"Every day I become more and more convinced of the truth of my old axiom, that why no women have become composers is because they have married, and then, very properly, made their husbands and children the first consideration," wrote Smyth in a letter to her mother in 1877. Strongwilled and iconoclastic, Ethel Smyth was undeterred by such barriers.
Her adolescent rebellion came in the form of a profound commitment to art. Against all prohibitions from her British military family, at 19 she went to Leipzig to study music. There she won the encouragement and acceptance of Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Dvorák, Clara Schumann, Joachim, and Brahms (the last, begrudgingly). In addition to 6 operas, a Mass in D for chorus and orchestra, and various orchestral and chamber pieces, Smyth wrote 10 books, 6 of which are autobiographical. Her prose is full of anecdotal insights into the musical and social life of her time.
Smyth left her studies in Germany to return to England, where she actively contributed to the militant suffragist movement. Her March of the Women became a rallying theme of the suffragettes. Smyth herself endured imprisonment for her efforts toward securing the right to vote. A person of vigor and passion, she developed successive devoted friendships with Emmeline Pankhurst, Edith Somerville, and Virginia Woolf.
Ethel Smyth’s Short Choral Preludes evidence her Germanic inclinations. The works were published in two volumes by Novello in 1913. No longer in print, a copy from the E. Power Biggs music collection now belongs to the Boston Organ Library at Boston University.
(contribution by Christa Rakich <crakichyahoo.com>)