In Search of Luise Adolpha Le Beau

With a generous Graduate Award from The Presser Foundation, I traveled to Berlin from mid-March to early June 2022. I examined Le Beau’s estate at three German state libraries to uncover her unpublished Lieder manuscripts and other primary source material related to the compositional and performance practice of her Lieder.

Description

My musicological research focuses on the song repertoire of women composers, particularly those from the nineteenth century. By challenging gendered historiographical narratives that surround “canon” creation, I work to dismantle socio-cultural constructs and biases that continually diminish the historic contributions of women creators within classical vocal repertoire.

19th-century engraving of women making music in the drawing room
World History Archive | Alamy Photos

In 2021, I conceived of In Search of Luise Adolpha Le Beau, a multifaceted project to research the Lieder (songs) of German composer Luise Adolpha Le Beau (1850-1927), a body of vocal repertoire that remains overlooked to the present day.

Le Beau’s entire oeuvre contains over sixty works, including nineteen song opuses with a total of fifty-seven songs, vocal duets, and vocal trios. Ten Lieder opuses were published between 1877 and 1898, while nine Lieder opuses, composed between 1880 and 1921, remain unpublished. Le Beau’s Lieder aesthetic aligns itself most readily with Lieder practices of the 1830s to 1850s, akin to those of composer Robert Schumann (1810-1856), and Le Beau composed strophic and through-composed songs with texts by twenty-seven individual poets.

Historical Background

1893 photograph of Le Beau, printed in her 1910 memoir Lebenserinnerungen einer Komponistin

Born in Rastatt, Germany, Luise Adolpha Le Beau (1850-1927) was raised in a musical family, and her parents devoted themselves to her education. She later cultivated her professional career as a composer, pianist, music critic, and piano pedagogue, although she identified primarily as a composer. Le Beau wrote in large-scale forms, such as symphonies, operas, and choral works, but also embraced small-scale Lieder and instrumental chamber music. During the 1870’s and 1880’s in Munich, Le Beau was successful in publishing and seeking performances of her newest works. In the decades that followed, however, she struggled to find further performance opportunities, moving to Wiesbaden, Berlin, and Baden-Baden to seek more fertile collaborative landscapes.

In her 1910 memoir Lebenserinnerungen einer Komponistin (Memoirs of a Woman Composer), Le Beau outlines the trajectory of her career as a German woman composer of the late nineteenth century. Ultimately, the author reveals how gender prejudice hindered the public success of her musical works and thwarted her career ambitions as a composer. To combat the gendered bias that had obstructed her professional efforts, Le Beau self-consciously preserved her own musical legacy. By bequeathing her Nachlass (estate) to the state libraries in Karlsruhe, Munich, and Berlin, Le Beau hoped her music and life story would survive to earn an “unparteiischer und gerechter” (“more impartial and fairer”) assessment from future generations. [1]

Upon her death in 1927, the composer’s act of self-preservation proved prescient. Le Beau and her music were simply “forgotten,” a cultural erasure precipitated by the partial destruction of Le Beau’s estate at the Badische Landesbibliothek during the bombing of Karlsruhe in World War II. While more recent scholarship has explored her large-scale works and instrumental chamber music, there is little to no scholarship about Le Beau’s Lieder repertoire, only a handful of her ten published Lieder opuses are readily accessible to the public, and to my knowledge, no professional recordings of Le Beau’s Lieder exist.

Memorial plaque for Luise Adolpha Le Beau in Baden-Baden at Lichtenthaler Straße 46; as of 2021, the plaque has been removed from the building after renovation
Photo: Gerd Eichmann | Wikimedia Commons

Lebenserinnerungen einer Komponistin
(Memoirs of a Woman Composer)

If I now, at the age of fifty-nine, try to describe my experiences as objectively as possible, it is not done out of vanity or arrogance, but rather, from other motives. Firstly, it was a wish of my dear, blessed father that I would point out the many difficulties that stand in the way of a woman in the field of musical composition, the envy and resentment of my colleagues, as well as the prejudice and misunderstanding in the advice of those who were the most qualified and best situated to nurture a talent, and that I speak the truth loudly without shyness or regard for well-known individuals – however, I was also supported by others, who played a role in my life as an artist, who encouraged me to tell my story…

In his encyclopedia of music history, Herr Ritter compares the making of music in the nineteenth century with a large forest that is covered with all kinds of trees and says, that not only do a few giant trees make up the forest, but rather, the small trees, bushes, grasses, flowers, and mosses are essential to giving it its real character… Whatever gifts I was given, I have nurtured with all my strength; no one can do anything more! I did not disdain even the smallest gifts, but rather, I took delight in all musical works, as long as they were artistically serious and true… Should one or another of my compositions please later generations, I have not written in vain. I have never wished for more recognition than I deserve! Finally, I thank all those who are still living or have already led the way to a better land, all those who have given me the gift of interest and friendly encouragement for my striving!   

