Dame Ethel Smyth is one of the most important composers in history, but her story is not well enough known today, and her music is not performed as often as it should be.
With this recording, we want to help change that.
During her lifetime, her compositions were highly regarded by the most famous musicians of the day – Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Clara Schumann, Grieg, and more, and her music was championed by major conductors Hermann Levi (famous for premiering much of Wagner's music), Sir Thomas Beecham (the most famous British conductor at the time), Donald Tovey, and Bruno Walter (who conducted her opera The Wreckers at Covent Garden in 1910).
In addition to her many other accomplishments, she was the first woman to have an opera performed at the Met, in 1903.
The second was in 2016.
Even today, only 4% of the music performed by orchestras is by female composers, and of that small percentage, the majority is by contemporary female composers. With this recording, we hope to bring Smyth to wider prominence, showing young women (and men) someone who led the way in the long struggle for gender equality.
In her memoirs, she relates the many challenges she faced in her career due to gender discrimination. Music critics routinely insulted her music because of her gender, saying "pretty good – for a woman," or insulting her music as "too masculine," or "too feminine" (the latter two criticisms both refer to the same piece of music).
She was also a famous suffragette, and once went to prison as a result of her political activity; she is best known for her "March of the Women," which became the anthem of the suffragette movement.
Her final large-scale composition is written for soprano and baritone soloists, chorus, and full orchestra, and lasts over an hour. It is a reflection on life, love, and loss, and we believe it is a masterpiece.
We believe that her music deserves to be recorded by an orchestra of world-class musicians, soloists, and choir, all produced by Grammy-winning producer Blanton Alspaugh and Soundmirror. We have the project specifically budgeted to be able to pay for these top artists, but we are keeping all the costs as low as possible.
If we raise funds beyond the $25,000 in this Kickstarter, we will amplify the impact of the recording; the more money we raise, the more people will hear the recording.
With this recording, we hope to share this masterpiece with the world, with the hopes that her music and her story become better known. While other works of hers have been recorded, we feel that this piece reflects a unique aspect of her music, and will answer some of her modern-day critics who continue to see her merely as a historic figure instead of recognizing her for her compositional mastery.
When students learn about music history, they should learn about Dame Ethel Smyth. And when orchestras consider music to perform each year, they should include this gorgeous piece.
Thank you for helping us promote her work.
In Dame Ethel Smyth's own words:
“Because I have conducted my own operas and love sheep-dogs; Because I generally dress in tweeds, and sometimes, at winter afternoon concerts, have even conducted in them; Because I was a militant suffragette and seized a chance of beating time to The March of the Women from the window of my cell in Holloway Prison with a tooth-brush; Because I have written books, spoken speeches, broadcast, and don’t always make sure that my hat is on straight; For these and other equally pertinent reasons, in a certain sense I am well known."
More about The Prison:
Composed in 1930, The Prison is Smyth’s last large-scale work, scored for two soloists (portraying The Prisoner and his Soul), chorus, and orchestra. At 75 minutes, it is similar in length to the vocal symphonies of Mahler, but her musical language is truly unique; this work represents the full maturity of her style after more than 40 years of composing.
Due to her advancing deafness, shortly after composing this piece, she ceased to compose, turning instead to writing memoirs. The Prison is thus her culminating work in several regards, both in content, textual significance, and musical language. The words are written by Henry Bennet Brewster, her creative and intellectual partner, with whom she exchanged more than 1,000 letters between 1884 and his tragic death in 1908. After he died, she wrote “I felt then like a rudderless ship aimlessly drifting hither and thither.” Shortly before the premiere of The Prison, she personally undertook to have the full text published as a book.
The depth of her intention may be understood from the quote she chose to place on the title page, said to be the last words of the philosopher Plotinus: “I am striving to release that which is divine within us, and to merge it in the universally divine.”
There are no records of any performances with orchestra in the U.S. prior to the U.S. Co-premiere Mr. Blachly conducted in 2018 and that of his colleague Mark Shapiro one month later in Carnegie Hall. With this recording of top-level musicians and with the best production team available, we aim to bring this extraordinary music to the attention of music lovers around the world, and, in time, to inspire other orchestras to perform this masterpiece. For that reason, we have prepared performance-ready computerized parts; this new performance edition is now published by Schirmer as the Blachly edition.
Risks and challenges
We have the soloists booked, the hall reserved, and we have exclusive permission from the music publisher, Schirmer & Co., to be the first to create a commercial recording of the music.
We feel confident about the recording process, as we will be working with some of the most excellent professionals in the field, both our New York-based musicians and the entire recording team.
Our challenge is to raise all the funds needed. With your donation and your help in spreading the word, we are confident that we will find the support we need.
NOW IS HER TIME!
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