The 'Contrarious Moods of Men' - Review of the CD 'Female Power' by the Polish pianist Anna Lipiak

Anna Lipiak

Yes, the 2024 Grammy Awards were dominated by charismatic female stars and songwriters of popular music. Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus and Billie Eilish... Why do I mention them on a classical music post ? The few acknowledged female composers of 'classical' music were rather more powerful in the days before social media but now they remain willfully neglected or forgotten by the 'serious' music establishment. Modern female pianists are similarly discriminated against. Time for a change and rehabilitation! Music is a universal magic dust after all ....

'Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.'

Victor Hugo

My interest and fascination with female composers first began when I visited Sanssouci Palace (1745-1747) in Potsdam some years ago while researching the biography of Edward Cahill (1885-1975), a glamorous but neglected Australian concert pianist. During his concert career between the wars in London, Paris and the Riviera, he often performed works by female composers of whom I was completely ignorant.

The alluring compositions of Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944) often featured on his programmes. He knew well and on many occasions accompanied the songwriter, pianist and teacher Guy D’Hardelot (1858–1936), the adopted pen name of Helen Rhodes (née Helen Guy). 

Guy D’Hardelot (1858–1936)

She studied at the Paris Conservatoire and was much praised by Gounod and Massenet. The great French operatic soprano Emma Calvé did a great deal to popularize her songs. Here was that rare creature, a woman composer of masterly refinement and form. She lived in London and was cultivated and befriended by members of the English aristocracy such as Lady Diana Cooper. Her most famous love song Because has been recorded by all the great tenors from the dawn of recording. Her compositions combined French delicacy with English solidity. And so my interest in this rarely explored area was fertilized. Back to the palace music rooms of Potsdam and Bayreuth!

Frederick II the Great, King of Prussia from 1740 until 1786, who commissioned exquisite Sanssouci palace and park, was a great patron of the Arts and the Enlightenment. Yet the king had been treated cruelly by his father, the obsessively militaristic Frederick William I. The paternal accusations directed at Frederick were of betraying ‘effeminate, dissolute and unmasculine preoccupations’. His son  wanted to study music and learn to play the transverse flute. Dr Charles Burney, the urbane yet critical English music historian, had a high opinion of his playing when he heard him in Berlin in 1772. He wrote ‘his embouchure was clear and even, his finger brilliant, and his taste pure and simple’.

His older sister, Princess Friederike Sophie Wilhelmine of Prussia (1709–1758), was a princess of Prussia and also an exceptionally gifted musician and composer. She was the eldest daughter of Frederick William I of Prussia and Sophia Dorothea of Hanover and a granddaughter of George I of Great Britain. In 1731, she married Frederick, Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth.

Jean-Étienne Liotard: Portrait of Wilhelmine of Prussia, Margravine of Brandenburg-Bayreuth (1709-1758)

In Bayreuth, Frederick William is referred to as 'the Beloved' and had the reputation of being an enlightened monarch. In his residence at Bayreuth, he promoted the sciences and arts. The baroque buildings, especially the superb opera house (that Richard Wagner found inadequate to accommodate his vision) and the picturesque parks built during their tenure, create much of the present appearance of the town. I was deeply impressed by her Keyboard Concerto in G minor for harpsichord and orchestra and excerpts from the opera Argenore of 1740 (written for her husband's birthday!). So began my interest in the legions of forgotten female composers.

I was particularly uplifted then to come across a modern CD entitled Female Power - Piano works by Great Women Composers recorded on a Kawai Shigeru grand piano by the eminent, young Polish pianist Anna Lipiak. This fascinating recording catalyzed an expedition into this engaging and important subject. One is fighting an ideology of discrimination, a type of social brainwashing that female composers could not possibly worthy of serious consideration.

In this time of brutal wars and terrifyingly cruel conflicts erupting destructively throughout the world, such a richly creative and corrective idea is immensely welcome. I was galvanized to go some way beyond a conventional music review in length and detail by this excellent and thought-provoking CD. 

Lipiak has been awarded top prizes and awards in many prestigious Polish and international piano competitions in addition to wide acclaim in recital. It is a remarkably alluring and poetic disc that does much to bring into the foreground neglected world female composers of genius, significant musical stature and immense accomplishment. Many pieces are characteristically seductive with 'feminine' charm and grace but also do not lack dynamic virtuosic power, harmonic and melodic sophistication.

