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Sounds and Sweet Airs reveals the hidden stories of eight remarkable composers, taking the reader on a journey from seventeenth-century Medici Florence to London in the Blitz. Exploring not just the lives and works of eight exceptional artists, historian Anna Beer also asks tough questions about the silencing of their legacy, which continues to this day. Why do we still not Sounds and Sweet Airs reveals the hidden stories of eight remarkable composers, taking the reader on a journey from seventeenth-century Medici Florence to London in the Blitz. Exploring not just the lives and works of eight exceptional artists, historian Anna Beer also asks tough questions about the silencing of their legacy, which continues to this day. Why do we still not hear masterpieces such as Hensel’s piano work "The Year," Caccini’s arias and Boulanger’s setting of Psalm 130? A long-overdue celebration of neglected virtuosos, Sounds and Sweet Airs presents a complex and inspirational picture of artistic endeavour and achievement that deserves to be part of our cultural heritage. The featured composers are: Francesca Caccini, Barbara Strozzi, Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Marianna Martines, Fanny Hensel (née Mendelssohn), Clara Schumann, Lili Boulanger and Elizabeth Maconchy.


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Sounds and Sweet Airs reveals the hidden stories of eight remarkable composers, taking the reader on a journey from seventeenth-century Medici Florence to London in the Blitz. Exploring not just the lives and works of eight exceptional artists, historian Anna Beer also asks tough questions about the silencing of their legacy, which continues to this day. Why do we still not Sounds and Sweet Airs reveals the hidden stories of eight remarkable composers, taking the reader on a journey from seventeenth-century Medici Florence to London in the Blitz. Exploring not just the lives and works of eight exceptional artists, historian Anna Beer also asks tough questions about the silencing of their legacy, which continues to this day. Why do we still not hear masterpieces such as Hensel’s piano work "The Year," Caccini’s arias and Boulanger’s setting of Psalm 130? A long-overdue celebration of neglected virtuosos, Sounds and Sweet Airs presents a complex and inspirational picture of artistic endeavour and achievement that deserves to be part of our cultural heritage. The featured composers are: Francesca Caccini, Barbara Strozzi, Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Marianna Martines, Fanny Hensel (née Mendelssohn), Clara Schumann, Lili Boulanger and Elizabeth Maconchy.

30 review for Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    A most valuable addition to musical biography and analysis; I see this becoming a standard in studies of women composers. The author has chosen 8 outstanding examples from Renaissance Italy [Caccini and Strozzi]; to the France of the Sun King [Jacquet de la Guerre], to the Austro/German tradition [Martines, Hensel née Mendelssohn, Schumann née Wieck] to the 20th century [Boulanger and Maconchy] and written in detail but accessibly. The author also surrounded these women with a sense of their A most valuable addition to musical biography and analysis; I see this becoming a standard in studies of women composers. The author has chosen 8 outstanding examples from Renaissance Italy [Caccini and Strozzi]; to the France of the Sun King [Jacquet de la Guerre], to the Austro/German tradition [Martines, Hensel née Mendelssohn, Schumann née Wieck] to the 20th century [Boulanger and Maconchy] and written in detail but accessibly. The author also surrounded these women with a sense of their times and culture. The asides such as the bit on high-heeled shoes in the Strozzi section or on Maconchy's one-act opera, the "The Sofa", were delightful. Boulanger's chapter impressed me the most--such a talented lady, who died tragically young and who composed such luminescent music. The Endnote was fascinating, giving us a glimpse into what made these women special: someone who recognized their genius [no other word for it]; someone who guided and taught them music skills, as performer or as composer; friends or family that supported them; a public or private platform for their gift to shine forth. I appreciated all the supplementary material, but WHY did the book lack any index? To me as a former librarian, a good index is mandatory for any nonfiction work. WHY are there no discography suggestions for the woman composers mentioned in the introduction? I see these women are mentioned with only a paragraph or two in the Introduction--which is fine. Discography entries for them could be set apart with some kind of marking--asterisk?--before them. I would especially like suggestions about Nun Kassia, a 9th century Byzantine monastic, for whom we have the earliest surviving written music, and the 20th century Rebecca Clarke. Her prize-winning violin sonata was thought to be entered by a man. I hope these black-and-white portraits will be color plates in the published edition. Maconchy herself tells us whenever you hear a piece of music, you have no way of knowing if the composer is male or female--Clarke's contest entry being an example. Highly recommended. Thanks to LibraryThing for an ARC in exchange for my honest review.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Emma Griffiths

