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ers have exerted a direct influence on certain
composers. Mendelssohn wrote his "Hear
Ye, Israel" in the key of B, because it
brought in F sharp very often, and this was
a glorious note in Jenny Lind's register, of
which the composer was thinking when he
wrote the aria. Massenet changed a large
part of his ** Jongleur de Notre Dame" for
the sake of Mary Garden. But Massenet
wrote an entire opera because of his admira-
tion of the high notes of the delightful
American soprano, Sybil Sanderson. Few
Americans have any conception of the beauty
of Sybil Sanderson's voice when it was at its
best, during her sojourn in Paris. She could
then take G in altissimo with purity and
ease. Massenet wrote the opera of ''Esclar-
monde" especially for her, and brought in
that G (the Parisians called it the ''Tour
d 'Eiffel note") twice for her especial benefit.

Cmt^ rhfu/uL:^

^ hrt^ A k^^ pu"^


t^^ y»^t0. /Uy4-' /*<*/ 2"^ ii^ y^/a.u.':^- /^'^ /^ ^ ^X



How much Massenet prized the work of our
American singer may be judged by the ac-
companying letter to the author.




IN preceding chapters I have spoken of
the influence which woman has exerted
upon certain of the great masters of music,
and the compositions — often masterpieces —
resulting from this inspiration. It is now in
order to study what woman herself has
accomplished in the field of musical crea-
tion. It is true that we may not find as
important works as George Eliot or George
Sand have produced in literature, or Rosa
Bonheur in painting, but we shall neverthe-
less find much of value evolved by women
composers, and Ave may also find indications
which point to a possible female Chopin or
Mozart in the future.

In the earliest days of history we find
women active in music and even occupying
certain fields of art to the exclusion of men.
The mourning women, so often alluded to in
the Scriptures (Jeremiah 9 :17-21, for exam-
ple) must have been musical and poetic


improvisers something like the ''keeners"
still to be heard at wakes in some of the
remote parts of Ireland. Miriam's song
(Exodus 15:20) was improvisational music,
and so was that of Deborah (Judges 5).

We must bear in mind, in reading the
musical allusions in the Bible, that very
much of the ancient music was never written
down, but was composed, together with the
words, upon the spot. One must also picture
the musician of the Bible as giving many
expressive gestures along with the singing,
for ' ' dancing, ' ' in the Scriptural sense, was
generally what we would call ''dramatic
action" to-day. Always imagine a liberal
amount of pantomime in picturing Miriam
or Deborah giving their music. There is one
pictorial proof of this existing upon the wall
of a tomb in Thebes (given by Lepsius in his
great folio), in which is portrayed a musical
conservatory of about 4,000 years ago, most
of the students females, and dancing or
pantomimic action indicated with each of
the vocal lessons. There is not a scrap of
written music in the picture, every detail
being taught orally.


Ancient Greece gives us the first woman
composer — poet and musician were one in
those days — in the person of Sappho. She
is, however, a vague figure, dating from the
beginning of the sixth century B. C. ; and
even the story of her suicide on account of
disappointed love does not bear the test of
analysis. But that she wrote beautiful
poetry which was chanted to impressive
music, and that she taught others, may not
be doubted. Corinna, a century later, was
also a famous poet-composer and a teacher
as well, while Lamia, during the age of Peri-
cles, was the most important female instru-
mentalist — she was a flute player — of the
ancient Greek epoch.

The first musical saint that we find in his-
tory is a woman — St. Cecilia — ^but here, too,
everything is vague and doubtful. We are
told that she was a noble Roman who, about
A. D. 230, was forced to marry a pagan
named Valerian ; that she succeeded in con-
verting him and his brother to Christianity,
and that they all were martyred together in
one of the persecutions. As one version gives
her demise in the year 176, another in 180,


and a third about 250 A. D., we are forced
to conclude that she died a very lingering
death; but, as she is said to have united
instrumental with vocal music in praising the
Lord, Raphael has painted, Dryden rhymed,
Maderno sculptured her, and she is regarded
as the beginning of female skill in music.

But all the music of the ancient world
must have been in a large degree an inspira-
tional affair. It was rather an art than a
science, and it is doubtful whether an5i:hing
more than melody — ^without harmony or
counterpoint — was attempted.