Only very few female composers are internationally well-known as what one might call 'household names'. Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel (1805-1847), Clara Wieck-Schumann (1819-1896) and Pauline Viardot (1821-1910) are familiar but many others are rare or completely forgotten.

The different expectations for male and female composers and performers meant working in a male-dominated domain that affected female composers' image of themselves as well as their audiences. Harsher critiques were fired at female composers than male due to simple social misogyny and the patriarchal miasma of the day (continuing even today) that suffocated female talent in all the arts, except what were considered 'domestic accomplishments'. Male concert pianists could build reputations with virtuosic performances of their own compositions whereas female pianists were limited to smaller musical forms and character pieces, restricted to a limited repertoire considered to be 'feminine'.

'Whether in the courts of Florence or Versailles, the great houses of Berlin or Vienna, the crowded streets of Paris or Leipzig, or even a quiet English village, in every generation women evaded, confronted and ignored the beliefs and practices that excluded them from the world of composition' wrote the musicologist Anna Beer in Sounds and Sweet Airs.

By the time she died at 41, Fanny Mendelssohn had composed more than 400 pieces, some songs even passed off by Felix as his own. Female composers simply have not been offered the same opportunities to publish, perform and record their own music. Despite the progress that feminism has made, we still observe discrimination against women and girls in many contexts which remain patriarchal and embody principles of gender inequality, not simply restricted to financial remuneration for similar occupations. Women have only been admitted to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra relatively recently.

One critic observed laconically that compositions by women lack ‘a commanding individual idea’. Yet another observed ‘all is the outward aspect; yet we are not gripped by the inner aspect, for we miss that feeling which originates in the depths of the soul and which, when sincere, penetrates the listener’s mind and becomes a conviction.’ Another felt a lack of ‘powerful feeling drawn from deep conviction’.  Utter nonsense !

An Oxford University cultural historian Anna Beer notes presciently: 'Women simply did not have access to the institutions which manufacture posterity.' Female conductors and some female instrumentalists, possibly in rebellion, have over recent years been transformed into a surprisingly cosmetic, attention-grabbing part of concert life today. 

Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944)

The opening tracks of the CD are devoted to a wonderful but neglected female French composer. Cécile Chaminade's (1857-1944) seductive melodies, graceful sensibility and captivating harmonies filled the salons of Paris with perfumed but not superficial charm. This sensitivity together with brilliant displays of virtuosity laid the foundation for incomparable popularity during her life.

Born in Paris, the gifted Chaminade was raised in a musical family. Félix Le Couppey of the Conservatoire de Paris, recommended she study music at the Conservatoire. Her father forbade this because he believed it was improper for a girl of Chaminade's social class. He did, however, allow her to study privately with teachers from the Conservatoire. She studied music composition with another unjustly neglected Parisian figure Benjamin Godard. Cahill played both these composers with great success during the interwar period. 

Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, 'Self Portrait in a Straw Hat' 1782 (NG)

Chaminade, the celebrated pianist and composer, behaved rather like the sublime portraitist Élizabeth Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842) who fled the French Revolution and whose glorious self-portrait she resembles.  Cécile courageously toured the Old and New Worlds with her musical works in manuscript stressing the bonds of her luggage. She was invited to tea with Queen Victoria and became the very first woman composer to be elected to the French Legion Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur.

Today only a few of her numerous chamber, vocal and piano works are featured in programs. Thankfully this is improving in frequency. The French composer Ambroise Thomas once said of Chaminade: 'This is not a woman who composes, but a composer who is a woman.'  Such a remark applies perfectly to all the female composers chosen (of many possibilities) represented on this impressive CD.

Lipiak chose a seductive group of four Chaminade pieces and plays with sensitivity, grace and stylish ardency. In the opening work Souvenance Op.76 No.1 she captures to perfection the love-dream sensibility of another age. Guitare Op.32 is an impressionistic portrait of that intimate instrument, the guitar. Meditation Op.76 No.6 takes us into a world of daydreams, sleepy reminiscence of nostalgic romance on a summer afternoon sipping a glass of Sancerre. The Toccata reveals the brilliant virtuosic side of this composer which Lipiak exploits to the full. Chaminade takes us into a world of sensibility which is a foreign country to men and makes is the richer for it.

