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“It must be a sign of talent that I do not give up” – Fanny Mendelssohn

The dial that showcases the vital contribution women have made and continue to make in the world of music continues to turn. And while the rhythm and pace is slower than it should be, this International Women’s Day we’re celebrating female composers and the great artistry and insight they bring to the world of music. 

As part of the celebration, Melbourne Recital Centre’s Director of Programming Marshall McGuire has curated eight of his favourite female composers to share with music-lovers.* 

These women and their compositional styles span time, space, influence and genre. Together, they continue to shape the voice and future of music – not just for their fellow female composers. 

Liza Lim (1966-)

Liza Lim is an Australian composer whose works range from operatic and orchestral scores to site-specific installations and explore ritual forms and performance aesthetics from Asian and Australian Aboriginal cultural sources.

"Liza Lim is Australia’s internationally-acclaimed composer, and someone who I’ve had the longest compositional relationship with. Her early piece Garden of Earthly Desire (1989) is quite simply a masterpiece, and signaled her emergence as a thoroughly original, provocative and compelling voice." shares Marshall.

Peggy Glanville-Hicks (1912-1990)

Peggy Glanville-Hicks was an Australian composer internationally regarded for her operatic compositions, one of the few women in this field to achieve such distinction.

"One of my great heroes, Peggy was ahead of her time. A huge body of work including operas, ballets and film scores, as well as her Sonata for harp, which has been my constant companion since the early 90s." says Marshall.

Margaret Sutherland (1897-1984)

Born in Adelaide, Margaret Sutherland championed the creation of new music. Her work spans more than fifty-five years and over 90 compositions.

"Another Australian legend, and a champion of chamber music. Margaret Sutherland was a distinctive and powerful voice in Australian music. Her husband thought that a woman pursuing a life in music was a sign of mental illness, so this strong marvel succeeded against the odds in making an indelible mark on the Australian music scene" shares Marshall.

Caroline Shaw (1982-)

Caroline  Shaw is a Pulitzer-prize winning American violinist, singer and composer. 

"Pulitzer-prize winning Caroline Shaw creates music of arresting intensity, as exemplified by her work Partita for 8 Voices" says Marshall.

Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677)

Barbara Strozzi was an Italian singer and composer of the Baroque Period who published eight volumes of her own music, having more music in print than any other composer of the era. 

"A shining light in the Italian baroque, this courtesan-composer was prolific, publishing eight volumes of her own works. Songs of startling originality" shares Marshall.

Julia Potter

A student of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Julia Potter has studied with teachers Katy Abbott Kvasnica, Elliott Gyger and Stuart Greenbaum. She has a particular interest in writing for classical and contemporary dance and seeks to create music with a sense of contour and flow.

"The most recent new work I heard was by Melbourne University student Julia Potter, ‘Belonging and Longing to Be’, as performed by the Penny Quartet in the Primrose Potter Salon. Beautifully written for quartet, this work was gentle, and inviting, and too short – I wanted to hear more. Always a good sign" says Marshall.

Kaija Saariaho (1952-)

Kaija Saariaho is a prominent member of a group of Finnish composers and performers who are now making a worldwide impact Her studies and research at IRCAM in Paris have had a major influence on her music and her mysterious textures are often created by combining live music and electronics.

"One of the most acclaimed and awarded composers of our time, the Finnish composer is a giant in 21st century music. When the Metropolitan Opera gave its first performance of her opera L’amour de loin in 2016, it was the first opera by a female composer to be presented there since 1903, and only the second opera by a woman to be presented there at all. Still some work to be done…" says Marshall.

Rachel Portman (1960-)

Rachel Portman is an award-winning film, television and theatre composer from the UK and perhaps best-known for her compositions for the films Chocolat and The Cider House Rules.

"Academy Award winning composer, one of the leading voices in composing for film and television. Evocative, sometimes quirky, beautifully orchestrated, enchanting music" says Marshall.


*This list is not exhaustive or ranked. 

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