The troubadours and minnesingers, about
whom- so much has been written, never went
beyond mere tune- writing in their composi-
tions. There was, however, a romantic fe-
male adjunct to this school of composers,
especially in England, in what were called
the '^glee-maidens." These were minstrels
who wandered about the country, composing
songs and singing them, sometimes to the
people, sometimes to the lords and ladies- in
a castle, and sometimes even in the court-
yards of a monastery to the monks. A goat
or dog was often their only guardian or


escort. They usually sang their songs and
played the melody on the violin or harp

That they had some standing is shown by
the fact that William the Conqueror gave
an estate to one of them named Adeline. But
the chief figure among these ' ' gleemaidens ' *
comes in the reign of Henry III. This was
Marie de France. She was probably born in
Brittany, but spent most of her life in Eng-
land, which was then a decidedly French
nation in its aristocracy and court life.
Twelve of her songs, in manuscript, are
treasured in the British Museum at present.
One of them is a setting of the story of
''King Arthur and the Round Table," a
topic much prized in England. She also set
many of ^sop's fables to verse and music.
She was familiar with French, English, and
Latin, and translated some of her songs from
the last-named tongue. But few of the
''gleemaidens" had such attainments, and
their art gradually t^ided toward vaga-

It was very different with the trou-
badours, who were the aristocratic secular


composers — always with melody only — of
the Middle Ages. There were also female
troubadours, although they were by no
means so numerous as the male. Probably
the most remarkable female composer — in
this primitive school — that ever existed, was
Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was successively
wife of Louis VII of France and Henry II
of England. She obtained the permission of
Louis VII to accompany him in his crusade,
and she headed a company of charmingly
armored amazons, chose the route of the ex-
pedition, dallied a while in Turkey to try
to convert a handsome young emir in the
court of Sultan Noureddin, and wrecked
the expedition generally. When these ama-
zons left France, they sent their spinning
wheels, as a spicy sarcasm, to the knights
•that stayed at home.

In England Eleanor instituted ' ' courts of
love'' in which the ladies tried many cases
relating to the tender passion, and occasion-
ally formulated such rules as these:

A true lover eats but little.
A true lover grows pale when he sees
his sweetheart.


No one can truly love two persons at the
same time.

A true lover is always anxious and ill at

Once her court of love debated the ques-
tion as to whether one could continue to
love after marriage, and it is to be regretted
that it was decided in the negative. This
energetic and highly sentimental queen com-
posed several love songs and had the trou-
badour's gift of improvisation.

But this simple art of melody-writing
soon merged into something greater — the
science of composition. The practice of
combining melodies, or melody and accom-
paniment, gradually evolved itself during
the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and we
shall now find real composers among our
maisical women. Since we have begun, how-
ever, with a royal composer, let us cite a
few more gifted queen musicians.

The next royal figure after Queen Eleanor
who displayed musical tendencies was a
rather pathetic one. It was poor Anne Bo-
leyn, who may have charmed Henry VIII
with her music — her letters show that she


threw herself at that monarch's head — but
the only composition that is .now ascribed to
her is one which she wrote when she had
lost the king's favor and was approaching
her doom. It begins :

Oh, Death, rock me asleep.

Bring me to quiet rest;
Let pass my weary, guiltless life

Out of my careful breast.
Toll on the passing bell.
Ring out my doleful knell.
Death doth draw near me.
There is no remedy.*

The king's daughters were both musical.
Queen Mary played the virginals, which was
the primitive predecessor of the piano, a
a thin-toned, tinkling instrument of about
four octaves compass. Queen Elizabeth
counted herself a well-equipped musical
critic, although there is considerable doubt
regarding how far her technical abilities

There is a quaint account of her musical
conceit left to us by Sir James Melville,
who was at one time an ambassador at her
court from Queen Mary of Scotland. He


says that as he was about to leave the palace
and London an English courtier came to him
and asked him if he cared to hear Queen
Elizabeth play the virginals. Naturally Sir
James responded in the affirmative, where-
upon the Englishman led him through a
secret passage which ended at a silken cur-
tain. Standing there quietly, after a little
while he heard the instrument sounding.
Growing bolder he softly entered the room,
but the queen heard him and frowned and
struck at him. He threw himself upon his
knees and begged her pardon for his in-
trusion, but said that he had ardently de-
sired to hear the queen's great skill at the
instrument. Elizabeth was quickly molli-
fied, but asked him which was the better
musician, she or his own queen. A diplomat
can easily sit on both sides of the fence, and
Sir James replied that Mary Stuart played
very well for a queen, but that Elizabeth's
skill was something amazing. Naturally
with this compliment the queen was more
than satisfied.