    I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway and I was unsure what to expect, As it's not something I would usually pick up. I loved the way that Anna Beer explored the lives of 8 different women composers and performers of Classical music - All of which I had never even heard of! Even whilst I was studying GCSE Music, I was not taught of these extraordinary women - As I studied their names in the contents list, I realised that I was only taught of men composers. This is something that I think they I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway and I was unsure what to expect, As it's not something I would usually pick up. I loved the way that Anna Beer explored the lives of 8 different women composers and performers of Classical music - All of which I had never even heard of! Even whilst I was studying GCSE Music, I was not taught of these extraordinary women - As I studied their names in the contents list, I realised that I was only taught of men composers. This is something that I think they should change in the National Curriculum! I thought it was great how the author included a "Further Listening" section at the end of the book, allowing the reader to hear for themselves how wonderfully talented these women are. As someone who plays Piano myself, I found the stories of these women extremely inspiring, And it's made me want to explore my talent further.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Linda Robinson

    Brava! Eight women composers. Francesca Caccini 1587-1741; Barbara Strozzi 1619-1677; Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre 1665-1729; Marianna Martinez[s] 1744-1812; Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel 1805-1847; Clara Wieck Schumann 1819-1896; Lili Boulanger 1893-1918; Elizabeth Maconchy 1907-1994. "Ambitious fathers and talented mothers; prodigy brothers and trailblazing sisters; courts, cities or nations in need of a soundtrack, even if, and sometimes because it is composed by a woman..." Beer wrote a scholarly Brava! Eight women composers. Francesca Caccini 1587-1741; Barbara Strozzi 1619-1677; Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre 1665-1729; Marianna Martinez[s] 1744-1812; Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel 1805-1847; Clara Wieck Schumann 1819-1896; Lili Boulanger 1893-1918; Elizabeth Maconchy 1907-1994. "Ambitious fathers and talented mothers; prodigy brothers and trailblazing sisters; courts, cities or nations in need of a soundtrack, even if, and sometimes because it is composed by a woman..." Beer wrote a scholarly historical account of these composers in the setting of their lives, without being pedantic, preachy, creepy or judgmental. The time each woman composed in set the stage for how her art would be received. While each as a musician could perform (though not in public, please) composition was a different discipline. Talking with a friend yesterday I mentioned a couple of contemporaries to further dress the context. "Yes, but Mozart was a prodigy," the man said. OK. So were these women. If you're performing at court at 13 years old, I don't care if you're male, female, reptile or alien, that's prodigal realm. Fair warning: you may get mad. The author was kind enough to mellow the circumstances so you can get over it fairly quickly. Keep in mind that the composers did what they needed to do to 1) create art 2) write music, and 3) live in the time and place. Beer is an excellent approachable writer, so take your time with this book. Find videos of the music being performed as you start a new composer chapter. Be your own set designer! Best of all the best, she has A Highly Personal Playlist at the back, in front of a glossary, so a reader may listen further, and needn't be intimidated by musical wordage. Superb. My tiny book designer whinge - the author is blameless - Zapfino font? And obscuring the beautiful portrait of Guerre. tsk.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Faith Justice

    I received this book from the publisher through an Early Reading program. I have a number of these books about forgotten/unknown female pioneers in a variety of professions. Most have a light-hearted chatty tone with brief biographical sketches. This book was different. Beer is a serious scholar who devoted over 300 pages to just eight women composers from 17C Florence through 20C Britain. She explores their careers in relation to their families, the political situation, role of women, and I received this book from the publisher through an Early Reading program. I have a number of these books about forgotten/unknown female pioneers in a variety of professions. Most have a light-hearted chatty tone with brief biographical sketches. This book was different. Beer is a serious scholar who devoted over 300 pages to just eight women composers from 17C Florence through 20C Britain. She explores their careers in relation to their families, the political situation, role of women, and musical developments of the time. It's a fascinating journey through musical history and women's role in it. Unfortunately, I'm not a musician so I skimmed most of the musical theory discussion. For musically knowledgeable people, add another star. In spite of my ignorance, I enjoyed the stories of these remarkable women.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jayne

    Anna Beer writes compellingly of these eight composers, how they struggled and dealt with the sexism they encountered, and how they have been received and remembered. I really appreciated how she presented the information available and also provided her own interpretations and theories. This book should absolutely be required reading for every music major. I will surely be reading this again.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Camille

