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 that the medium of the song recital is a nuanced performance forum to highlight 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 To this end, I will focus my Doctoral lecture recital research on the Lieder repertoire, both published and unpublished, of German composer Luise Adolpha Le Beau (1850-1927).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 will travel to Berlin, Germany from mid-March to early June 2022. I plan to mine Le Beau’s public archives at three German state libraries for Le Beau’s unpublished Lieder manuscripts and other primary source material relevant to the compositional and performance practice of her Lieder. I will access 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 79 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 Lieder opuses.
After scouring online libraries and databases, I hope to locate Opuses 4, 11, 18, 29, 52, and 56, which may be unpublished. Le Beau also composed two sets of duets for women’s voices and piano, Opuses 6 and 50. I also plan to locate and transcribe Drei Duette, Op. 50, which also may be unpublished.
Upon my return to the United States, I will transcribe these unpublished song manuscripts into working scores, as well as use the rest of my research to complete the lecture recital for my Doctor of Musical Arts degree at Peabody Institute. Presently, I plan to perform a curated concert of Le Beau’s Lieder with an accompanying lecture on her life and music. I hope to present this Le Beau program and lecture at other performance venues throughout the Washington DC/Baltimore area, as well as create a future recorded album of Le Beau’s Lieder compositions, 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 little 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)
Translation by Noelle McMurtry
As I embark on my trip in March, check here for updates about my travels in my research and writing.