Ethel Smyth (1858-1944)

Episodes

EpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
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01The Birth Of A Composer2013110420150216 (R3)

Donald Macleod focuses on Ethel Smyth's struggles to establish herself as a musician.

Early works from Ethel Smyth including songs, chamber music and her Mass in D.

Accounts of Dame Ethel Smyth cast her as a doughty figure, unafraid to flout convention. Born into an upper class Victorian family, the fact that Smyth wanted a professional career in music is exceptional in itself. Two major choral works, several orchestral works, six operas and a significant body of chamber music, attest to her seriousness of purpose as a composer. However, the sheer gusto and number of other activities the ebullient Smyth pursued have tended to obscure her artistic reception. A keen traveller, she was a successful author, producing 9 largely autobiographical books. A life-long champion of women's rights, among the causes she supported was Mrs. Pankhurst's "right to vote" campaign. Her competitive nature found a perfect partner in sport; she was often to be found riding to hounds, playing tennis matches or striding over the golf course. As one rather bemused contemporary musician remarked when he met her, she is "the most remarkable and original woman composer in the history of music".

Donald Macleod begins his survey with Dame Ethel's struggles to establish herself as a musician. She fought with her father, a Major-General in the British army, for seven years to study music in Germany. Once there, she was recognised as a composer for the first time, mixed with influential musical circles and came into contact with Brahms, whose influence permeates her early songs and chamber music.

02A Happy Time In Misery2013110520150217 (R3)

Donald Macleod considers the impact of Ethel Smyth's earliest romantic entanglements.

Donald Macleod considers the impact of Ethel Smyth's earliest romantic entanglements with music from her String Quartet in E minor and Serenade in D.

Accounts of Dame Ethel Smyth cast her as a doughty figure, unafraid to flout convention. Born into an upper class Victorian family, the fact that Smyth wanted a professional career in music is exceptional in itself. Two major choral works, several orchestral works, six operas and a significant body of chamber music, attest to her seriousness of purpose as a composer. However, the sheer gusto and number of other activities the ebullient Smyth pursued have tended to obscure her artistic reception. A keen traveller, she was a successful author, producing 9 largely autobiographical books. A life-long champion of women's rights, among the causes she supported was Mrs. Pankhurst's "right to vote" campaign. Her competitive nature found a perfect partner in sport; she was often to be found riding to hounds, playing tennis matches or striding over the golf course. As one rather bemused contemporary musician remarked when he met her, she is "the most remarkable and original woman composer in the history of music".

Today, a chance meeting with the American writer and philosopher Henry Brewster leads to the break up of Smyth's close relationship with Brewster's sister-in-law, Lisl von Herzogenberg. Meanwhile, encouraged by Tchaikovsky, Smyth begins to work on larger scale works, and finds success on the concert platform with her Serenade in D.

03Troubles With Henry2013110620150218 (R3)

Donald Macleod on Smyth's relationships with writer Henry Brewster and Empress Eugenie.

A reunion with Henry Brewster and London success for Ethel Smyth, with music from the Mass in D, the Serenade in D and Four Songs for voice and chamber ensemble.

Accounts of Dame Ethel Smyth cast her as a doughty figure, unafraid to flout convention. Born into an upper class Victorian family, the fact that Smyth wanted a professional career in music is exceptional in itself. Two major choral works, several orchestral works, six operas and a significant body of chamber music, attest to her seriousness of purpose as a composer. However, the sheer gusto and number of other activities the ebullient Smyth pursued have tended to obscure her artistic reception. A keen traveller, she was a successful author, producing nine largely autobiographical books. A life-long champion of women's rights, among the causes she supported was Mrs. Pankhurst's "right to vote" campaign. Her competitive nature found a perfect partner in sport; she was often to be found riding to hounds, playing tennis matches or striding over the golf course. As one rather bemused contemporary musician remarked when he met her, she is "the most remarkable and original woman composer in the history of music".

Donald Macleod examines the significance of two of Ethel Smyth's most important relationships, with American writer and philosopher Henry Brewster, who wrote several librettos for her operas, and Empress Eugènie, the exiled widow of Napoleon III, who helped launch the Mass in D and her Four Songs for Voice and Chamber Ensemble.