    Disclaimer: I received this book for free through a First Reads giveaway. I found the concept of this book interesting, it allowed to discover new composer I'd never heard about. The structure, each chapter focusing on a different person, is quite accessible as you can just put the book down after a chapter and get back to it. I received an uncorrected proof copy so will not comment on the writing itself as I am sure it was edited. I can say the language is accessible to a person who doesn't know Disclaimer: I received this book for free through a First Reads giveaway. I found the concept of this book interesting, it allowed to discover new composer I'd never heard about. The structure, each chapter focusing on a different person, is quite accessible as you can just put the book down after a chapter and get back to it. I received an uncorrected proof copy so will not comment on the writing itself as I am sure it was edited. I can say the language is accessible to a person who doesn't know too much about the world of music. I found there was quite a bit of repetition at times, but here again, it may well have been edited. I was also not too keen on the author telling you personal things, such as explaining she is writing for Paris or listening to such and such piece of music while writing, in a non-fiction book. I found chapters 1, 3, 5 and 6 to be very interesting and enjoyed them a lot. The last two chapters I wasn't overwhelmed with, but that is because I like pre-20th century classical music and these chapters are about 20th century composers. Chapters 2 and 4 were clearly lacking in my opinion. It seems to be that there wasn't enough knowledge about the life and work of Barbara Strozzi and Marianna Martines, so the author keeps going on about other things and repeats herself quite a lot to reach the required number of pages. All in all, I would say it is an interesting introduction to music or feminist studies, but I don't think I will be keeping my copy.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    Really needs to be taught in music classes.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    Sounds and Sweet Airs is an excellent book for challenging the traditional, male-centric classical canon, and I expect that chapters will be assigned by music history teachers for a long time to come. The book has reflective essays at the front and back, but most of the book is biographies: each chapter relates the life and works of a woman composer, giving them the same slightly hagiographic treatment long given to music's "Masters." The chapters are more than just an overview of facts; they Sounds and Sweet Airs is an excellent book for challenging the traditional, male-centric classical canon, and I expect that chapters will be assigned by music history teachers for a long time to come. The book has reflective essays at the front and back, but most of the book is biographies: each chapter relates the life and works of a woman composer, giving them the same slightly hagiographic treatment long given to music's "Masters." The chapters are more than just an overview of facts; they highlight and explore the ways their society's—and OUR society's—views of women affected their careers, productivity, and relationships. Perhaps the most surprising revelation for me was when Beer pointed out that we know next to nothing about a particular composer's life as a mother, because it's a current expectation to include motherhood in any biography of a woman, whereas in the composer's time, it was considered irrelevant. That doesn't mean it was irrelevant to her, just that people recording this history didn't see it necessary to include in the story of her composing. Though the title presents the subjects as "forgotten women" and occasionally as "composers you've never heard of," that's, of course, dependent on the background of the reader. I think this book will be fully readable for someone who has never even heard of Clara Schumann. As for me, I'm a musicologist, so I knew of many, but not everyone! I had studied Caccini and Stozzi from a seminar on musical women in the Renaissance, and as one who's dissertation focused on the 19th-century, I was already quite familiar with Hensel and Schumann (though the focus of this monograph gave me new perspective on them!), but I'll admit I'd never heard of Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Marianna Martines, and Elizabeth Maconchy, which is a real shame. Fortunately, Beer provides a listening list to acquaint the reader to the composers' most successful and/or most characteristic works, as her descriptions often make the reader thirsty to hear them! Beer has written a wonderful book that should become a standard in any "Intro to Musicology" course, as well as a starting point for research into any of the included composers. The prose is readable, the details relevant and interesting. I learned a lot, and I hope I carry the lessons into my blog writing, thinking about how I present the various aspects—domestic life, childhood, career—of composers of any gender.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Powell

    A few years ago I began actively seeking out and listening to classical music composed by women (of which there is an enormous and extraordinary overlooked repertoire) and I was thrilled to discover this book last month. While the best of these composers' works stand on their own and need no context in order to be appreciated, I find I get so much more out of a composition if I understand the circumstances and situation in which they were created. Unfortunately, biographies on these brilliant A few years ago I began actively seeking out and listening to classical music composed by women (of which there is an enormous and extraordinary overlooked repertoire) and I was thrilled to discover this book last month. While the best of these composers' works stand on their own and need no context in order to be appreciated, I find I get so much more out of a composition if I understand the circumstances and situation in which they were created. Unfortunately, biographies on these brilliant but neglected composers are difficult to find. Even the paltry liner notes from recordings of their works (what few exist) often replicate each other verbatim. This book, however, was superbly researched, with compelling writing and insightful analysis: I only wish there were more. I hope the author writes a followup, since there are so many other fascinating composers understandably but regrettably omitted (Louise Farrenc, Rebecca Clarke, Florence Price, for instance). The eight composers she focuses on are a good selection in any case, and the book does much to illuminate their works, and indeed listening to them is now a fuller and richer experience. For anyone who enjoys classical music at all I would say you owe it to yourself to read this book, and more importantly to listen to some of the masterpieces it details - you don't know what you're missing.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Anna Katharine

