Friday, 28 March 2014

Dame Ethel Smyth: ‘Woman’s Music Scorned’

On January 10 1922 Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) wrote a letter-article for the Daily MailShe had recently been created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in recognition of her work as a composer, a suffragette and writer.  The content needs no gloss, save to say that Smyth’s music has not yet been recognised to any great degree. However, there are a number (19) of CDs currently featuring a good cross section of her work.  [JF]
The Daily Mail editor provide the following brief introduction:
The foremost woman composer of our own or any other age, Dr. Ethel Smyth, who contributes the following article is a daughter of the late General J.H. Smyth. She has written two symphonies, an opera, The Wreckers, a comic opera The Boatswain’s Mate and a Mass in addition to many shorter works.

By Dame Ethel Smyth, Mus.Doc
In at least half of many kindly Press notices concerning an honour recently bestowed on me comments in this style are to be found: ‘Her music is less well known than it deserves.’ ‘Recognition has come late in the day.’ ‘She is better known abroad than in her own country.’ It is a case of ‘now or never’ if I draw attention as I have often been tempted to do, to the following facts, which I think many people will be surprised to learn:-
For 30 years I have vainly hoped that some work of mine might be accepted for performance at one of the great provincial musical festivals. It has not happened yet.
On no important and representative occasion whether in London or abroad, has a work of mine figured among the works of British composers.
Except Sir Henry Wood and Mr. Dan Godfrey, not a single orchestral conductor now operative touches my work.
The curious part of it is that I cannot complain of the Press. From the very first their recognition has on the whole been generous. And when my work is played, no one would deny that the public likes it. So do orchestras. But the trouble is it is hardly ever played!
Here are two recent incidents, typical of what has gone on all my life:
Last September a friend connected with Hereford pressed my claim for belated inclusion in a festival programme on Dr. Brewer, the conductor of the coming Gloucester [Three Choirs] Festival. He reported that the idea was favourably entertained and advised me to write at once. I did so; sent testimonials as if I were an unknown chauffeur looking for a place, and pleaded, if better could not be had, for eleven minutes in a four-days scheme.  No reply.
I wrote again; still no reply. I suppose the authorities knew that in due season I should learn from the newspapers (as I have) that my request has once more been turned down.
Last summer I suggested to a friend that the London Symphony Orchestra might perform me occasionally (an excellent habit of theirs in the days of Nikisch and Sir Thomas Beecham). Later I was not surprised to learn from a member of the committee that the thing was practically settled, date, work and all, and was merely awaiting the assent of Mr. Albert Coates, who was daily expected home from abroad. Shortly afterwards, the London Symphony Orchestra scheme for this season came out, and my work was not included.
In conclusion, I will mention one more pregnant fact. The only conductors who have given a hearing to Dorothy Howell [1898-1992] and other gifted women of the rising generation are Henry Wood and Dan Godfrey.

The Daily Mail 20 January 1922

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