Classical Music by Women — a wonderful world to explore

Something that is glaringly obvious about the history of classical music is the relative absence of women composers. When I was growing up, the only thing I played composed by a woman was the Melodious Double Stops book by Josephine Trott (which I still practice, it’s awesome) and the Concertino for Violin and Piano by Grazyna Bacewicz — which I performed at a recital around age 14 (not my performance below, but a really great one!)

Now that I am older, and teaching violin, I think it is really important that students learn more work by women composers and learn more about history of women violinists (and musicians in general). Fortunately, I am not the only one that feels this way. More and more is being written and researched on this subject. It is really fun to study. I’m currently reading a GREAT book: “Unsung: A History of Women in American Music” by Christine Ammer (Century Edition). What an amazing resource. I have learned so much and it fun to continue research on some of these early women composers and violinists.

Composer Amy Beach is a standout, and she composed a piece, Romance, for one of the first great American women violinists, Maud Powell. Beach’s work is available on IMSLP. Rachel Barton Pine has dedicated an entire album to Powell’s honor, “American Virtuosa: A Tribue to Maude Powell” and explains more in this interview over at The Strad.



You can also hear the recordings of Maud Powell herself (some are available on Spotify). The YouTube channel VictorianVirtuosas has some Maud Powell recordings as well as many others. It is so amazing to me that we are able to hear some of this early work and learn more about these women.

I may be most excited about the discovery of this collection of work — Violin Music by Women: A Graded Anthology (edited by Cora Cooper). Four graded volumes of violin pieces by women composers? Yes please! I plan on ordering these soon and including these works in my teaching repertoire.

maud powell

Maud Powell

Another interesting find was the music of Elise Fellows White. I found her “Etude — Caprice for Violin and Piano”, which was composed in 1922! And is available for free download here. And there is a recording of her playing it available here! 

I’m so excited to learn more, how about you? ! Not many of these works are widely used, so they would be fun to record and put up on YouTube some day 🙂 But most of all, I can’t wait to share the work of women composers with my students and our audiences!