Portrait of Fanny Mendelssohn by Wilhelm Hensel, 1829
Throughout the history of Western music, men have claimed most of the spotlight and accolades as performers, composers, teachers, impresarios, patrons, and instrument makers. Less attention has been paid to the scores of brilliant creative women who played these roles—along with many others—and who were relegated to the less brightly lit corners of the musical word.
Popular speaker and concert pianist Rachel Franklin places them center stage as she examines their talent, grit, intellect, and drive, without which many of the most celebrated musical figures might have been significantly less successful, and our musical repertoire far less rich. She brings these women and their often-untold stories to life, showcasing them with live piano performances and historical and contemporary media clips.
British-born Franklin has been a featured speaker for organizations including the Library of Congress and NPR, exploring intersections among classical and jazz music, film scores, and the fine arts.
June 15 Great Composers
Twelfth-century abbess Hildegard of Bingen produced some 70 musical compositions while founding two monasteries and writing countless scientific and theological works. Fanny Mendelssohn’s lovely compositions were published under her brother Felix’s name to avoid social scandal. Clara Schumann combined maintaining an international performing and composing career with raising seven children and caring for her composer husband Robert, who battled with depression. Franklin explores the great talents of these women, as well as works by composers including Amy Beach, Barbara Strozzi, Margaret Bonds, and Louise Farrenc.
June 22 Entrepreneurs, Gurus, Muses, Nurturers
When she wasn’t busy building superb instruments for her friend Beethoven, piano maker Nannette Streicher helped him run his hopelessly disorganized household while barely keeping up with her own. George Sand juggled her successful writing career with supporting the endlessly complex needs of her lover Chopin and raising her two children. Cosima Wagner and Alma Mahler both defied social mores and scandalized their contemporaries with their affairs and marriages to powerful older composers, becoming their muses and managers. The brilliant Boulanger sisters, composer Lili and teacher Nadia, influenced the path of modern composition, with composers from across the Western world beating a path to Nadia’s door for her uniquely insightful guidance.
June 29 Superb Salonnières
Mendelssohn’s great aunt Sara Levy ran her weekly salon in Berlin to perform the works of J. S. Bach publicly, commissioned new ones from his sons, and built an incalculably valuable library of Bach family manuscripts. The Italian-born Princess Cristina Beljiojoso used her glamorous Parisian salon to raise money for her country’s political exiles by dreaming up extravagant musical events for adoring pianist friends, who included Liszt and Chopin. The powerful connections, commissions, and sponsorships of avantgarde American heiress Winnaretta Singer, aka Princesse Edmond de Polignac, aided in the creation of major works by Fauré, Stravinsky, Poulenc, and others. Franklin drops by the grand houses where great intellects and artists rubbed shoulders—and glorious music was heard.
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