Amy Beach (1887-1944)

The American composer Amy Beach (1887-1944) has simply one of the most astounding musical biographies of a child genius musical prodigy and subsequent musical career I have ever read. Despite her musical precocity she was forced to fight family and a claustrophobic, conventional marriage to be a composer. I had not even heard the name before this CD which features three of her piano works.

[Amy Beach was a pathbreaking composer and pianist who transcended the restrictions of nineteenth-century Boston to become America's most famous turn-of-the-century female composer and, later in her career, a prominent performing artist and promoter of music education. The Cambridge Companion to Amy Beach published last year makes her life and music accessible to a new generation of listeners. It outlines her remarkable talent as a child prodigy, her marriage to a prominent physician twice her age, and her subsequent international acclaim as a composer and piano virtuoso. Analytical chapters examine the range of her musical output, from popular songs and piano pieces to chamber and symphonic works of great complexity. As well as introducing Beach's compelling music to those not yet familiar with her work, it provides new resources for scholars and students with in-depth information drawn from recently uncovered archival sources.]

From the recently published introduction to a new volume in the enlightening Cambridge composer series

The Cambridge Companion to Amy Beach,  (November 2023).

The Scottish legend Op.54 is a Gaelic delight. The Ballade Op.6 is a powerful work that gives one the impression of a narrative set in a country of vast spaces and almost exaggerated gestures of dramatic human behaviour. Lipiak with her fine technique captured the feeling of this almost cinematic exposition. The Harlequin Op.25 No.6 from the Children's Carnival is a charming fantasy of what one is tempted to call 'innocent imagination'. Perhaps Lipiak can contribute in the future to this neglected but highly creative composer.

Maria Szymanowska (1789-1831)

Maria Szymanowska (1789-1831) was an outstanding virtuoso pianist and composer who for me encapsulates the lost charm and grace of the highly developed civilization of the Poland of 1810. She expresses the national spirit yet rarely explores the dark abyss opened by the existential speculation of more monumental compositions. She was idolized during her lifetime only to be quickly and mysteriously forgotten after her death. She was one of the growing number of female pianists, composers and teachers, whose musical strengths emerged from the salons to find success with the general public.

Apart from her outstanding pianism she was also recognized as a significant composer: three of her five melodies commissioned by the poet, playwright and statesman Julian Niemcewicz (1758-1841) appear in the 1816 edition of Historic Polish songs, music that sets verses written by him. This collection, created to revive the memory of an entire people who had been geographically erased from the map of Europe, would be republished many times during the 19th century.

From 1822 to 1827, she made an uninterrupted succession of successful concert tours through Europe. Vilnius, Saint-Petersburg (where she met Hummel and Field), Moscow, Riga, Kiev (where she played with the violinist Lipinski known as 'the Polish Paganini') and Lvov. She toured Germany, London, Geneva and Italy. Chopin heard her at the National Theatre on the 15th January and 7th February 1827 and wrote in a letter 

'Mrs. Szymanowska gives a concert this week. It is to be on Friday, and the prices have been raised; they say the parterre is to be half a ducat, the stalls a ducat, and so on. I shall be there for sure, and will tell you about the reception and playing.' 

He was much influenced by her refinement and mastery of small forms such as nocturnes, etudes, polonaises and mazurkas (but unlike those of Chopin, were meant to be danced in the salon).

In a letter from Goethe to Ottilie, his daughter in law, on 18th August 1823, the literary grand maitre referred to her as 'a great talent bordering on madness.' In the summer of 1823, she was in Karlsbad and Marienbad, where he developed intense admiration for her described in his poem Reconciliation. Entries and compliments in her collection of autographs reveal the names of Salieri, Beethoven, Kalkbrenner, Spontini, Paganini, Goethe, Moore, Clementi, Boieldieu, Auber, Meyerbeer, Reicha, Giuditta Pasta, Weber and Pushkin. Her life was cruelly snuffed out by a cholera epidemic that broke out in Petersburg in the summer of 1831 (and incidentally later spread to Paris where Chopin was in residence).

