10 quotes from female composers that prove the struggle is real (but these trailblazers are not short of wisdom)

4 September 2019, 18:18 | Updated: 5 September 2019, 10:02

Inspirational quotes from female composers
Inspirational quotes from female composers. Picture: Getty

By Daniel Ross

Here are the inspirational quotes we all deserve – if not just to remind us how *sheroic* these six composers really are...

These strident and trailblazing composers had the inspirational quotes to back up their music.

And because their contemporaries rarely gave them the praise they deserved, it’s time to redress the balance a little with these epic pearls of wisdom.

  1. “It must be a sign of talent that I do not give up, though I can get nobody to take an interest in my efforts” – Fanny Mendelssohn

    Perhaps Fanny Mendelssohn knew herself that she was always going to be overshadowed by her brother, fellow composer Felix.

    As if it wasn’t enough indignity to be ignored in her lifetime, several of her compositions were in fact published under the name of Felix.

    via Giphy
  2. “I feel I must fight for [my music] because I want women to turn their minds to big and difficult jobs, not just to go on hugging the shore, afraid to put out to sea” – Ethel Smyth

    Continually referred to as a ‘lady composer’ in the press during her career, Dame Ethel Smyth was significantly more than that faux-damning description. Her work with the women’s suffrage movement has turned her into something of a latter-day icon, and her skill with pithy and evocative quotes certainly gives a flavour of the formidable presence she was.

    Dame Ethel At Work
    Dame Ethel At Work. Picture: Getty

    She also shared this rather juicy pearl – nay boulder – of wisdom.

    “Because I have conducted my own operas and love sheep-dogs; because I generally dress in tweeds, and sometimes, at winter afternoon concerts, have even conducted in them; because I was a militant suffragette and seized a chance of beating time to The March of the Women from the window of my cell in Holloway Prison with a tooth-brush; because I have written books, spoken speeches, broadcast, and don't always make sure that my hat is on straight; for these and other equally pertinent reasons, in a certain sense I am well known.”


  3. “I once believed that 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 do it. Should I expect to be the one?” – Clara Schumann

    Just another female composer overshadowed by the famous man she happened to share a name with…

    Clara Schumann is among the most famous female classical composers to have lived, but it’s so often in relation to the tempestuous and mysterious love triangle in which she was a participant, also involving Johannes Brahms and her husband Robert.

    We'll leave you with this other nugget from our Schumann: “Is an artist much more than a beggar?”

  4. “There’s nothing in the world more thrilling [than composing], or practically nothing. But you can’t do it unless—at least I can’t; maybe that’s where a woman’s different—I can’t do it unless it’s the first thing I think of every morning when I wake and the last thing I think of every night before I go to sleep” – Rebecca Clarke

    Rebecca Clarke achieved success with her popular Viola Sonata in 1919, but she then hoodwinked her audience by starting to compose under the name of Anthony Trent,

    Once she claimed she received far more attention and praise as Trent than she did for any of her own-name works.

  5. “I reverently consecrate this first work, which I, as a woman, all too ardently send forth into the light, the august name of Your Highness, so that under your oak of gold it may rest secure from the lightning bolds of slander prepared for it” – Barbara Strozzi

    Even as far back as the 17th Century, Barbara Strozzi proved that women had to work twice as hard to get half as far as their male composer counterparts.

    Strozzi’s impassioned music was matched by her statements, and was thought to be perhaps the most prolific composer of secular vocal music of her time.

  6. “I have been a woman for a little over 50 years and I’ve gotten over my initial astonishment” – Nadia Boulanger

    Nadia is the queen of sassy quotes – “Do not take up music unless you would rather die than not do so” is a particular favourite of ours – and she had plenty of life experience to work with.

    Refusing to appear subservient to her male counterparts, her staunch witticisms are as true as they are hilarious.

    Her experience as a teacher of composition gave her a steely knack for analysis, and students to benefit first-hand from her barbed quotes include Philip Glass, Daniel Barenboim and even Burt Bacharach.

    We’ll leave this: “To study music, we must learn the rules. To create music, we must break them.”

    Amen to that.

    There's no take-down like a Nadia Boulanger take-down
    There's no take-down like a Nadia Boulanger take-down. Picture: Getty

Debbie Wiseman’s Sounds and Sweet Airs – celebrating the greatest female composers in history – starts this Saturday 7 September at 9pm.