What did she play to him? Unfortu-
nately on this point Sir James is silent, but



there is extant a certain dance which the
queen loved greatly, so much so that her
music teacher, Dr. Bj^rd, made an arrange-
ment of it expressly for her. She often
played it; she may have played it to Sir
James Melville.


. Jloderato _


j ^ffi,


zed by Dr. BYRD

^— r —




=r r' —



M ^ rjj I


pr p

T p • •

/[ :

r- r-

U^ — ^ — 4=

p" ''

LT- P-T- .. p

In playing this dance — Sellinger's
Kound — one must give a constant staccato,
as the virginals could neither shade nor sus-


tain a note. The queen seems never to have
attempted composition.

One other queen may appear in our list
of composers, however, and a sovereign yet
more unfortunate than Anne Boleyn — the
unhappy Marie Antoinette. As a child at
the Austrian court she had shown musical
capacity. She was attracted toward the
young boy, Mozart, who played the spinet in
Vienna, and romped with her in the palace.
She took lessons in music of no less a mas-
ter than Christoph Willibald Gluck.

Long after, when, in 1775, Gluck was in
Paris, there took place one of the greatest
musical battles in history. Gluck was try-
ing to establish dramatic music in opera. He
maintained that the music in opera should
absolutely portray the meaning of the po-
etry. In this he was the forerunner of
Wagner and his m.usic-drama. But the
Italians and French were by no means
ready to accept this theory, and demanded
sweet melody first, foremost, and all the
time, irrespective of the text. They set up




English version by
Louis C. Elsoo


Andantino con moto

1. In your vil - lage should you dis-
Z. It Le sings with ca - deuce so

S. If he charms you eea_ wilh-out


er Wand - ring

!y, If his

ing, Mere - ly




shep-herd young and fair, .

bos - om can thrill, _
glance so bright,.


The complete song will be found in Modern Music and Musicians
for Vocalists, Vol. VI, p. 1544,


as their champion a very fluent composer,
Nicolo Piccini.

In 1779 the rival parties hit upon the
idea of having the two composers set the
same text to music, and ^'Iphigenie en Au-
lide" was the result. Gluck's victory was
complete and decisive. The verdict un-
doubtedly came from the public, but it is
also true that had not his old pupil. Queen
Marie Antoinette, fought for him during
the preceding years he would not have made
any headway against his enemies in Paris.
Therefore dramatic music owes a debt to
this queen that is not generally recognized.

In the queen's own composition — '' 'Tis
My Friend''— one finds little of this dra-
matic power, but rather a gentle, pastoral
sweetness which is not without its charm.

With this we finish the royal line of mu-
sical women. We may now permit the rank
and file of female composers to pass in re-




LET US now examine the list of women
who have been actual music com-
posers in the full sense of the word. If I
enumerate only those who have been really
great in the creation of music, as yet, the
list will be very small, while if I give the
names of all those who have composed
agreeable, pleasing, and correct music, it
will be a catalogue as long as a city direc-
tory, and about as interesting. I shall
therefore confine myself to describing only
those who have become, in some degree,
epoch-making, and who can serve as models
for those women who are at present at-
tempting the thorny path of musical com-

We must turn to Italy for the earliest
name of the list. In Brescia, before 1540,
there was born a woman who might have
been very great had she lived in the twenti-


eth century, when the opposition to female
composers has almost entirely vanished.
Maddalena Casulana published two entire
volumes of madrigals, in 1568 and 1583,
and Vittoria Aleotti, Orsina Vizzani, and
Francesca Baglioncella soon followed in the
same school.

