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    Fascinating look at 8 female composers

    Thoroughly recommended. This is a book on female composers over the centuries, and the difficulties and prejudice they encountered - from the assumption in Renaissance Italy that they were likely to be courtesans through the bourgeois constraints of being a woman in 19th century Germany and therefore best suited to being a wife and mother to the continuing prejudices against female composers in 20th century France and Britain. 8 composers are each given a chapter: Francesca Caccini and Barbara Strozzi from Renaissance Italy; Jacquet de la Guerre from Baroque France; Marianna Martines, Fanny Hensel (maiden name Mendelssohn, sister of Felix Mendelssohn) and Clara Schumann from the 18th and 19th century Austro-German world; and Lili Boulanger and Elizabeth Maconchy from, respectively, 20th century France and 20th century England (though Maconchy spent childhood years in Ireland). All of them faced a widespread assumption that, if women composed, charming songs and pieces for domestic consumption were their sphere, and that women were generally unsuited to composing sustained larger-scale works. Maconchy had the easiest time but only because her talent was recognised early by major established male composers. There is relatively little in the book on the composers' actual music. The main focus is on their lives, the attitudes of their families and spouses, and the societies in which they strove to be recognised. The book is extremely readable, and is full of well-told episodes in the 8 women's lives. They were all very good composers. If it leads you to explore some wonderful but fairly neglected music by them, as it did me, your life will be enriched.

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