Debbie Wiseman presents Classic FM’s brand new series, celebrating the music - and the lives - of some of the world's greatest female composers.
Sounds and Sweet Airs is presented by Classic FM’s Composer in Residence, Debbie Wiseman, and inspired by the book of the same name by the author and academic Anna Beer. Debbie reveals a treasure trove of music, lost for too long, by a variety of women who dared to compose in what was – and still is, in many ways – very much a man’s world.
Each woman featured in the series evaded, confronted or simply ignored the beliefs and practices that sought to exclude them from the world of composition. They made their choice, and took their chance, whether in the private, female sphere, or – more rarely – in the public, male-dominated world. Some did so despite subscribing to their society’s beliefs as to what they were capable of as a woman, how they should live as a woman and, crucially, whether they could (or could not) compose as a woman.
In this, the first episode, Debbie features the music of Fanny Mendelssohn (Felix’s just-as-brilliant big sister), Clara Schumann (far more than just Robert’s wife) and Louise Farrenc: a major figure in mid-19th-century France, but only now being rediscovered. Debbie reveals the fascinating double life of the extraordinarily talented composer Lili Boulanger, who died a hundred years ago this year at the age of just 24.
Debbie Wiseman continues Classic FM’s new series, celebrating the unsung female heroes of composition, by asking the question: what does it take to succeed as a composer?
It’s not always about raw talent; often, it’s a matter of being in the right place, at the right time. As Debbie will explain, this is even more the case for the women who were determined to write music – against all odds.
Tonight, we discover the very special communities – from Venice to Versailles – which made it just that little bit easier for a woman to be a composer. Musical highlights range from a Byzantine hymn written over a thousand years ago, through symphonies, sonatas and songs, to the present-day, as Debbie herself explains the craft of composition by playing some of her own music.
Tonight’s programme is all about divas and virtuosos: those exceptional performers who used their musical talents to become something much rarer; a composer. Beginning with Cecile Chaminade – a brilliant pianist, renowned for her outstanding technique – Debbie goes on to profile Francesca Caccini, who held the job title of ‘la musica’ (literally, “the music”) at the Medici court in Florence in the 17th century. Perhaps astonishingly, Caccini was the highest paid composer of her day; no mean feat for a woman.
Further musical highlights tonight include the British 20th century composer Rebecca Clarke, the acclaimed Clara Schumann (to whom there is so much more than simply being the wife of the more famous Robert), and the story of a prodigiously talented little girl who, at the age of just four, was already composing very impressive waltzes.
Tonight, Debbie raises a glass to those who have supported the cause of women composers: the mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, teachers and friends, and even a king and an empress, all making it just that little bit easier for a woman not only to get her music written, but to get it out into the world.
We’ll uncover the story of the mutually supportive friendship between Grace Williams and Elizabeth Maconchy; hear how Wilhelm Hensel provided crucial behind-the-scenes support to his wife, Fanny Mendelssohn; and discover why Debbie herself is indebted to the Wolf Hall director, Peter Kosminsky, who she credits as being central to the success of her score for the TV series.