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Composer Spotlight

In this section we highlight the composers behind our music.

Mrs. H.H.A. Beach (1867-1944) Considered to be one of the first great female composers in the US, Amy Marcy Cheney was born in Henniker, NH. She was a musical prodigy with perfect pitch. She studied piano, and became fluent in German and French. Beach began a concert career as a pianist and received excellent reviews. At age 18, she was a soloist with the Boston Symphony. Despite her success and promising career, she chose to retire from performance when she married Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach in December of 1885, who encouraged her to compose instead of perform.

 

She trained as a composer by studying the masters. She had many successes in large-scale genres, including the Boston Symphony’s performance of her Gaelic Symphony in 1896. After the deaths of her husband and mother, she undertook a concert tour of Germany, where many major European singers performed her songs. When Beach returned to the US, she encouraged many younger female composers. She co-founded the Society of Women Composers, and was also a leader in the Music Teachers National Association and the Music Educators National Conference. Beach was also a member of the New York Composers Forum through the New Deal. She was such a popular composer in her lifetime that Amy Beach Clubs were founded throughout the country.


Although her songs are often considered sentimental, she is known for writing beautiful melodies and challenging piano lines. She wrote songs in English, French, and German. Ich sagte nicht employs two of Beach’s usual devices at the climax of the third verse: tremolos in the piano, and the voice ascending to a long high note. The ending of this song has often been compared to Morgen by Strauss. Wir drei is the story of young spring love. Beach creates a calm, serene setting for Nacht. Juni is one of Beach’s most popular songs, and was performed at a concert for the World’s Fair in New York City in 1939. It shows Beach’s love of imagery from nature, and has often been compared to Ständchen by Strauss.

Various songs

Amy Beach

Rebecca Clarke was an English composer and violist. She studied violin at the Royal Academy of Music 1903-1905 and the Royal College of Music 1907-1910 where she became one of Charles Stanford’s first female composition students. Stanford persuaded her to shift her focus from violin to viola at a time when viola was emerging as a legitimate solo instrument. Carrying the baggage of an unhappy and abusive childhood, she was cut off from her family in 1910 after confronting her father about his extramarital affairs. As a result, she was forced to drop out of RCM.

 

Clarke supported herself as one of the first female professional musicians. In 1912, Sir Henry Wood selected her to play in the Queen’s Hall Orchestra, an ensemble which was formerly male. Residing in London, she performed as a soloist and chamber musician. Clarke suffered from intense self-doubt and bouts of depression which were only reinforced by the constant resistance she received as a female composer.

 

There is an anecdote describing a recital she gave in 1918 with cellist May Mukle in New York City which illustrates the sexism she endured. The program had a mix of works by Rebecca Clarke and “Anthony Trent,” a pseudonym which Clarke chose for herself. After the concert, everyone praised the Trent and ignored the works credited to Clarke. Similarly, in 1919 she entered her violin sonata in the Elizabeth Collidge competition. Her sonata tied first place with Ernest Bloch’s (a sonata that is currently well recognized as standard in the viola repertoire), but Coolidge later declared Bloch the winner. Even in the 20th century, people did not believe a woman was intellectually capable of composing such an outstanding work, in addition to it being socially inconceivable. Clarke entered the Coolidge competition again in 1921 with her piano trio and was not awarded, but in 1923 Coolidge sponsored her rhapsody for cello and piano, making Clarke the only female recipient of Coolidge’s patronage.

 

At the outbreak of World War II, Clarke was in America living with her two brothers. She had returned to composing after a dry period of several years. However, she took a position as a nanny in 1942 and married pianist James Friskin in 1944 which put a halt to her newfound productivity. Clarke herself said she found it nearly impossible to balance composing and a personal life saying, “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.”

 

Only 20 of Clarke’s works were published during her lifetime and most were already out of print by the time she died. Over half of her output remains unpublished, as it is still the property of her estate. In 2000, the Rebecca Clarke Society, Inc. was founded by Liane Curtis and Jessie Ann Owens. Because of their efforts, Clarke’s music has seen a revival in the form of publications, recordings, scholarship, and publications. Over 25 works have been published since the Society was founded.