One must remember that the madrigal
was the most severe exhibition of skilful
counterpoint. The word has often been mis-
used in later days and its very origin is ob-
scure. Some derive it from madre, mother,
and think that it was originally a song in
praise of the Virgin; others derive it from
mandra, a sheepfold, and think that it was
pastoral music, and still others imagine that
it was a morning-song of bright character.
The true madrigal, however, was always un-
accompanied, and the melody was dispersed
among the different parts, never being car-
ried on in one voice. At this epoch the
composers did not write songs for a single
voice — that was left to the people to evolve
for themselves (the folk song) — ^but always
composed their vocal music for several
voices intertwining. Early in the seven-


teenth. century two ladies composed solo
songs, which were then called ''monody";
these were Francesca Caccini and Barbara
Strozzi, both of good family and of fine ed-
ucation. Several Italian women also com-
posed sacred music during the seventeenth
century, and this was again severely contra-
puntal. By this I mean that several melo-
dies intertwined simultaneously.

Germany gives us one great female name
in the sixteenth century, a trifle later than
Maddalena Casulana — Madelka Bariona.
France had a female composer who may
have been contemporaneous with the fair
Maddalena, Clem.entine de Bourges, who
composed most excellent and skillful music.
Her career was cut short, however, by a
great misfortune. She was engaged to a
young officer in the royal army, and when
this man was slain in an encounter with the
Huguenots, in 1560, she at once died of

But it was in the nineteenth century that
the real and continuous race of female com-
posers began, and even then the opposition
to woman entering this profession was very


great. As recent a musician as Anton
Eubinstein found great fault with the at-
tempt of women to become composers, and
we shall find a startling instance of this op-
position depriving the world of possibly its
greatest female composer, in studying the
career of Fanny Mendelssohn.

She was the elder sister of the famous
Mendelssohn and the two, as children, were
the closest chums. They studied their music
together and the mother — herself a most
cultivated woman — used to say of them, at
their piano lessons, ''they both have Bach-
fugue fingers." At that time there was no
thought of either one of them becoming a
composer ; they were studying music as part
of a liberal education. But when Felix
Mendelssohn began composition Fanny was
as well equipped as he and used to help him
by giving him themes and melodies. At a
later period she composed many works of
her own, chiefly songs and other short musi-
cal forms. But her entire family, including
her brother, were inflexibly opposed to hav-
ing a woman composer in the family, and
she gently gave way to their dictum, giving


her compositions to her brother, who pub-
lished some of them as his owii.

There is not much doubt that some of
the ''Songs without Words" were com-
posed by Fanny Mendelssohn. Some of the
vocal songs certainly were, as the following
anecdote may prove: Mendelssohn had be-
come famous and was, in his adult years,
idolized in England. Queen Victoria her-
self joined in this worship, as did her con-
sort. Prince Albert, himself a composer.
They had invited the composer to Windsor
Castle where he paid a most informal visit.
He had visited the nursery with the royal
pair, and then they had gone to the music-
room together. Here Queen Victoria of-
fered to sing one of Mendelssohn's songs,
and told him that her favorite was ' ' Italy. ' '
Mendelssohn blushed and acknowledged
that that particular song was composed by
his sister Fanny. I give the first page of
the song on the following page.

Queen Victoria was twenty-two years old
at this time. Mendelssohn asked her to sing
the song for him, and he says in one of his
letters — ''She sang charmingly, in goo<:|

English version by
Louis C Elsob




Bright - er and bright - er gleams the broad
Scho - ner und icfio ner schmUckt sich dcr


Whis - per - ing breez - es sweep o'er the dale. Forth from/ the
schmeichelti - de Liif - te We - hen mich an, fort aus dar

toil of life, and. its prose. Come to the land where 'po - e - try

Pro ~ sa La-sten und Miih, zieh- ich sum Lan - de der


The complete song will be found in Modern Music and Musicians
for Vocalists, Vol. VI, p. 1510.


time and tune, and with excellent execution.
Only, where it goes down to D [B in the
transposed version here given] and comes up
again chromatically, she sang D-sharp each
time. With the exception of this trifling
error it was really beautiful and the long
high note near the end I have never heard
taken clearer or purer by any amateur.
After I had confessed that Fanny had writ-
ten the song (which I found very hard, but
pride goes before a fall) I begged her to
sing one of my own works/'

