A suggestion for Composer of the Week – some women

Today marks the 70th birthday of one of BBC radio’s most valuable broadcasts, Radio 3’s Composer of the Week.

Naturally, there has been much congratulating, celebrating and back-slapping. And mostly deservedly so – COTW is one of those broadcasts that you’re simply glad exists. When I first started exploring classical music as a young teenager, it provided a brilliant education. It’s a great, Reithian idea that just wouldn’t be commissioned today. So praise be that it’s still alive and kicking.

As part of their celebrations, the programme’s producers are inviting suggestions for a composer who hasn’t appeared in the previous 70 years. To help, they’ve published a list of every composer or group of composers who has been featured so far.

It’s quite an impressive list, and a testament to seven decades of broadcasting. However, I did a count and came up with the following:

Only nine twelve of the single composer broadcasts are on female composers.*

Nine Twelve and a half if you include the “William Alwyn and Amy Beach” broadcast.

That doesn’t seem like enough, even for a programme whose emphasis – perhaps expectedly – is on the more mainstream end of the 17th–19th century repertoire. But still. If the producers are interested in redressing this balance just a little bit, given that this is 2013 and people like Meredith Monk, Pauline Oliveros and Kaija Saariaho exist, then perhaps I could direct them towards the following three playlists: 1, 2, 3.

If you have suggestions of your own, do send them to Composer of the Week.

*Admittedly a quick count by eye; it’s possible I may have missed one or two.

Update, 10 Aug, 20:30: Cassandra Miller has written a response to this post (and some of the issues around it in general). And, coincidentally, Annie Gosfield has blogged some ‘Confessions of a “Composeress”‘ for the NYT this week. Some possibly not unrelated stats on male/female ratios in UK music departments.

Update, 12:11: Sharp-eyed Robin ap Cynan (see comments) improves on my original count.

Update, 11:40: @StevenRajam tweets the following:

10 thoughts on “A suggestion for Composer of the Week – some women

  1. Did you maybe miss out on one or other of Cecile Chaminade and Elizabeth Lutyens because their forenames were missing? Making 12.5?

    Amy Beach
    Sally Beamish
    Lili Boulanger
    Cecile Chaminade
    Fanny Hensel/Mendelssohn

    Imogen Holst
    Elizabeth Lutyens
    Elisabeth Maconchy
    Thea Musgrave
    Clara Schumann

    Ethel Smyth
    Judith Weir
    Grace Williams

    In terms of missing persons suitable for future consideration, my list has…

    Jehan Alain
    Walter/Wendy Carlos
    Daniel Jones
    Hildegard of Bingen
    Hamish MacCunn
    Roxanna Panufnik
    John Surman

    Frankly, for a UK based programme, Ades seems the most obvious omission, otherwise Alain or Sallinen…

    Robin ap Cynan

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