Melanie Spanswick introduces her new three-book piano series.
Women Composers – A Graded Anthology For Piano was published by Schott Music in February/March 2022 and was one of my ‘lockdown’ projects. Schott and I worked on these publications over a significant period of time and I’m thrilled that we won a Presto Music Award for Best New Series Of The Year in December 2022.
Over the centuries, women have certainly lacked a prominent voice, be it in opera, on the concert stage, or as writers and composers. However, there is now a distinct movement, not just towards the female composer, but seemingly to readdress the significant gender imbalance throughout the arts – and not just in the arts.
In light of this long overdue shift, it seems appropriate to highlight the numerous female composers who have written for the piano, particularly those who have contributed to the educational piano music repertoire. This list is extensive, beginning nearly four hundred years ago when women were writing with just as much vigour, innovation, and dedication as they are today.
Because female composers’ music has not been as visible as their male counterparts’, it’s tmore challenging to locate. For those who would like to do their own research, the New Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians is a good place to start, and beyond this it can be helpful to focus on various websites and publishers such as the Hildegard Publishing Company (who publish music written by women), Donne – Women in Music (a website for female composers), and the Archiv Frau und Musik or Archive of Women in Music (based in Frankfurt, Germany), as well as the Petrucci website or the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP).
There are several interesting publications, too, specifically: The New Grove Dictionary of Women Composers by Julie Anne Sadie and Rhian Samuel (Macmillan Press: 1994), The Pandora Guide to Women Composers by Sophie Fuller (Rivers Oram Press: 1994); and Sounds and Sweet Airs by Anna Beer (Oneworld Publications: 2016).
Variety and diversity
This project began in 2019 and my research has led to some splendid discoveries; compiled with variety in mind, there is a large collection of styles and genres from the Seventeenth Century to the present day. With a spotlight on diversity, I hope this selection promotes an interesting group of women composers from around the world.
Women Composers – A Graded Piano Anthology is arranged over three volumes, and contains fifty-two works by fifty-one different female composers; I have written two pieces for this collection. Each book consists of a group of works within a suggested graded level. These grades might be approximately similar to the levels found at the various UK examination boards. Every piece includes the composer’s biography as well as practice or performance suggestions (‘Performance Notes’). Each score has been annotated with added metronome markings, pedalling and fingering, as is so often necessary in an educational piano resource.
Book 1 features twenty-one pieces. Arranged over three levels, there are seven pieces within each level; Elementary, Late-Elementary and Early Intermediate (approximately Grades 1 – 4). Included are works by familiar composers such as Elisabetta de Gambarini, Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre, Anna Bon, Maria Szymanowska, Agathe Backer Grøndahl, Ethyl Smyth, and Mélanie Bonis. These more prominent names sit alongside lesser-known, but equally interesting, composers such as Florence Ada Goodrich, Narcisa Freixas, Felicitas Kukuck, Marjory Kennedy-Fraser, Hedwige Chrétien, and Ivana Loudová.
One element which I feel is important to include in any anthology is contemporary music. With this in mind, there are compositions by a total of twelve living contemporary composers over the three volumes. In Book 1, British composer Rachael Forsyth has written a delightful swing number, Soggy Shoes Blues, Australian composer Wendy Hiscocks has penned an energetic jig, Fig and Fennel, and British composer Samantha Ward, has written lively, fun blues work, Rockin’ Fingers – these pieces, alongside my own piece, Mirage, were all written especially for this series.
You can hear all twenty-one pieces by clicking on the playlist below, where they appear in the order which they are printed in Book 1.
Book 2 is also arranged over three levels; Intermediate, Late-Intermediate, and Early Advanced, or similar to Grades 4 – 7. Intermediate level contains seven pieces, and Late-Intermediate and Early Advanced levels both contain six works. There are Baroque numbers by Elizabeth Turner and Maria Teresa Agnesi, Classical style works by Hélène de Montgeroult, Helene Liebmann, Maria Hester Park, and Cecilia Maria Barthélemon, and Romantic pieces by Louise Farrenc, Luise Adolpha Le Beau, Mon Schjelderup, Maria Görres and Theodora Dutton. Contemporary composers include a beautiful jazz-inspired Minimalist piece by German composer Julia Hülsmann. British composer Jenni Pinnock and Malaysian composer Jessica Cho have both written their pieces especially for this volume.
Enjoy the complete playlist, here:
Book 3 has been arranged over two levels; Advanced and Late-Advanced (Grade 7 – diploma). There are twelve pieces in this volume, spotlighting works by Marianna von Martinez, Amy Beach, Lili Boulanger, Fanny Hensel, Clara Schumann, Teresa Carreño, Chiquinha Gonzaga, Lady Viola Kinney, and Vítězslava Kaprálová. Contemporary music has been written by Russian composer Tatjana Komarova, Japanese composer Mai Fukasawa, and Israeli composer Chaya Czernowin.
Hear the complete playlist, below:
My hope is that these volumes inspire pianists, whether they be young or old, and the suggested practice notes and composer’s biographies prove useful during the learning stages.
Find out more and purchase the books, here:
Book 1: https://en.schott-music.com/shop/women-composers-no443433.html
Book 2: https://en.schott-music.com/shop/women-composers-no443434.html
Book 3: https://en.schott-music.com/shop/women-composers-no446794.html
These volumes are also available from various online shops and websites including Musicroom, Presto Music, Amazon, and many others.
‘An extremely useful and stimulating collection.’
International Piano Magazine (September 2022)
‘These three volumes are an eye-opener into the extensive range of female composers from all over the world. Informative biographical notes as well as performance tips complete the books that cover four centuries of refreshing and exciting music. Melanie Spanswick must be congratulated on her extensive research in uncovering exciting music to enthral pianists and teachers.’
Piano Professional Magazine (September 2022)
‘This collection has been thoughtfully researched and throughout its entirety features composers from over 20 countries. The interior layout of the books is flawless. With this compilation, it’s clear that Spanswick has done plenty of research, meaning that students and their teachers will find a wealth of information on every piece.’
Music Teacher Magazine (July 2022)
‘Melanie Spanswick’s anthology is, in addition to being representative, also very inspiring. She offers sufficient choice of attractive, good, simple and technically challenging compositions in all styles and genres. Since these three volumes are mainly for piano teachers and their piano students, Spanswick provides fingerings, pedal suggestions and very useful advice for studying and performing. The biographies of the female composers allow you to get acquainted with this new repertoire completely.’
Piano Bulletin (June 2022)
‘These are well-presented books that succeed in offering some belated recognition to neglected composers and their music.’
Pianist Magazine (May 2022)
‘Melanie Spanswick’s Women Composers: A Graded Anthology series certainly delivers a rich feast of music which rightly belongs at the heart of any player’s repertoire. She has done us all an immense favour by researching, compiling and presenting these fabulous collections.
Melanie Spanswick’s Women Composers: A Graded Anthology is utterly superb, and will surely be of significant interest to pianists everywhere.’
PianoDao Blog (March 2022)
About the author
Melanie Spanswick is a pianist, writer, teacher, adjudicator and composer. She is also the author of Play it again: PIANO (Schott) a three-book piano course for students who are returning to piano playing.