Three Irish Folk Songs, Three Old English Songs

Rebecca Clarke

Ashi Day is a composer and educator working in Washington, DC, interested in exploring unconventional intersections between music and theater, using the voice as a compositional tool, and creating meaningful works for all ability levels and ages. She also writes a lot of songs about animals.

Ashi creates vocally driven works created as much for the experience of the performers as the listeners. Recently, she has been a festival artist at New Music DC, Opera From Scratch 2018, the 2018 Music by Women Festival, and the 2017 Women Composers Festival of Hartford. She has collaborated to co-create theatrical works for Cultural DC’s Source Festival and the Capital Fringe Festival. Pieces have been commissioned or performed by choirs, churches, and individuals from Florida to Alaska, including Cantate Chamber Singers, Cantilena Women’s Chorale, Connecticut Yankee Chorale, Bucknell University, Mat-Su Community Chorus, and Anthology Quartet. She is also a past winner of the New York Treble Singers Composition Competition. 

Ashi earned a B.M. and M.M. in Composition respectively from Bucknell University and Westminster Choir College.  Composition teachers include William Duckworth, Jackson Hill, Stefan Young, and Joel Phillips. Equally dedicated to education, Ashi was a teacher in public and charter schools for half a decade, gaining licensure in both music and elementary education. She later earned her Ed.M. in Arts in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she was named an Urban Scholars Fellow. She now works in arts education administration, creating opportunities for people of all ages to experience, explore, learn through, and train in music and opera. As a soprano, she is an active choral and church musician, and regularly holds section leader positions for professional octets or quartets in various church choirs.

Thursday

Ashi Day

Margaret Garwood (1927-2015) was an American musician who turned to composition at age 35 seeking emotional fulfillment after the divorce from her first husband. Vocal works were her specialty, both for solo voice and choirs, and she wrote several song cycles and a well-known opera, The Scarlet Letter. Her Six Japanese Songs are a continuous set of haikus for soprano, clarinet, and piano. These short songs use many devices of Eastern music, including the pentatonic scale. 

Six Japanese Songs

Margaret Garwood

Juliana Hall (b. 1958) American art song composer Juliana Hall is a prolific and highly-regarded composer of vocal music. While in Minnesota, Hall received her first commission for a song cycle (Night Dances) for star soprano Dawn Upshaw. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1989, and since then her music has been performed in 29 countries on six continents at venues including Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, the Library of Congress, and many others. Among many organizations programming Hall’s works are Boston Art Song Society, Calliope’s Call, Cincinnati Song Initiative, Contemporary Undercurrent of Song Project, Joy in Singing, Lyric Fest, Oxford Song Network, Song in the City, Sparks & Wiry Cries’ and Zenith Ensemble.


The five songs of Christina's World, on poems by Christina Rossetti, loosely follow a narrative arc beginning with the joyful emotions of true love, and continuing with darker observations about the nature of being alive and questions of life and death. The tension is resolved at the end of the cycle with a positive sense that as one approaches the end of this life, all will be well and a place of welcome and rest will be found. Christina's World was commissioned by soprano Gwen Coleman Detwiler, who premiered the song cycle with pianist Marie-France Lefebvre on a concert of the Cincinnati Song Initiative on April 8, 2017. Christina's World is published by the E. C. Schirmer Music Company. (notes by the composer)

Christina's World

Juliana Hall

Barbara Harbach has a large catalog of works, including symphonies, opera, string orchestra, musicals, works for chamber ensembles, film scores, modern ballets, organ, harpsichord, piano, choral anthems, and many arrangements for brass and organ of various Baroque works. She is also involved in the research, editing, publication and recording of manuscripts of eighteenth-century keyboard composers as well as historical and contemporary women composers. Her work is available in both recorded and published form through MSR Classics, Naxos Records, Gasparo Records, Kingdom Records, Albany Records, Northeastern Records, Hester Park, Robert King Music, Elkan-Vogel, Augsburg Fortress, Agape Music and Vivace Press. Harbach is also the editor of the journal, Women of Note Quarterly.

