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Great piano concertos: my new playlist

How many piano concertos were composed by women? You might think one or two (the Clara Schumann concerto is much more performed these days). Yes, this is what I thought for many years, although I played at least two :)

But the repertoire of women composers for piano and orchestra is enormous and outstanding – what I listen and discover these days is probably the tip of the iceberg. Little by little, I listen each day to a new treasure , that was hidden back in history.

These days I spend much time waiting: in traffic jams, buses, airports, airplanes – and this so- called "wasted" time is dedicated to discover new repertoire . Such wonderful compositions!

So here is my Spotify play list for now , all this wonderful music planned to performed one day - me, my students, my colleagues, my students's students.... There is so much to be discovered!

Lets begin.

No Clara Schumann concerto in this post ! look at Clara, Robert, and the Piano Concerto

Marianna Martines (1744-1812) composed oratorios, masses, sacred choral works and secular cantatas, as well as works for orchestra and keyboard music. She took keyboard lessons from Haydn, whom Metastasio, the friend of the Martines family, had met as a result of their living in the same building. Already as a child Martines was good enough to perform before the Imperial court, and later was frequently asked to perform before the Empress Maria Theresa. Martines's name and music were known throughout Europe, and she was admitted to the Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna in 1773.

Her survived works for keyboard so far: 3 keyboard sonatas, 3 keyboard concertos. Here is the beautiful concerto in A major:

Biographer Adrienne Fried Block has called Amy Beach (1867-1944) “the first American woman to succeed as a composer of large-scale art music”.

Amy Beach’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in C-sharp Minor, Op. 45, completed in 1899, was one of the first piano concertos (if not the first) to be written by an American woman.

Beach performed the concerto with ten different major orchestras in the United States and Europe from 1900 to 1917; these performances helped to establish and secure her international reputation as both a composer and a pianist. It is a magnificent composition in the traditional romantic virtuoso piano concerto form, challenging piano part and a spectacular orchestration.

The Hungarian-born Croatian composer Dora Pejačević (1885-1923) lived only 38 years , but her output is incredible. One of her first mature works was the Piano Concerto in G minor (1913) is Filled with rich melodies and masterfully orchestrated. This neglected piano concerto, the first by a Croatian composer, deserves a higher and more important place in the instrument’s repertoire. Here is a wonderful performance by Peter Donohoe and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Ruth Dorothy Louisa ("Wid") Gipps ( 1921 –1999) was an English composer, oboist, pianist, conductor, and educator. She composed music in a wide range of genres, including five symphonies, seven concertos, and numerous chamber and choral works. She founded both the London Repertoire Orchestra and the Chanticleer Orchestra and served as conductor and music director for the City of Birmingham Choir. Later in her life she served as chairwoman of the Composers' Guild of Great Britain. Here is a wonderful performance of her piano concerto ( 1948 ) by Murray McLachlan and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Dora Estella Bright (1863 - 1951) was born in Sheffield, England. She was a professional pianist, a music critic, and a composer of concert works and ballets. She was very successful in the late 19th century with her large-scale orchestral works, and now largely forgotten and most of her manuscripts do not appear to have survived.

Bright’s First Piano Concerto was composed in 1892, and is one of the composer’s most popular works today.

Nadia Boulanger 1887– 1979) was the most influential music teacher of the 20th century, and the first woman to conduct many major orchestras in America and Europe. The eldest sister of composer Lili Boulanger. When Lili died at a very young age (24) in 1918 , Nadia did not composer anymore and dedicated her life to promote her sister's works, along with teaching and conducting.

The beautiful Fantaisie variée for piano and orchestra was composed in 1912 .

Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983) was the sole female member of the intriguing group of young French composers eventually known as “Les Six.” Tailleferre was a prominent and prolific composer writing in a wide range of musical genres. Her memorable music for opera and ballet is augmented by piano concertos, symphonic works, solo piano pieces, music for small ensembles and well over 40 movie soundtracks. She won the admiration of Erik Satie who called her his "musical daughter." The years leading up to World War II saw the greatest recognition of her work, although such acclaim never reached the levels of Poulenc, Milhaud, or Honegger. You can make a case that this coolness stems from older attitudes toward women composers. After all Aaron Copland wondered why there were no great ones, although he probably knew at least two…

Tailleferre composed the Ballade and the 1st concerto at the same year (1923) in an early age, and the works are so different in mood and style: The Ballade is experimental, free and adventurous, the concerto is looking back , Neo- classical , with a taste of Stravinsky and Satie.

Sofia Gubaidulina, (b.1931) is one of the great Russian figures in the music world today . At first Gubaidulina’s works were rarely performed in the Soviet union and were not recorded, and for a time she supported herself by writing music for movies, including scores for animated films. In 1975 she founded a group that performed improvised pieces on rare Russian and Central Asian instruments. She first traveled to the West in 1985, and in 1992 she moved Hamburg. Over the years, she gained notice through commissions from new music festivals and institutions , and from orchestras and individual musicians. She Claims that Shostakovich and Webern influenced her the most.

Gubaidulina’s works exhibit a number of dualities— the traditional and the radical, combination of Russian and Central Asian regional styles with the Western classical tradition , and the soloist vis-à-vis the group. She sets in her music elements related to spiritualism and liturgical gestures.

Her works are mostly polytonal (set in more than one key at once) and are characterized by strongly accented rhythms. Her use of folk and other nonstandard instruments, sometimes in unusual combinations, often produces strikingly colorful timbres.

Introitus ,composer in 1978, is not a common piano concerto: it is a combination and dialogue between groups of instruments, silence and noise, meditation, emotion and rhythm.

Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006) is totally a discovery. She has long been the Mystery Woman of Russian music. Little of her personal history was known whereas her music did not fare any better. She studied with Shostakovich who greatly admired her achievement. In his quote: "I am convinced that Galina Ostvolskaya's music will gain worldwide recognition, which is valued among those who truly believe that music is of paramount importance."

Ustvolskaya was attracted to Shostakovich as a person, but his "dry and soulless" music never appealed to her, as she told the entire world in the 1990s. Ustvolskaya's frank statements, her denunciation of her teacher and exposure of his ugly side, caused a great scandal and remain one of the reasons why her music is still rarely performed in Russia.

One of the earliest works is the Concerto for Piano, Strings and Timpani completed in 1946 when she was a mere twenty-nine. Shostakovich’s shadow looms large over this impressive work that already points towards some later characteristics found in Ustvolskaya’s music. It is a dramatic, dark and passionate composition with great energy.

How interesting, there is a hidden connection between this concerto and the next one: The dramatic energy and the solemn C minor, the Timpani domination with the piano and the powerful texture.

The piano concerto of Ella Milch-Sheriff (b. 1954) was premiered with Maestro Doron Salomon and the Israel Sinfoniettea Beer Sheva in 2008, later revised for a symphomic orchestra, Performed with the Haifa Symphony, with Maestro Noam Sheriff RIP.

Here is the 3rd mvt - E-Motion as performed live in Haifa

There is no doubt that these concertos are outstanding compositions.

And now - for the real questions:

Why these wonderful compositions are not in our ears and hands? Why are they still anonymous?

I am thinking out loud - please feel free to share your thoughts with me.

-Inaccessibility - the repertoire is not known to teachers and institutions.

- Absence in curriculum of piano literature, and other music courses

- Requirements in piano competitions and auditions: almost all competitions require only the standard repertoire , therefore most pianists study the most performed concertos.

-Not enough recordings, and not enough access to sheet music and 2-piano scores.

- copyrights - many concertos have copyrights and the rental is quite expensive or difficult to get.

and now - The vicious circle :

Artistic directors, soloists, agents and conductors prefer the standard repertoire, and claim it is the public's demand . Therefore , pianists do not feel the necessity to learn "an esoteric repertoire that nobody knows"

It is 2022, and I am certain that few years from now these compositions will be more and more on the concert stage and the recording studio. Conductors, I am ready:)


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