    My 90-year-old piano teacher, who spent a lifetime as a concertizing pianist, recommended this to me. My musical history knowledge is sparse at best, so I'm sure she got more out of it than I did- but even to a layperson, it's shocking to learn how very limited women's lives have historically been. Like my favorite historical fiction, the stories of these eight female composers (Caccini, Strozzi, Jacquet de la Guerre, Martines, Hensel, Schumann, Boulanger, and Maconchy) made the challenges of My 90-year-old piano teacher, who spent a lifetime as a concertizing pianist, recommended this to me. My musical history knowledge is sparse at best, so I'm sure she got more out of it than I did- but even to a layperson, it's shocking to learn how very limited women's lives have historically been. Like my favorite historical fiction, the stories of these eight female composers (Caccini, Strozzi, Jacquet de la Guerre, Martines, Hensel, Schumann, Boulanger, and Maconchy) made the challenges of simply surviving as a woman- much less finding a way to let society provide space for creativity and expression- very real. Ranging from the 16th century to the mid-20th, the roadblocks for each woman are different, but no less inspiring. I knew, for instance, that society has associated actresses and singers with prostitution until well into the 20th century, but didn't realize that in the 16th century courtesans were effectively the ONLY women who created or performed music. For Caccini to do the work on which she thrived, her only choice was to navigate the tricky social waters of court. Even for the later composers- Boulanger and Maconchy- the support and cooperation of the men in their lives was critical their success. Though an academic work, this book is engaging, and opens up a whole new world of music to explore.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Michael Cayley

    Thoroughly recommended. This is a book on female composers over the centuries, and the difficulties and prejudice they encountered - from the assumption in Renaissance Italy that they were likely to be courtesans through the bourgeois constraints of being a woman in 19th century Germany and therefore best suited to being a wife and mother to the continuing prejudices against female composers in 20th century France and Britain. 8 composers are each given a chapter: Francesca Caccini and Barbara Thoroughly recommended. This is a book on female composers over the centuries, and the difficulties and prejudice they encountered - from the assumption in Renaissance Italy that they were likely to be courtesans through the bourgeois constraints of being a woman in 19th century Germany and therefore best suited to being a wife and mother to the continuing prejudices against female composers in 20th century France and Britain. 8 composers are each given a chapter: Francesca Caccini and Barbara Strozzi from Renaissance Italy; Jacquet de la Guerre from Baroque France; Marianna Martines, Fanny Hensel (maiden name Mendelssohn, sister of Felix Mendelssohn) and Clara Schumann from the 18th and 19th century Austro-German world; and Lili Boulanger and Elizabeth Maconchy from, respectively, 20th century France and 20th century England (though Maconchy spent childhood years in Ireland). All of them faced a widespread assumption that, if women composed, charming songs and pieces for domestic consumption were their sphere, and that women were generally unsuited to composing sustained larger-scale works. Maconchy had the easiest time but only because her talent was recognised early by major established male composers. There is relatively little in the book on the composers' actual music. The main focus is on their lives, the attitudes of their families and spouses, and the societies in which they strove to be recognised. The book is extremely readable, and is full of well-told episodes in the 8 women's lives. They were all very good composers. If it leads you to explore some wonderful but fairly neglected music by them, as it did me, your life will be enriched.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Penmouse

    Author Anna Beer's Sounds and Sweet Airs tells about the almost forgotten history of women composers. Her book tells about some of the women who wrote beautiful music during a time when women were supposed to marry and keep quiet. I love how Beer manages to painlessly tell the history as her writing is entertaining while being educational. The one drawback of her book is I thought her Notes From the Silence was a bit long. Recommend.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Gabby

    An interesting overview of several composers... reading this book is both inspiring and maddening. These amazing composers were put in a box because of their gender, and the musical world is the poorer for it.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    780.922 B4151 2016