Marta Urbanowicz of The Chopin University of Music at The University of Warsaw has studied and written of the Nocturne in B-flat major deeply in Kwartalnik Młodych Muzykologów UJ No. 46. She points out that the Soviet music historian and composer Igor Belza notes of this highly individual and beautiful piece that it ‘was to some extent […] an emotional response to the events related to the [November1830] uprising.’ It was one of the first pieces in the development of this important genre in Poland and later Europe.

There are resemblances between Field and Chopin in the alluring cantilenas, variation techniques, ornamentation and style brillant passages of this seductive work. Halina Goldberg and J.D.Bellman observe in their book Chopin and His World (2017) in the essay ‘Oneiric Soundscapes and the Role of Dreams in Romantic Culture’ (p.20) that early nineteenth-century composers musically illustrate the manner in which human memories may be deformed in the distorting mirror of dreams. While stressing that ‘dreaming and remembering overlap and share similar musical vocabularies’. Lipiak has fully penetrated this early nineteenth century dreaming sensibility emotionally with great sensitivity.

Both Szymanowska and Chopin were influenced by the popular composer of piano polonaises, Prince Michał Kleofas Ogiński (1764-1833) and Karol Kurpiński (1785-1857). Her Polonaise in F minor is an elaborate and virtuosic 'salon' performance piece intended to arouse much needed nationalist feelings of the time. Lipiak expresses the feelings of loss and nostalgia most evocatively.  Such feelings also emerge in the ballads of Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855) and the 'historic songs' of Julian Niemcewicz.

Clara Wieck-Schumann (1819-1896)


Clara Schumann was condemned by society and prejudices to labour in the shadow of great male composers. Her self-confidence, even ability to endure unconflicted love, was affected by this proximity to male genius, cultural convictions, male power ideology, gender and social prejudice. Brahms was a close associate of the Schumann family whom he respected immensely. The Brahms Sonata No. 2 in F-sharp minor, Op. 2 composed in November 1852 is dedicated to Clara Schumann as were the Intermezzi and Klavierstücke Op.118 written in 1893 at Bad Ischl during summer.

Such surges of pure longing as these works contain, such romantic emotion expressed by Brahms, must indicate something about his unrequited love for Clara Schumann and possibly her feelings for him. 'I would gladly write to you only by means of music, but I have things to say to you to-day which music could not express.' he wrote in 1854. By 1855 this had blossomed into: 'I wish I could write to you as tenderly as I love you and tell you all the good things that I wish you. You are so infinitely dear to me, dearer than I can say. I should like to spend the whole day calling you endearing names and paying you compliments without ever being satisfied.

On receipt of the Intermezzi Op.118 and Op.119 Clara wrote in her diary 'In these pieces I at last feel musical life stir once again in my soul.' 

The second Intermezzo Op.118, Andante teneramente, can be considered a secret love letter to Clara Schumann.  It is one of the most affecting pieces in the Romantic piano repertoire, replete with love, reminiscence, nostalgia and sense of longing. The opening has a lyrical melody of exquisite beauty. The emotions of melancholy and yearning follow with a final sense of eternal values and difficult acceptance of the destiny. Feeling of love are seldom entirely in one direction.

Robert Schumann's F sharp minor Sonata Op.11 was also based on the nature of love aroused by this extraordinary woman. Schumann told Clara that in light of their cruel enforced separation, the sonata was 'a solitary outcry for you from my heart ... in which your theme appears in every possible shape'. He published it anonymously as 'Pianoforte Sonata, dedicated to Clara by Florestan and Eusebius'.

She created the beautiful opening theme for Davidsbündlertänze (Dances of the League of David) Op. 6 (1837) by Robert Schumann. This challenging work is a remarkable masterpiece of 18 pieces, one of the great works of Western Romantic piano literature. The Davidsbündler (League of David) was a music society founded by Robert Schumann in his literary musings. The League itself was inspired by real or imagined literary societies such as those created by E.T.A Hoffmann. The major theme was based on a mazurka by Clara and was inspired by Robert's love of her and hope for their union ('I have many wedding thoughts'). Such yearning emotions permeate all his works of this period. Her presence is rather subliminal throughout the whole cycle. She adored him.

Although Clara Schumann was not widely recognized as a composer for many years after her death, she had a lasting influence as a pianist and improviser. Trained by her father to play by ear and memorize, she gave public performances from memory at the exceptional early age of thirteen. She was one of the first pianists to perform from memory, making it the standard for most concerts. She also created different kinds of instrumental program for concert pianists.  

