Women in Music | Women in Opera & Film | Contemporary | Classical

Several women composers of the late twentieth century have a particular affinity for opera, while also writing works in a wide variety of other genres. For the Scottish composer Thea Musgrave (b. 1928), writing her first full-length opera, The Decision (1965), led to the development of what she describes as her ‘dramatic-abstract’ instrumental style. Her later operas, which make effective use of traditional music, include Harriet, the Woman Called Moses (1985), based on the life of the African-American slave Harriet Tubman; and Simón Bolivar (1995), which tells the story of the South American liberator. The operas of the British composer Nicola LeFanu (b. 1947) involve rewarding and powerful roles for women. LeFanu’s dramatic works include the opera Blood Wedding (1992), in which her intensely chromatic musical language, with its strong sense of melodic line, illustrates Lorca’s story of passionate but illicit love.

In 1979 Judith Weir (b. 1954), one of Britain’s best-known living composers, produced King Harald’s Saga, a remarkable 10-minute ‘Grand Opera’ for solo soprano, who sings all roles (including the entire Norwegian army). Weir’s other operas display her fascination with historically or geographically distant cultures, such as medieval China in A Night at the Chinese Opera (1987) or traditional Scotland in The Vanishing Bridegroom (1990). The American composer Libby Larsen (b. 1950) wrote her first operas during the coffee breaks of a secretarial job. Her later dramatic works often use texts written by women, such as Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1990), after Mary Shelley and Mrs Dalloway (1993), after Virginia Woolf.

Several British female composers have had notable successes writing music for film and television. Rachel Portman (b. 1960) was the first female composer to win an Academy Award, for the music to Emma (1996). Anne Dudley (b. 1956) also won an Academy Award for The Full Monty (1997) and her score for American History X (1998) was widely acclaimed. Debbie Wiseman has written much music for television and for films such as Tom and Viv (1994) and Wilde (1997), while the versatile musician Jocelyn Pook composed the score for Stanley Kubrick’s last film Eyes Wide Shut (1999).

Women in Music | Promoting Women’s Music | Contemporary | Classical


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