  15. 5 out of 5

    Leanna Keith

    It took me quite some time to read this whole book, but this is mostly because I wanted to really, truly, learn and process the lives of each of these women - to listen to the music and think of their lives. It is so vastly important that this book exists - as a person with not one, but TWO degrees in classical music, it was shocking to me how little I knew (if anything!) about each of these composers. The composers that I had heard of in college were primarily juxtaposed with their more famous It took me quite some time to read this whole book, but this is mostly because I wanted to really, truly, learn and process the lives of each of these women - to listen to the music and think of their lives. It is so vastly important that this book exists - as a person with not one, but TWO degrees in classical music, it was shocking to me how little I knew (if anything!) about each of these composers. The composers that I had heard of in college were primarily juxtaposed with their more famous counterparts (Clara with Robert, Fanny with Felix) and mentioned flippantly and without focus on their work. If you're curious about this book, I highly recommend it. Beyond the historical content, the music that can be discovered is well worth the time.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    An unabashedly feminist introduction to eight women composers from the 17th through the 20th centuries, Sounds and Sweet Airs is a good overview of the lives of these composers. Beers gives frank and interesting commentary on how ideas about women and their roles throughout history have defined and limited the ways women could create and perform music, and shows how these limitations affected each of the composers for good or ill. This book is meant for the general reader rather than the serious An unabashedly feminist introduction to eight women composers from the 17th through the 20th centuries, Sounds and Sweet Airs is a good overview of the lives of these composers. Beers gives frank and interesting commentary on how ideas about women and their roles throughout history have defined and limited the ways women could create and perform music, and shows how these limitations affected each of the composers for good or ill. This book is meant for the general reader rather than the serious music student, but is very enjoyable and a good gateway to further study of these composers.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Dayna

    I didn't care for the writing style; I felt it was more for a young adult, not only for the tone but the details that would have been known to people knowledgeable about classical music. While familiar with some of the works mentioned, I would have liked to have heard the others. Perhaps a future edition could include a link to the manuscripts & audio? I remember many years ago that there was a late night program on Public Radio discussing & playing the works of women composers, Beach, I didn't care for the writing style; I felt it was more for a young adult, not only for the tone but the details that would have been known to people knowledgeable about classical music. While familiar with some of the works mentioned, I would have liked to have heard the others. Perhaps a future edition could include a link to the manuscripts & audio? I remember many years ago that there was a late night program on Public Radio discussing & playing the works of women composers, Beach, Carreño, Kaprilová among them. If can find it archived online, I really recommend listening to it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Naomi

    Yes, the chord of C major is not, in itself, political, but who is allowed to use it, and how they are allowed to use it, where we can hear it when they have used it, is. Yeah. Wow. To think what we all miss because of the patriarchy! A sad commentary on the state of humanity & cultural arbiters, but thankfully with some bright spots. Along with oppression and illness and tragedy, some good families, a couple good husbands, and perseverance. Fascinating book, which comes with a lovely “Yes, the chord of C major is not, in itself, political, but who is allowed to use it, and how they are allowed to use it, where we can hear it when they have used it, is.” Yeah. Wow. To think what we all miss because of the patriarchy! A sad commentary on the state of humanity & cultural arbiters, but thankfully with some bright spots. Along with oppression and illness and tragedy, some good families, a couple good husbands, and perseverance. Fascinating book, which comes with a lovely recommended playlist for further listening.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Krayfish1

    This is a fantastic book. It's 8 biographies spanning from the 1600's to the 1900's with a focus on how the 8 individuals navigated their particular society's brand of sexism around music and women who compose music. It made me think less of Robert Schumann & more of Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel's husband. It also introduced me to Maconchy's opera, "The Sofa" which is ridiculous & great & sounds like it would be fun to play.

  20. 5 out of 5

    sarah

    this book was a fun read about women composers in classical music and served to confirm that a) men really get everything in this world b) i greatly dislike anything pre-1800s and c) women in music needs to be a thing. although the author sometimes spends too much time discussing the uninteresting circumstances of these people's lives and not enough time talking about the kind of music and the kind of composing they were doing, she does justice to their music and their legacies

  21. 5 out of 5

    Oleva Berard

    Really enlightening and a well written book. My only complaint is that its not entirely accessible to those who arent classical music listeners (me lol). I really took a lot away from the life of each composer and am really interested in furthering my own education on women in classical music after starting here. Really enlightening and a well written book. My only complaint is that it’s not entirely accessible to those who aren’t classical music listeners (me lol). I really took a lot away from the life of each composer and am really interested in furthering my own education on women in classical music after starting here.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    The beauty of this book is that it introduces in one volume eight different women composers, several of whom could hardly be called forgotten. The research is not deep about the level of a Google search, but of interest for a reader unfamiliar with any of these fascinating women. The beauty of this book is that it introduces in one volume eight different women composers, several of whom could hardly be called forgotten. The research is not deep – about the level of a Google search, but of interest for a reader unfamiliar with any of these fascinating women.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Miss

    Kind of short and lacking information, I felt. Otherwise interesting book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Barbara Phillips-Farley

    One I had never heard of, another couple I didn't know much about, and two that I knew a lot about -- all well presented.