Her approach was in direct contrast to the theatrical extrovert Liszt with whom she felt musical tensions. He created violent enthusiasm, seducing entire audiences, male and female, through his unaccustomed virtuosic display. Clara however, believed her role was to create a direct, untrammelled conduit for the musical creation and inspiration of the composer. A far more modern idea. 

Her favourite instrument was a 1838 Conrad Graf (1782-1851) owned by Schumann. The Austrian-German piano maker's instruments were used by Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, Robert and Clara Schumann among others. They were capable of extraordinary sonority and special effects.

Chopin’s ‘Là ci darem’ Variations are classical in form with an introduction, theme, five variations and finale. They are a marvellous example of the style brillant and clearly influenced by Hummel and Moscheles. It is well-known Chopin was obsessed with opera all his life, a fascination that began early. Clara Wieck loved this work and performed it often making it popular in Germany. Her notorious father, Schumann's piano teacher who had forbidden her marriage to Robert, wrote perceptively and rather ironically of this work: ‘In his Variations, Chopin brought out all the wildness and impertinence of the Don’s life and deeds, filled with danger and amorous adventures. And he did so in the most bold and brilliant way’.

Reading literature of the period may assist in comprehending the intense sensibility of the age and how love was expressed in high-flown literature and poetry, say in the poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. She, like Clara Wieck, had a father who fiercely disapproved of her love for the sublime poet Robert Browning. They married in secret, ran away to Italy and her father disinherited her.

When our two souls… (Sonnet 22)

When our two souls stand up erect and strong,

Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,

Until the lengthening wings break into fire

At either curvèd point,—what bitter wrong

Can the earth do to us, that we should not long

Be here contented? Think. In mounting higher,

The angels would press on us and aspire

To drop some golden orb of perfect song

Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay

Rather on earth, Belovèd,—where the unfit

Contrarious moods of men recoil away

And isolate pure spirits, and permit

A place to stand and love in for a day,

With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.

    Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

Of all the inspirations to composition given to Robert Schumann, none achieved such a profound depth of the image of Clara Wieck as that within the Fantasy in C major, Op. 17. She clearly preoccupied his inner world. After their first kiss was exchanged in November 1835 (Schumann was 25 and Clara 16) they forged a connection that withstood many challenging obstacles including a long enforced separation due to Clara’s father’s fierce opposition to their marriage. Schumann continued in his compositions on so many occasions to unfold Walter Benjamin’s eloquent ‘fan of memory’ of Clara. Certainly this was the case of Clara’s image yearningly called up in the first movement of the Fantasy. Clara was the ‘distant beloved’ that imbues the entire work.

The almost unrelenting Romantic passion of the Robert Schumann Violin Sonata No.2 in D minor Op 121 makes it a remarkable work. He dedicated it to Ferdinand David, the violinist to whom Mendelssohn dedicated his violin concerto. 

The piece was premiered by the great Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim (1831-1907) and Clara Schumann at a concert on 29 October 1853. This was the beginning of a famous musical partnership that lasted for many years. Towards the end of the year the great violinist, conductor and composer wrote enthusiastically to his friend Arnold Wehner, Director of music at Göttingen:

You know how expressively Clara interprets his [Schumann’s] music. I have extraordinary joy in playing Robert’s works with her, and I only wish you could share this joythe new Sonata in D minor overflows with noble passion, almost harsh and bitter in expression, and the last movement reminds one of the sea with its glorious waves of sound.

Clara and Robert Schumann moved to Düsseldorf in 1853 where in the summer Clara composed the Drei Romanzen (Three Romances) for violin and piano, Op. 22. She dedicated them to Joseph Joachim. He even performed them for King George V of Hanover. I have been greatly moved by the lyricism of these pieces, particularly that in G minor which has such a poignant theme that soars like a swallow, melancholically gliding above the following more turbulent outgoing mood of the middle section. The intimate musical 'conversation' was affecting in a profoundly humanist way.

As she grew older, she became more preoccupied with other responsibilities in life and found it hard to compose regularly, writing astonishingly consdering her genius 

'I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose – there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?' 

Her husband also expressed concern about the effect on her composing output:

'Clara has composed a series of small pieces, which show a musical and tender ingenuity such as she has never attained before. But to have children, and a husband who is always living in the realm of imagination, does not go together with composing. She cannot work at it regularly, and I am often disturbed to think how many profound ideas are lost because she cannot work them out.'