 

Pioneer Women is a collection of four portraits of American women who helped to settle the wilds of Alaska. Taken from their diaries, letters, monographs, and journals, the texts chronicle their journeys through Alaska, from Skagway, the Southeastern entrance into Alaska, to White Mountain, near Nome, on the western coast of the Bering Sea.

Catherine Van Curler and her husband landed in Skagway August 24, 1898, where they began the difficult journey to Dawson, by land and treacherous water. They took a train over the White Pass to White Horse and arrived in Dawson on September 16th. Her portrait portrays the struggles of traveling across Alaska.

As a young divorcee, Cordelia Nobel came to Nome in the early 1900s to make a life for herself. By 1913 she was living in Seattle; for reasons unknown, she committed suicide in November. While in Nome, she wrote regular letters to her mother telling of her quest for adventure, evening wintering up North for the sake of the experience. She assured her mother that she did not have all sorts of “affairs of the heart.” “There are a great many of the opposite sex (God bless them) that I like very much, but therein lies the great and insuperable trouble-if they could be rolled together and made into one grand Composite Man, then I could fall in love and stay in love for all time, but that is an impossibility and therefore I am heartwhole.” Noble’s portrait is of a self-assured coquette, able to take care of herself and reveling in it.

Margaret Murie was an early environmentalist. She writes: “I think my main thought is this: that perhaps Man is going to be overwhelmed by his own cleverness; and I firmly believe that one of the very few hopes left for Man is the preservation of the wilderness we now have left; and the greatest reservoir of that medicine for mankind lies here in Alaska.” The portrait of Murie captures her anticipation and exhilaration in the rugged environment she explored.

A single woman, Gertrude Fergus Baker spent two years (1926-1928) in Alaska as a nurse. One year was spent at White Mountain, and in 1927 she moved to Tanana. In 1928 she served on a government hospital boat on the Yukon River. She later married and settled in Clallam Bay, WA. As a nurse in Alaska, she traveled by dogsled to the outlying villages to provide health care to the natives. The portrait quotes her poetical words of the magic of nature’s colors and the beauty of its silence.
 

Pioneer Women: From White Mountain to Skagway

Barbara Harbach

Lori Laitman (b. 1955) American composer Lori Laitman has composed multiple operas and choral works, and over 250 songs, with setting texts by classical and contemporary poets (including those who perished in the Holocaust). Her music is widely performed, internationally and throughout the United States, and has generated substantial critical acclaim. Laitman regularly receives commissions from prestigious organizations, such as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Music of Remembrance, Washington Master Chorale, and the Eastman School of Music.

Living in the Body, The Secret Exit

Lori Laitman

Born in Florida, Cherise Leiter received a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Theory and a Master of Music degree in Composition from the University of Florida where she studied with Dr. Budd Udell.  She relocated to Colorado and is currently Professor of music at Metropolitan State College of Denver, where she teaches music theory and composition.


A composer with works for choir, piano, opera, voice, carillon, orchestra and assorted chamber ensembles; her compositions have been performed in the United States, Canada, Scotland, France, Italy, Romania, and Japan.  Her works have been finalists in the Ithaca College 25th Annual Choral Composition Contest, the Outside the Bach’s Competition, the Flute New Music Competition, and the Columbia Summer Winds 2016 Composition Contest. She won the Braintree/Nashoba Valley Chorale choral competition and the Ars Nova Composition Competition, and her cycle Love Letters from a War was a vocal winner in the Boston Metro Opera competition and received an Honorable Mention from the 2010 NATS competition. American Folk Suite, a cycle for soprano and flute received a Merit Award from Boston Metro Opera in 2014, and The Life in a Day for flute, guitar, and cello won the Flute New Music Chamber Music competition in 2017.  She was a featured composer at the New Music Symposium in Colorado Springs, the University of Central Missouri’s New Music Festival, the Aspen Composer’s Conference, the Hartford (Connecticut) Women Composer Festival, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, the Music By Women Festival, Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, and at June in Buffalo. She is a member of ASCAP.

