Born into a military upper middle-class family in London, Smyth was educated at home and at a London boarding school. In 1877, despite her father's opposition to the idea of women studying music as a professional career, she entered the Leipzig Conservatory. In 1878 she left the school but remained in Leipzig, taking lessons and receiving encouragement for her musical ambitions from the most important musicians of the city and time: Brahms, Grieg, Joachim and Clara Schumann. Upon her return to England in the 1890’s, she found that the British musical establishment did not welcome an unconventional, German-educated female composer, and Smyth faced difficulties in obtaining public performances of her music. Her opera Der Wold, (The Forest) mounted in 1903, was until 2016 the only opera by a woman composer ever produced at New York's Metropolitan Opera. In 1911, when Smyth had attached herself to the suffragette cause she produced the anthem March of the Women. She was arrested in London in 1912, along with 100 other suffragettes, for throwing stones at the houses of suffrage opponents. While in Holloway prison, Smyth led the women in a rousing rendition of The March of Women, conducting them with her toothbrush, in what would become the most famous performance of the song. During World War I she worked as a radiologist in France, realized she was losing her hearing and after the war, turned her creative energy to writing memoirs and essays. This provided a source of income when hearing loss prevented her from composing. Later in life, she used her celebrity and campaigning abilities to fight for causes that included opportunities for British composers and women's right to play in mainstream professional orchestras. Smyth became a feminist icon. The piece performed on our concert was published in 1912, the year Smyth was arrested.
Shelter Music Boston will perform a movement from her String Quartet in E Minor. Click below to listen!
String Quartet in E Minor: I. Allegretto lirico