She produced one to eight compositions every year beginning at age 11, until her output stopped in 1848, producing only a choral work that year for her husband's birthday and leaving her second piano concerto unfinished. These two works, while reserved as her Op. 18 and Op. 19, were never published in her lifetime. Five years later, however, when she was 34 in 1853, the year she met Brahms, she engaged in a flurry of composing, resulting in 16 pieces that year.

In her day, Clara Schumann’s compositions were well regarded by renowned composers such as Robert Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, and Chopin. Even with this respect, Clara Schumann was not able to escape the criticism stemming from the expectation that women should remain modest, dutiful and relegate their music activities to the home, which tragically led her to feeling 'less than fully satisfied' about her compositional abilities.

For the next 43 years of her life, she only composed piano transcriptions of works by her husband and Brahms, including 41 transcriptions of Robert Schumann's Lieder (commissioned by a publisher in 1872), and a short piano duet commissioned for a friend's wedding anniversary in 1879. In the last year of her life, she left several sketches for piano preludes written for students and published cadenzas for her performances of Beethoven and Mozart piano concertos. Most of Clara Schumann's music was seldom performed and largely forgotten until a rebirth of fascination in the 1970s. Today her compositions are being rehabilitated both in performance and recording.

Drei Romanzen, Op. 21 is one of her last works, and elegantly balances the 'modern' compositional techniques of the Romantic Period within more conservative limitations. Clara wrote in her diary about feelings of sadness while visiting Robert Schumann who had been committed to a sanatorium on the very day she wrote the first romance that we hear here. The sense of sadness and melancholic recall is inescapable in the sensitive and tender performance, not without a flash of temperament, given here by Lipiak. This affecting piece in her interpretation, speaks of a lingering and yearning 'lost' romance with Robert Schumann and his works.

The second theme in Op. 21 no. 1 is based on a motif by Robert Schumann. This theme was favoured by Robert Schumann and appeared in many of his works relating to childhood, most notably Op. 15, Kinderszenen (Scenes of Childhood). The theme suggests a recollection of the past or perhaps a desire for childlike innocence in the face of grim reality.

The dissolution of Robert’s mental health, the loss of mutual life together and the person she knew so intimately had a profound effect on Clara's psyche. One loses not only the person as an individual, replaced by icy absence, but also the promise of any future together. Even though the person she knew was no longer accessible, his presence appears in Op. 21 through the irresolute harmonies like a poignant, simmering memory while grim reality is erased. 'The confrontation Clara Schumann had with the memories of perhaps the most significant person in her life manifests in Op. 21 as a sophisticated and emotionally affecting meditation on love, loss, and memory.'  Lipiak captures all these poignant emotions with great delicacy and pianistic refinement of a high order.

The rarely known and even more rarely performed Piano Sonata in G Minor was composed in 1841-1842. As Clara mentioned in her diary:

'I tried to compose something for Robert, and lo and behold, it worked! I was blissful at having really completed a first and a second sonata movement, which did not fail to produce an effect – namely, they took my dear husband quite by surprise.'

Clara presented the Allegro and Scherzo of the sonata as a Christmas gift for Robert in 1841. Robert wrote to Clara’s mother and expressed his pleasure at the two sonata movements modestly described as a Sonatine. Clara interrupted her demanding piano recitals and domesticity to later add the Adagio and Rondo. It seemed to be an established, even sentimental tradition, that the couple composed musical works for each other as gifts for holidays and birthdays. The sonata was not published until 1991.

The Allegro movement follows the traditional structure of a sonata form and is coherent and accomplished. The Adagio is the most lyrical of all the four movements. There is much colour added to the pleasant melody whose song-like nature resembles Lieder. In contrast to this lyricism of the Adagio, the Scherzo is a spritely, jolly dance. The articulation used in the Scherzo is mostly staccato. The final Rondo is the most virtuosic movement of the Sonata. We are immersed in a shower of agitated sixteenth notes.  

Lipiak gives us a finely articulated and musically strong performance of this neglected work which uplifts it into the significant musical position it richly deserves.

