 is arranged over three levels; Intermediate, Late-Intermediate, and Early Advanced, similar to Grades 4 – 7. The intermediate level contains seven pieces, and Late-Intermediate and Early Advanced levels feature six works. There are Baroque numbers by Elizabeth Turner and Maria Teresa Agnesi, Classical-style works by Hélène de Montgeroult, Helene Liebmann, Maria Hester Park, and Cecilia Maria Barthélemon, and Romantic pieces by Louise Farrenc, Luise Adolpha Le Beau, Mon Schjelderup, Maria Görres, and Theodora Dutton. Contemporary composers include a beautiful jazz-inspired Minimalist piece by German composer Julia Hülsmann. British composer Jenni Pinnock and Malaysian composer Jessica Cho have both written their pieces, especially for this volume.
Enjoy the complete playlist, here:
Book 3 is arranged over two levels; Advanced and Late-Advanced (Grade 7 – diploma). There are twelve pieces in this volume, spotlighting works by Marianna von Martinez, Amy Beach, Lili Boulanger, Fanny Hensel, Clara Schumann, Teresa Carreño, Chiquinha Gonzaga, Lady Viola Kinney, and Vítězslava Kaprálová. Contemporary music composers include Russian composer Tatjana Komarova, Japanese composer Mai Fukasawa, and Israeli composer Chaya Czernowin.
Hear the complete playlist below:
I hope these volumes inspire pianists, and the suggested practice notes and composer’s biographies are a useful addition during learning stages.
Find out more and purchase the books, here:
Book 1: https://en.schott-music.com/shop/women-composers-no443433.html
Book 2: https://en.schott-music.com/shop/women-composers-no443434.html
Book 3: https://en.schott-music.com/shop/women-composers-no446794.html
All three volumes are also available on Musicroom, Presto Music, Amazon, and from many other online shops.
‘An extremely useful and stimulating collection.’
International Piano Magazine (September 2022)
‘These three volumes are an eye-opener into the extensive range of female composers from all over the world. Informative biographical notes as well as performance tips complete the books that cover four centuries of refreshing and exciting music. Melanie Spanswick must be congratulated on her extensive research in uncovering exciting music to enthral pianists and teachers.’
Piano Professional Magazine (September 2022)
‘This collection has been thoughtfully researched and throughout its entirety features composers from over 20 countries. The interior layout of the books is flawless. With this compilation, it’s clear that Spanswick has done plenty of research, meaning that students and their teachers will find a wealth of information on every piece.’
Music Teacher Magazine (July 2022)
‘Melanie Spanswick’s anthology is, in addition to being representative, also very inspiring. She offers sufficient choice of attractive, good, simple and technically challenging compositions in all styles and genres. Since these three volumes are mainly for piano teachers and their piano students, Spanswick provides fingerings, pedal suggestions and very useful advice for studying and performing. The biographies of the female composers allow you to get acquainted with this new repertoire completely.’
Piano Bulletin (June 2022)
‘These are well-presented books that succeed in offering some belated recognition to neglected composers and their music.’
Pianist Magazine (May 2022)
‘Melanie Spanswick’s Women Composers: A Graded Anthology series certainly delivers a rich feast of music which rightly belongs at the heart of any player’s repertoire. She has done us all an immense favour by researching, compiling and presenting these fabulous collections.
Melanie Spanswick’s Women Composers: A Graded Anthology is utterly superb, and will surely be of significant interest to pianists everywhere.’
PianoDao Blog (March 2022)
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.
For more information, please visit the publications page, here.
2 Comments Add yours
More and more, Melanie, I realize what an enormous achievement this is. Both as a scholar/researcher, and as a musician, you have done something remarkable. You have brought this music back from the silence, often across the centuries, and placed a bright spotlight on the best women’s music, making it truly accessible to modern pianists at all levels. Through your biographical capsules and your Performance Notes, you have enabled us to meet the composers, and you sit beside us as we learn, helping us to bring the music alive. Now, it can live and be heard once again. Today’s musicians thank you, and so do those who came before. In the infinite reaches of the universe, the music never dies.
On Sun, Feb 13, 2022 at 3:41 AM Melanie Spanswick wrote:
> The Classical Piano and Music Education Blog posted: ” I’m delighted to > introduce my new three-book piano series: Women Composers – A Graded > Anthology For Piano (published by Schott Music). I’ve been working on this > for the past three years, and the intention was to publish it much earlier > last year, but, of” >
Thank you so much for your lovely comments. I really hope you enjoy the series. It has been a pleasure to discover so much wonderful music composed by women. 🙂