Dame Ethel Smyth, born Ethel Mary Smyth, on April 22, 1858, in London, is the composer whose work was notably eclectic, ranging from conventional to experimental.
Born into a military family, Smyth studied at the Leipzig Conservatory and was encouraged by Johannes Brahms and Antonín Dvořák. She first gained notice with her sweeping Mass in D (1893). Her best-known work is The Wreckers (1906), the most-admired English opera of its time. March of the Women (1911) reflected Smyth’s strong involvement in the woman suffrage movement. The comic opera The Boatswain’s Mate (1916) enjoyed considerable success. Smyth wrote a multivolume autobiography, Impressions That Remained (1919–40).
Tue Aristipposian Poet
The Life You Give: Ethel Smyth
in celebration of her life in music
April 22 at 2:30pm EST
Ethel Smyth was rose to become one of the most prominent composers of the time – as well as a leading figure in the movement for women’s suffrage.
When Parliament passed the Representation of the People Act in 1918, for the first time in the UK, some women were given the right to vote (though by no means all – and they had to be over 30. It would be ten more years before women were given the vote on the same terms as men).
Dame Ethel Smyth studied at the Leipzig Conservatory where she met composers including Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Clara Schumann and Brahms.
But her life also coincided with a time of great political change, and Ethel was not one to sit on the sidelines.
In 1911 she wrote ‘The March of the Women’, dedicated to Emmeline Pankhurst. It became the official anthem of the Women’s Social and Political Union and suffragettes around the world took up Ethel’s rallying cry. The words are by Cicely Hamilton.
It opens with the forthright cry:
Shout, shout, up with your song!
Cry with the wind, for the dawn is breaking;
March, march, swing you along,
Wide blows our banner, and hope is waking
And like many activists, Ethel was herself imprisoned – for throwing a rock through a window of the Houses of Parliament. More precisely, her rock went through the window of the office of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lewis Harcourt, whose views on women Ethel and the suffragettes… took some issue with.
Thomas Beecham visited the composer in Holloway Prison in 1912 and found her conducting her fellow inmates with a toothbrush.
“I arrived in the main courtyard of the prison to find the noble company of martyrs marching round it and singing lustily their war-chant while the composer, beaming approbation from an overlooking upper window, beat time in almost Bacchic frenzy with a toothbrush”.
By the 1930s, Ethel had been made a Dame and was so well-regarded that Beecham conducted a concert to celebrate her 75th birthday at the Royal Albert Hall – and the Queen was in the audience.
Source: classic fm