Grażyna Bacewicz (1909–1969)

This remarkable Polish composer and violinist was born on February 5th, 1909, in Łódź. She is the second Polish female composer to have achieved national and international recognition, the first being Maria Szymanowska in the early 19th century. Having first learnt to play the piano and violin with her father, Vincas Bacevičius (Wincenty Bacewicz), Bacewicz continued her musical education in 1919 at the Helena Kijenska-Dobkiewiczowa's Musical Conservatory in Łódź.

There, she studied piano, violin, and music theory. Her family moved to Warsaw in 1923, and in 1924 she enrolled at the Warsaw Conservatory to study composition graduating in 1932 with diplomas in violin and composition. Thanks to the generosity of Ignacy Jan Paderewski, she received a grant that same year to study composition at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris. She studied under Nadia Boulanger (another great female creative artist) from 1932 to 1933, as well as taking private violin lessons with Henri Touret. She would return to Paris later in 1934 to study under the Hungarian violinist Carl Flesch.

Bacewicz's first solo success came in 1935, with her first mention at the 1st Henryk Wieniawski International Violin Competition in Warsaw. From 1936 to 1938 she played first violin at the Warsaw Polish Radio Orchestra led by Grzegorz Fitelberg, where she developed her knowledge of instrumentation. Bacewicz played a number of concerts before World War II, for which she visited Lithuania, France, Spain and other countries, often appearing with her brother, the reputed pianist Kiejstut.

During the Nazi occupation she played clandestine concerts, as well as playing for the Main Relief Council. After the war she continued to play concerts up until 1953, giving recitals in Belgium, Czechoslovakia, the USSR, Romania, Hungary and France. Meanwhile, in 1945, she joined the National Conservatory (now the Academy of Music) in Łódź as a lecturer of music theory and a violin teacher. Throughout the 1950s she devoted herself almost exclusively to composing and teaching.

From 1966 till her death in 1969 she worked at the National Higher School of Music (now the Academy of Music) in Warsaw, where she led a composition class and was made professor in 1967. She also often sat on the juries of violin and composition competitions throughout Europe, including in Liège, Paris, Moscow, Naples, Budapest, Poznań and Warsaw.

In the 1960s, Bacewicz took up writing in addition to her music, completing several novels and short stories. None was published except for a volume of short stories entitled Znak szczególny (The Distinguishing Mark).

Bacewicz's extremely rich body of work has been recognized and honoured a number of times. Her musical stature and remarkable compositions are undergoing something of a renaissance at present. A remarkable modern female composer of which there are many unheralded.

(This biographical article courtesy of Culture.PL

She is an excellent example of the increasingly serious consideration of female composers and the present renaissance in Polish music, works hidden for years behind the impenetrable cultural aspects of the Iron Curtain.

'I do not believe in inspiration,' Bacewicz wrote 'for me composing is like sculpting in stone rather than putting the sounds of my imagination on paper.’

Bacewicz's piano music, perhaps even more than her orchestral pieces, is rooted in the 19th century, giving an idea of what Chopin might have sounded like if he had somehow landed in post-WWII Poland! There are many indications of Polish folk rhythms and melodies in her music. 

The Krakowiak koncertowy ('Concert Krakowiak') of 1949 is in the 19th century virtuoso piano tradition with a modern, distinctive harmonic language and characteristically written in her unique voice. Lipiak grasped the taxing virtuosity of this work with talent, virtuosity, energy and panache. She wove a coherent, accessible and convincing structure of this fundamentally and so idiomatically Polish modern composition.

After listening to this fine CD of outstandingly creative women composers played by the fine female pianist Anna Lipiak, I was profoundly shocked at the scarcely credible remark quoted by the composer, pianist and organist Felicity Mazur-Park in her paper of 11 February 2023 entitled The Liberation of Women Composers: Overcoming a History of Sexism in the Classical Musical World at the RAW Conference 2023 that I had turned up during my research. She writes:

"In 1882 a critic in the Musical Times (a popular periodical at the time) wrote :

'A woman who, on taking a pencil, pen or music-sheet, forgets what are the character and obligations of her sex, is a monster who excites disgust and repulsion .... they are neither men nor women, but something which has no name and no part in life.' "

How matters have changed and hopefully continue to do so !!!

If gender inequalities in classical music bother you as much as they do me I suggest you read this recent article 

The Guardian 3rd February 2024


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