In her spare time, she is an avid knitter, hiker, swimmer, cook, and bibliophile. She also has a vested interest in anything made of chocolate. Visit www.cherisedleiter.com for more information. Originally for soprano and flute, American Folk Suite was transcribed for Whistling Hens in 2019.

American Folk Suite

Cherise D. Leiter

Oboist and composer Dannielle McBryan (b. 1994) completed her Bachelor studies in oboe performance at the Manhattan School of Music with Stephen Taylor in 2016. During her time there, she was the recipient of two fellowships; Yale School of Music’s Norfolk Chamber Music Festival and the Bowdoin International Music Festival. After she completed her studies, she was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study oboe in Bremen, Germany, where she currently is working on her Master’s with Christian Hommel. She is currently an awardee from the Oscar und Vera Ritter Stiftung in Hamburg, Germany.
 
Dannielle has performed as a guest with Ensemble Connect at both their residency at Skidmore College in 2016, and at a performance at the French Consulate in New York City in 2017. She has performed numerous times as a guest with Ensemble Modern and has been on tour with them at such venues as the Bockenheimer Depot in Frankfurt, the Koelner Philharmonie, the Prinzregententheater in Munich, and the Berliner Philharmonie. She is the co-founder and artistic director of Avant Projekts, a grant-winning social media-based dance company which presents classical art forms in a relatable format that appeals to viewers from all backgrounds. 

It's Bedtime was commissioned by Whistling Hens in 2018 and was premiered March 2019.

It's Bedtime

Dannielle McBryan

Based in Rochester, NY, Diana Rosenblum is pursuing a Ph.D in Composition at Eastman School of Music, where she holds a prestigious Sproull Fellowship and is a student of David Liptak, having also studied with Robert Morris and Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon.  

She has earned a B.A. in Philosophy from Princeton University — where her senior thesis "Socratic Sophistry: inherent humors of playing the hypocrite" was advised byHendrik Lorenz — and an M.M. in Composition from University of Oregon, where she studied with Robert Kyr and David Crumb and was named Outstanding Graduate Scholar.

 

Diana has been recognized for academic achievement at Eastman via the Imagination Fund, Samuel Adler Scholarship, and Pi Kappa Lambda membership.  She was recently awarded Eastman's Belle S. Gitelman Award for Piano Quartet, is a two-time recipient of the Wayne Brewster Barlow Prize - awarded in 2018 for full-orchestral work, Gordian Knot, and 2017 for octet Myrioriama (commissioned by OSSIA New Music for their 20th season) - and received the Anthony and Carolyn Donato Prize in 2016.  

Winter Rain

Diana Rosenblum

Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677) Italian composer and singer Barbara Strozzi was the adopted (and possibly illegitimate) daughter of poet-librettist Giulio Strozzi. Her father’s connections to Monteverdi and other Venetian musicians caused him to encourage her musical endeavors. She often sang and played lute at meetings of the Accademia degli Unisoni, which her father founded. Most of her works are ariettes, arias, and cantatas for solo voice, usually for the soprano. Over 100 of her works were published in her lifetime. Her opus 2 was published in 1651 and is dedicated to the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III of Austria and Leonora II. Opus 3 was published in 1653 and is dedicated to an unknown goddess.

Various songs

Barbara Strozzi

Composer Iris Szeghy was born into a Hungarian family in Presov (Czechoslovakia, now Slovakia). She studied composition at the Academy of Music in Bratislava, later she finished her doctoral studies of composition at the same school. Szeghy is a freelance composer and lives in Zürich in Switzerland.
 
Iris Szeghy went through different composition residencies in Germany (Stuttgart, Hamburg, Worpswede), Holland (Amsterdam), Switzerland (Boswil, Stein am Rhein, Willisau), Spain (Mojácar), France (Paris), Poland (Warsaw), Hungary (Budapest), England (London) and in the U.S.A. (San Diego). She writes orchestral, chamber and choral music, her works are performed in concerts and prestigious festivals in many countries of Europe, in America and Asia. Szeghy cooperated with distinguished performers, ensembles, orchestras, e.g. with the Hilliard Ensemble,London Sinfonietta, Concorde Ensemble Dublin, Gemini Ensemble and Composers Ensemble London, „ensemble recherche“ Freiburg, Musikfabrik Cologne, Camerata Berne, Festival Strings Lucerne, with Harry Sparnaay, Teodoro Anzellotti, Jane Manning etc. She obtained more compositional awards and prizes, especially in Switzerland, Slovakia and Czech Republic. Two Portrait-CDs (2001 in Germany, 2008 in Switzerland) have been published.