The chumship of brother and sister lasted
all through their brief lives. How musical
was their communion may be shown by a
letter written to Fanny when Felix was on
the west coast of Scotland. He had just
visited Fingal 's cave and wrote to his sister :
''This is how the island impresses me," and
then followed twenty measures of music
which afterward became the chief theme, the
first measures, of the ''Hebrides Overture,"
where my readers may play them to-day. It
was a charming instance of a musician writ-
ing to a fellow-musician in that language
which goes beyond words.


And thus close in life, in death they were
scarcely divided. When the news of Fan-
ny's death was brought to Mendelssohn, he
gave a scream and fell down in a swoon. He
had burst a blood vessel in his brain. He
temporarily recovered and sought recuper-
ation in Italy, but on his return he went to
his sister's room, in their dwelling in Ber-
lin, where everything had been carefully
kept as when Fanny was alive, and this
undid all the benefit of the tour, Mendels-
sohn dying soon thereafter. Yet with all
this affection the brother kept his sister
from the career in which she might have
shone resplendently. She married a painter
named Hensel and lived a domestic life, in-
stead of composing.

* * *

But we can now turn to a greater pair
than the Mendelssohns, and find a great
composer fostering his wife's talent and tak-
ing pride in it. Robert Schumann first met
Clara Wieck when she was a mere child, yet
a piano prodigy. Among the great affec-
tions of the world one constantly reads of
Heloise and Abelard, of Petrarch ^nd


Laura, but beside these the musician may
justly place the affection of Robert Schu-
mann and Clara Yfieck. Just as Romeo has
a fancied love for Rosalind before he meets
Juliet, so Schumann had an affection for
Ernestine von Fricken before he saw Clara
budding into womanhood. As he turned
every event of his life into music one can
find his love-letter to Ernestine in his Carni-
val scenes for piano, in which he constantly
spells out the name of her birthplace in
notes. She was born in the city of Asch,
and in the German nomenclature E-flat is
called ^'ES" and B-natural is named ^'H'*
—whence ''A, ES, C, H." Also A-flat is
called ''AS," whence we can obtain the
variant of ''AS, C, H." The reader will be
astonished, if he examines Schumann's
' ' Carnaval, ' ' to find how much of this great
piano suite is founded on these notes, a
notable instance of music inspired by female
influence. But the greater passion was to
produce infinitely greater music. There was
trouble and stress enough. Friedrich Wieck,
the father of Clara, who had assured Schu-
mann's mother that her son would make a


worthy career in music, found him alto-
gether too doubtful for a son-in-law and op-
posed the union.

Here we may contradict one of the many
false stories regarding musical composi-
tions. The sentimentalists tell a tale regard-
ing Schumann's ''Warum?" which is alto-
gether false. They say that Schumann, sep-
arated from his Clara by a stern parent,
Avrote the questioning composition upon a
leaf of music paper and sent it to his be-
loved. She read it and understood its ques-
tions — ' ' Why are we separated ? Why must
we suffer?" and wept over it. She took it
to her father and he also wept over it (it
must have been rather damp by that time),
and he at once sent for Schumann, said
''Bless you, my children," and they lived
happily ever afterward.

There is not a particle of truth in all this
rigmarole. ' ' Warum ? " is one of the ' ' Phan-
tasiestiicke, " a set of eight pieces that were
dedicated to Anna Robena Laidlaw, a Scot-
tish woman who was one of Schumann's
most gifted pupils. To settle this silly anec-
dote once for all let me quote a letter of


Schumann to Miss Laidlaw regarding these
same pieces. He writes:

The time of your stay here will always be a
most beautiful memory to me, and that this is
true you will soon see in eight "Phantasie-
stiicke" for pianoforte that will shortly appear
bearing your name upon their forehead. It is
true that I have not asked for permission to
make this dedication, but they belong to you,
and the whole "Eosenthal" with its surround-

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Online LibraryLouis Charles ElsonWoman in music → online text (page 3 of 4)