04Political Alliances2013110720150219 (R3)

Donald Macleod focuses on Ethel Smyth's association with the suffragettes.

Ethel Smyth and her association with the suffragettes, featuring music from The Boatswain's Mate and The Wreckers.

Accounts of Dame Ethel Smyth cast her as a doughty figure, unafraid to flout convention. Born into an upper class Victorian family, the fact that Smyth wanted a professional career in music is exceptional in itself. Two major choral works, several orchestral works, six operas and a significant body of chamber music, attest to her seriousness of purpose as a composer. However, the sheer gusto and number of other activities the ebullient Smyth pursued have tended to obscure her artistic reception. A keen traveller, she was a successful author, producing nine largely autobiographical books. A life-long champion of women's rights, among the causes she supported was Mrs. Pankhurst's "right to vote" campaign. Her competitive nature found a perfect partner in sport; she was often to be found riding to hounds, playing tennis matches or striding over the golf course. As one rather bemused contemporary musician remarked when he met her, she is "the most remarkable and original woman composer in the history of music".

Donald Macleod charts Ethel Smyth's involvement in women's suffrage. Inspired by meeting Emmeline Pankhurst, head of the Women's Social and Political Union, Smyth decided to take two years off her musical career to help support the fight for women's rights. Her activism famously led to her imprisonment for throwing stones through a suffrage opponent's window. In 1912, having resumed her music career, she began work on what's probably her most feminist influenced work, the comic opera, the Boatswain's Mate.

05Starting Over2013110820150220 (R3)

Donald Macleod explores Ethel Smyth's career after her resumption of music in 1912.

Ethel Smyth's career after 1912: with further performances of her operas, and two major new works, the Prison and Concerto for Violin, Horn and Orchestra.

Accounts of Dame Ethel Smyth cast her as a doughty figure, unafraid to flout convention. Born into an upper class Victorian family, the fact that Smyth wanted a professional career in music is exceptional in itself. Two major choral works, several orchestral works, six operas and a significant body of chamber music, attest to her seriousness of purpose as a composer. However, the sheer gusto and number of other activities the ebullient Smyth pursued have tended to obscure her artistic reception. A keen traveller, she was a successful author, producing nine largely autobiographical books. A life-long champion of women's rights, among the causes she supported was Mrs. Pankhurst's "right to vote" campaign. Her competitive nature found a perfect partner in sport; she was often to be found riding to hounds, playing tennis matches or striding over the golf course. As one rather bemused contemporary musician remarked when he met her, she is "the most remarkable and original woman composer in the history of music".

Today, Donald Macleod explores Ethel Smyth's career following her resumption of music in 1912. By this time Smyth's hearing was failing, yet despite this obstacle, an originality shines through the Concerto for Violin, Horn and Orchestra. She also had the joy of seeing many more performances of her operas in Germany and in the UK.

05 LASTStarting Over20131108

Donald Macleod explores Ethel Smyth's career after her resumption of music in 1912.

Ethel Smyth's career after 1912: with further performances of her operas, and two major new works, the Prison and Concerto for Violin, Horn and Orchestra.

Accounts of Dame Ethel Smyth cast her as a doughty figure, unafraid to flout convention. Born into an upper class Victorian family, the fact that Smyth wanted a professional career in music is exceptional in itself. Two major choral works, several orchestral works, six operas and a significant body of chamber music, attest to her seriousness of purpose as a composer. However, the sheer gusto and number of other activities the ebullient Smyth pursued have tended to obscure her artistic reception. A keen traveller, she was a successful author, producing nine largely autobiographical books. A life-long champion of women's rights, among the causes she supported was Mrs. Pankhurst's "right to vote" campaign. Her competitive nature found a perfect partner in sport; she was often to be found riding to hounds, playing tennis matches or striding over the golf course. As one rather bemused contemporary musician remarked when he met her, she is "the most remarkable and original woman composer in the history of music".

Today, Donald Macleod explores Ethel Smyth's career following her resumption of music in 1912. By this time Smyth's hearing was failing, yet despite this obstacle, an originality shines through the Concerto for Violin, Horn and Orchestra. She also had the joy of seeing many more performances of her operas in Germany and in the UK.