Life and Music of Alice Mary Smith ( 1839-1884), a Woman Composer of the Victorian Era: A Critical Assessment of Her Achievement

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This study of the nineteenth-century British composer Alice Mary Smith’s life and music draws on newly discovered documents and manuscripts. The volume also includes information on five other women composers from this era.

Author’s Abstract:
At a time when women were thought to succeed only in composing drawing-room songs or light-weight piano pieces, Alice Mary Smith (1839-1884) wrote by far the greatest number of larger-scale art works of any British woman composer in the nineteenth century. She was most probably the first woman to have written – and had performed – a symphony, composed in 1863 at the age of twenty-four. Two of her six concert overtures were regularly performed by distinguished conductors of the time, and her four cantatas for choir and orchestra achieved some popularity in the last years of her short life.

This study also briefly outlines the work of five other women composers of her time who attempted the higher forms of the art, and examines, from contemporary sources, the argument, current at the time, as to whether a woman could ever compose a ‘great’ work.


“[This book] will without doubt be an essential reference point for those interested in Alice Mary Smith, and for those who are studying women composers”
-Prof. Roger Parker, King’s College London

From the Foreword
“This book is meticulously researched and effectively sets Smith's work in the wider context of male and female composers of her time.”
­-Prof. David Rowland, The Open University

Table of Contents

1. Woman and the Craft of Composition: Britain 1850–1885

2. Alice Mary Smith: Life and Reception

3. Chamber and Orchestral Music 1: 1861–1867
3.1 Societies and institutions
3.2 Chamber music: 1861-1864
3.3 Chamber music without listed performances: 1865-1868
3.4 The first symphony
3.5 Three concert overtures
3.6 Introduction and Allegro for piano and orchestra

4. Interlude 1: Operetta and Masque
4.1 ‘Gisela of Rüdesheim’
4.2 ‘The Masque of Pandora’
4.3 Notes

5. Chamber and Orchestral Music 2: 1869–1879
5.1 Orchestras, festivals and societies
5.2 A second Endymion overture
5.3 A third string quartet
5.4 Clarinet sonata or concerto?
5.5 A second symphony, the Alexandra Palace competition
5.6 Two popular concert overtures
5.7 The final orchestral works
5.8 Notes

6. Interlude 2: Anthems, Piano Pieces and Songs
6.1 The five anthems
6.2 Piano music and miscellaneous pieces
6.3 Songs, duets and part-songs
6.4 Notes

7. The Last Choral Works: 1879–1884
7.1 ‘Ode to the North-East Wind’
7.2 ‘The Passions’
7.3 Two choral ballads for male voices
7.4 Notes

Postlude: ‘The Forerunner in the Race’

Appendix A:
Catalogue of works
Works in modern editions
Appendix B:
Performances of principal works: 1861–1885
Appendix C:
Glossary of persons mentioned in the text

Select Bibliography

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