French music composer Camille Pepin poses in her studio in Paris. AFP
From Francesca Caccini in the 17th century to Camille Pépin in the 21st: a digital platform lists the works of more than 700 composers to showcase artists long eclipsed.
Baptized "Ask Clara", in reference to Clara Schumann — brilliant pianist, composer and wife of the famous composer — this free database was launched in June by a team led by Claire Bodin, director of the festival "Présences feminines" dedicated to female composers of the past and present." Since our early childhood, we have not heard the music of female composers, or so rarely that we do not remember it," Ms. Bodin said.
"To us musicians, no + matrimonial + has been transmitted; we were nurtured by the idea of the genius of the great composer, always a man, without ever questioning the repertoire of composers".
This tool, funded by the cultural action of Sacem, has listed no less than 4,662 works by 770 composers of 60 nationalities, from 1618 to 2020.
The search is done by name, title, instrument, country or era. Among the oldest, the Italians Francesca Caccini — who would be the first woman to have composed an opera — Isabella Leonarda and Barbara Strozzi, one of the first professional composers, again the French Elisabeth Jacquet of the War.
And the platform has many female composers from Anglo-Saxon countries, "much more advanced in this field", specifies Ms. Bodin.
Enrich and not rewrite: A long-term research which began in 2006 and which is not launched "because it is a trendy subject".
"It is not a question of rewriting history but of enriching the repertoire", explains Ms. Bodin. "We must not simply programme them because they are women and to give ourselves a clear conscience, but because there is a real artistic interest".
For this harpsichordist who has set aside her career to devote herself to these projects, the non-programming of the composers remains a major obstacle to the dissemination of their works.
For the past ten years, she has regularly given conferences on the subject and rare among the public are those who can give names beyond the "top 5" female composers, such as Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn, Lili Boulanger or the contemporaries; Betsy Jolas and Kaija Saariaho.
"For concert halls, there is the constraint of filling" which generally rests on the big names like Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Brahms or Bach.
"We only see the top of the iceberg, because even among men there are a lot of composers who deserve to be highlighted," recalls Ms. Bodin.
"Everyone has to start programming female composers because the guest artists, if they are not sure that other venues are doing it, will hesitate to play these scores".
Scheduled for March, the “Présences feminines” festival has been postponed to Oct. 12-20. Since its creation, seven works by composers have been commissioned, including one by the young Camille Pépin (29), who this year became the first composer to receive a prize at the "Victoires de la musique classique".Agence France-Presse
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