Excerpted from “Foreword” in Lebenserinnerungen einer Komponistin (1910) by Luise Adolpha Le Beau
Translation by Noelle McMurtry

Cover for Le Beau’s autobiography, Lebenserinnerungen einer Komponistin (1910)

Woman Walking Through A Forest (1878)
Peter Mønsted (1859-1941)
Brave Fine Art

Archival Research in Germany

With support from The Presser Foundation, I traveled to Germany from March to early June 2022, where I collected materials relevant to Le Beau’s song practice from the composer’s self-curated Nachlass (estate) at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, the Badische Landesbibliothek Karlsruhe, and the Stadtbibliothek Baden-Baden.

In April 2023, I completed my DMA thesis at Peabody Institute, titled Unearthing a Self-Curated Nachlass: A Survey of Luise Adolpha Le Beau’s Published Lieder. I presented a lecture recital on Le Beau’s published songs with pianist Hui-Chuan Chen, as well as performed excerpts from Le Beau’s vocal duets and trios with sopranos Julie Bosworth and Claire Galloway Weber on the January 2023 chamber music recital, Sauvez-moi de l’amour. Watch our performance in the multimedia section below.

Beginning in October 2024, I’m excited to announce that I will be a 2024/2025 Max Kade Postdoctoral Fellow at the Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies at the Freie Universität in Berlin. To read more on the 2024/2025 Berlin Program fellows and their research, click here. During the fellowship, I will revise and expand my DMA thesis on the Lieder of composer Luise Adolpha Le Beau (1850-1927). My project is titled, Cornflowers and Heather: The ‘In-Between’ Songs of Luise Adolpha Le Beau. Follow this page for updates as my research in Berlin unfolds.

Le Beau Lieder Publishing Project

Since spring 2022, composer Līva Blūma and I have collaborated to create a collected edition of Le Beau’s Lieder, vocal duets, and vocal trios. Using Sibelius Notation software, Līva has engraved Le Beau’s nine unpublished Lieder manuscripts into working scores. Throughout the transcription process, we have encountered some unexpected (and interesting!) challenges. Le Beau exclusively wrote in Kurrentschrift, a cursive script standardized throughout Germany from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries. Kurrentschrift uses a distinct alphabet, and due to the interconnected nature of its letters, Le Beau’s song texts are challenging for the contemporary reader to decipher. In order to read and ultimately translate Le Beau’s song lyrics into English, we sought assistance from independent scholar and Kurrentschrift translator Christina Petterson, who translated Le Beau’s Kurrentschrift lyrics into German Roman script.

In the coming year, Līva and I plan to publish a collected edition of Le Beau’s Lieder, vocal duets, and vocal trios, as well as to create a digital humanities project that contextualizes Le Beau’s song repertoire for a wider audience online. Check out this space for updates on our progress!

Collaborator Spotlight

Līva Blūma

Līva Blūma (b. 1994) is a Latvian composer and singer. Her work as a composer incorporates varied extra-musical sources such as poetry, visual art, spam emails, and boxing matches. Curiosity and collaboration are instrumental parts of her creative process, be it a piece for string orchestra, vocal a cappella or music for a shadow theatre performance engaging patients from a local mental health facility. As a singer, Līva performs solo art song and choral music. She sings everything from the medieval to the contemporary. Līva has been singing full-time with the State Choir LATVIJA since September 2022.

Līva holds a Bachelor’s degree in composition from Jazeps Vitols Latvian Music Academy. She completed her Master’s in Composition at the Peabody Institute Of Johns Hopkins University, under the tutelage of professor Michael Hersch in 2021. Currently, Līva is based in Rīga, Latvia where in November 2023 she premiered her first chamber opera MONSTERA DELICIOSA for four singers, piano, and percussion. This opera centers on stories of Baltic women and plants. Listen to examples of Līva’s music on Soundcloud.

Līva is also sincerely interested in engraving the works of historic women composers. This interest stems from a personal conviction that amplifying the voices of historically marginalized composers is of true necessity. For Līva, making historic manuscripts into performance-ready editions raises awareness about voices that have been silenced by the political climate and other societal issues.

Multimedia

Excerpts from Zwei Duette, op. 6 and Vier Terzette, op. 5 by Luise Adolpha Le Beau (1850-1927)
i. “Frühlingsanfang” from Zwei Duette, op. 6 (1877) | ii. “Zur Nacht” from Vier Terzette, op. 5 (1877) | iii. “Abendlied” from Zwei Duette, op. 6 (1877) | iv. “Gefunden” from Vier Terzette, op. 5 (1877)
Noelle McMurtry (soprano), Julie Bosworth (soprano), Claire Galloway Weber (soprano) & Hui-Chuan Chen (piano)
Peabody Institute | January 2023

Notes

1. Luise Adolpha Le Beau, Lebenserinnerungen einer Komponistin (Baden-Baden: E. Sommermeyer, 1910), 8-9. Translation by Noelle McMurtry.

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