Meadow Song

Iris Szeghy

Born and raised in Paris, Germaine Tailleferre was a piano prodigy and equally skilled artist. At age 12 she entered the Paris Conservatoire, much to her father’s consternation, to study with Eva Sautereau-Meyer. It was there that she met Auric, Honegger, and Milhaud. In 1919 Le Six was formed, with Tailleferre as the only woman. Unfortunately, this distinction did not engender economic prosperity for many reasons, among which was that Tailleferre, a modest woman, was afraid of promoting herself properly. Driven by commissions, she often wrote hastily, and much of her work was film music.

Arabesque

Germaine Tailleferre

Pauline Viardot (1821-1910) Spanish-born, singer and composer Pauline Viardot was from the famous Spanish García family and spent much of her life in France. Her father was the elder Manuel García, Rossini’s Count Almaviva in The Barber of Seville; her brother was the famous vocal pedagogue Manuel García II; and her sister was famous singer and composer Maria Malibran. Viardot inspired composers such as Chopin, Berlioz, Meyerbeer, Gounod, Saint-Saëns, Liszt, Wagner and Schumann and also collaborated on the composition of roles created especially for her. She was active as a teacher, continuing the García method.
 

She wrote more than 100 songs and mélodies, to texts by Musset, Turgenev, Pushkin, Gautier, Mörike, Goethe and others, most of which were published in her lifetime. She was fluent in five languages and her selection of texts reflects her extensive travels and literary knowledge. Aime-moi is one of her transcriptions of 12 of Chopin’s mazurkas. Chopin, her good friend, was enthusiastic about the transcriptions. Published in 1866, Fleur desséchée is the first song in Douze melodies sur des poesies russes. The text for La mésange comes from Russian poet and Viardot’s lover, Ivan Turgenev. Similar in idea to Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinnrade, Haï luli shows a lonely woman at her spinning wheel, waiting for her lover to return. Les Filles de Cadix was also famously set by Léo Delibes. Viardot chose only to set the first two verses of the poem. The poem likely appealed to her Spanish sensibilities

Various songs

Pauline Viardot

Widely performed throughout the country, the music of American composer Gwyneth Walker is beloved by performers and audiences alike for its energy, beauty, reverence, drama, and humor. Dr. Gwyneth Walker (b. 1947) is a graduate of Brown University and the Hartt School of Music. She holds B.A., M.M. and D.M.A. degrees in Music Composition. A former faculty member of the Oberlin College Conservatory, she resigned from academic employment in 1982 in order to pursue a career as a full-time composer. For nearly 30 years, she lived on a dairy farm in Braintree, Vermont. She now divides her time between her childhood hometown of New Canaan, Connecticut and the musical community of Randolph, Vermont.

Gwyneth Walker has been a proud resident of Vermont for many years. She is the recipient of the 2000 "Lifetime Achievement Award" from the Vermont Arts Council as well as the 2008 "Athenaeum Award for Achievement in the Arts and Humanities" from the St. Johnsbury (VT) Athenaeum. In 2012, she was elected as a Fellow of the Vermont Academy of Arts and Sciences. She also received the 2018 "Alfred Nash Patterson Lifetime Achievement Award" from Choral Arts New England.


Walker's catalog includes over 350 commissioned works for orchestra, chamber ensembles, chorus, and solo voice. A special interest has been dramatic works that combine music with readings, acting, and movement.

The texts for The Laughter of Women are found in "Alive Together", the 1997 Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of poems by Lisel Mueller. This poetry encompasses a broad spectrum of mood: reverent, irreverent, witty, poignant, independent, reflective and triumphant.

The Laughter of Women

Gwyneth Walker