  25. 4 out of 5

    John Langley

    An examination of the reasons why womens musical creativity is air-brushed from history, or is simply not allowed to flourish in the first place. Poignant and well-researched. An examination of the reasons why women’s musical creativity is air-brushed from history, or is simply not allowed to flourish in the first place. Poignant and well-researched.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Emily Fransen

    Outstanding.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Gerilyn Ingalls

    Didn't read the whole thing, the authors writing was too bitter for me. I wish there was more discussion of the composers music. As it is, the author did not make me want to listen to their music.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Janice

    Really enjoyed "knowing" that there were females who created symphonies. Not sure I've ever heard one being preformed. I intend to pursue this with our local symphony! The first one written about is from 1625, Francesca Caccini, the last one is Elizabeth Maconchy, 1923. It was not easy for these women but they had the drive to produce even under incredibly difficult circumstances. A very positive book about some remarkable female classical music innovators.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Anna Beer leads you through the centuries and around Europe's musical centres, as she charts the careers of eight female composers; exploring how they achieved what they did, and where they were held back by society's prejudices and inflexibility. Her narrative is dramatic, bringing out the risk to a woman's reputation and pocket, and mourns the sadness and desperation of those hindered by their health or husbands in achieving their potential. As a reader, I felt an increasing empathy for these Anna Beer leads you through the centuries and around Europe's musical centres, as she charts the careers of eight female composers; exploring how they achieved what they did, and where they were held back by society's prejudices and inflexibility. Her narrative is dramatic, bringing out the risk to a woman's reputation and pocket, and mourns the sadness and desperation of those hindered by their health or husbands in achieving their potential. As a reader, I felt an increasing empathy for these women and was equally delighted by their successes as I was outraged by their neglect. This book was a joy to read and, for a novice of classical music, a very interesting introduction to a group of  under-heard composers whose music I will be looking out for in the future (both at concerts and online).

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    The subject matter of this book is what first drew me; obscure female figures from history are always a win. The author goes into lots of detail of their lives, giving us figures that felt real and that we got to know. However, sometimes the author could go into TOO much detail. I felt I was drowning at times in scene descriptors or tangents that supplemented the womens stories. From the introduction, it sounds like the author faced much the same challenges that her subjects did as she researched The subject matter of this book is what first drew me; obscure female figures from history are always a win. The author goes into lots of detail of their lives, giving us figures that felt real and that we got to know. However, sometimes the author could go into TOO much detail. I felt I was drowning at times in scene descriptors or tangents that supplemented the women’s stories. From the introduction, it sounds like the author faced much the same challenges that her subjects did as she researched their lives. Facing down the idea that a woman’s place was under a man and not in the musical world showed through quite clearly, even in the 20th century. Yet, Beer gives us eight women who didn’t let those attitudes and society stop them from doing what they loves. Faced with family tragedy, pressure to conform, and the vagaries of patron support, each woman shows us the guts it took to face the world down and create. The amount of detail incorporated into this book was both a blessing and a curse. The author spends a huge amount of time giving us small details into the lives of her subjects: the intimate relations, the dramatic works that launched some of them, honeymoons, romantic letters, and illnesses. All made for vivid reading and creating a connection between these women and the readers. However, I found that at times the author could get too wordy and detailed with her extras. While they added depth to the women portrayed, sometimes the extras would overpower their story in their vivid glory. The early works that shaped Caccini are a prime example. The various plays and musical events she took part in are relevant, yes, but the amount of them talked about and the abundant details used seemed excessive to me. Talking about obscure female figures will always be a plus for me, and Beer does a good job in bringing them and their works to life. She provides lots of details in a readable format for those who don’t read non-fiction often. Yet, those details could also sometimes bog down her narrative; I felt like there was padding going on in this book. Still, she always came back to her eight women and their lives. This was an enjoyable read, and I look forward to more. Note: Book received for free from Library Thing giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

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