The Importance of Listening, Instalment 4

This instalment will be slightly different to previous posts. We’re shining the spotlight on female composers this time, spanning the 1100s to composers still active today.

Vocal Music

Hildegard von Bingen – Ordo Virtutum

One of the most famous female composers, Hildegard von Bingen is also one of the earliest composers on record, born just before the start of the 1100s. A nun, nurse, musician, poet, and theology specialist, Hildegard’s talents were numerous. ‘Ordo Virtutum’ is a series of monophonic melodies for the Anima (the human soul) and sixteen virtues, as well as a speaking part for the Devil. For a version by Musica Antiga:

Instrumental Music

Imogen Holst – Six Pictures from Finland OR Phantasy Quartet

The only child of the more famous Gustav Holst, Imogen Holst was very active in the musical world before she passed in the 1984. Not only a composer, Imogen also conducted, including recordings of some of her father’s works. Compared to other women in the musical world, Imogen made a big impression during her life, and her music has begun to receive the credit and attention that it deserves. The Six Pictures deserve a listen, but are not currently on YouTube, so try looking elsewhere. Instead, here is the Phantasy Quartet performed for the 2013 BBC Proms:

Music for Film

Anne Dudley – Poldark (original soundtrack for the TV series)

One of the few women to win an Oscar for involvement in music, Anne Dudley is equally at home in classical and pop genres. Her Oscar came for her work on The Full Monty, but this recommendation sounds very different. ‘Poldark’, the recent highly-successful BBC period drama, takes inspiration for its music from Cornish folk music and Hollywood film scores influenced by Romantic composers. Interestingly, the pianist Lang Lang has recorded a keyboard version of the main titles, which completely transforms Dudley’s music. For the opening theme:

Popular Music and Jazz

Ella Fitzgerald – Like Someone in Love (album)

Jazz enthusiasts will already know the name, but for those of you not familiar with Ella Fitzgerald, you are missing out. Sometimes referred to as ‘the First Lady of Song’, Ella’s remarkable career saw her performer with musical giants of the day, including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Andre Previn. She is particularly noted for her interpretation of the Great American Songbook. For the title song of the album ‘Like Someone in Love’:


Joni Mitchell – Hejira (album)

Joni Mitchell is famous for her beautiful contralto voice, as well as her interest in mixing genres. ‘Hejira’ is her eighth album, which fuses pop, jazz, folk, and elements of American country and western music. The album title refers to the Arabic word ‘hijra’, which means journey, and Mitchell composed the songs for this album while on several different road trips. For the full album:

New Directions

Anna Meredith – Four Tributes to 4am

Still very much active in the compositional world, Anna Meredith specialises in electro-acoustic composition. One of the few women to make headway in this genre, ‘Four Tributes’ is a work for chamber orchestra, electronics, and film, with the visual element provided by her sister when the work was premiered. For the full work:

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