My musicological interests lie in researching, programming, and interpreting the song and chamber music repertoire of historic women composers, particularly those from the nineteenth century. By challenging gendered historiographical narratives that surround “canon” creation, I wish to question, analyze, and reveal the socio-cultural constructs and biases that continually demean, diminish, and exclude the historic contributions of women creators within the field of classical music.
Through my experiences as a vocalist and concert curator, I find the medium of the song recital to be a nuanced forum that highlights notions of “canonicity.” By exposing performers, collaborators, and our audiences to repertoire by historic women composers, we labor to create a more inclusive and more accurate historical “canon” narrative. To this end, I will focus my Doctoral lecture recital research on the Lieder repertoire, both published and unpublished, of German composer Luise Adolpha Le Beau (1850-1927).
Supported in her musical education by her parents, Luise Adolpha Le Beau (1850-1927) developed a professional career as a composer, pianist, music critic, and pedagogue of female piano teachers, although she identified primarily as a composer. She wrote in large-scale forms, such as symphonies, operas, and choral works, but also embraced smaller-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.
Le Beau’s memoirs, Lebenserinnerungen einer Komponistin (Memoirs of a Woman Composer), published in 1910, detail her frustrations with the sexism and lack of acceptance she faced as a woman composer, which directly contributed to Le Beau’s withdrawal from her public career as a composer in the early 1900’s.
As Le Beau was thwarted in her compositional life, upon her passing, although she meticulously organized and catalogued her manuscripts and personal papers, Le Beau’s music was simply “forgotten.” While more recent scholarship and recordings have highlighted her instrumental chamber music, there is little to no scholarship about her Lieder repertoire (or other parts of her oeuvre), few of her published Lieder scores are available to the public, and to my knowledge, only one recording of several Le Beau Lieder exists.
Archival Research in Germany
With a generous Graduate Award from The Presser Foundation, I traveled to Berlin from mid-March to early June 2022. I mined Le Beau’s public archives at three German state libraries for her unpublished song manuscripts and other primary source material relevant to the compositional and performance practice of her songs. I accessed Le Beau’s personal estate in the public archives of the Berlin State Library, the Bavarian State Library, and the Baden State Library Karlsruhe. Since Le Beau specifically bequeathed her estate to the Berlin State Library, it holds seventy-nice volumes of her manuscripts, the library with the highest likelihood to house Le Beau’s unpublished Lieder manuscripts. Le Beau’s oeuvre contains over sixty works, including eleven song opuses.
Upon my return to the United States (and with the help of various collaborators), I will transcribe her unpublished song manuscripts into working scores, as well as translate her correspondence and personal journals. I plan to incorporate this research into the thesis/lecture recital for my Doctor of Musical Arts degree at Peabody Institute. Presently, I hope to perform a curated concert of Le Beau’s Lieder with an accompanying lecture on her life and music. Future project elements may include presentations of my Le Beau recital at venues throughout the Washington DC/Baltimore area, as well as a recorded album of Le Beau’s song repertoire, making them further accessible to the public.
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” | Lebenserinnerungen einer Komponistin (1910) by Luise Adolpha Le Beau
Translation by Noelle McMurtry
- June 20th, 2022 – I’ve returned from my travels in Germany with a lot of manuscripts and primary source material to examine! I also launched my blog, She is Music, a forum to share research, recordings, and other information about women creators in classical music. For my first blog series, I’ll write about my experiences in Germany as I searched for the song repertoire of Luise Adolpha Le Beau. Be sure to subscribe (it’s free!) to follow my work.
- July 1st, 2022 – I just posted In Search of Luise Adolpha Le Beau: Part I on She Is Music. Check it out!