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If you look at the listings of the major orchestras in America you will see two things in common; very few of them are programming major pieces by women composers, and almost none have a woman on the podium. Despite the abundance of wonderful compositions by women, the world of classical music has been, for centuries, a man’s world.

Dame Ethel Smyth - first female composer to be awarded damehood


Against her father’s wishes, Dame Ethel Smyth pursued a career in music, first privately, and then at the Leipzig Conservatory.  Her persistence led to a successful music career, although some critics complained that her music was “too masculine.” In recognition for her work as a composer and writer, Smyth was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1922…the first female composer to be awarded a damehood.

Hear Dame Ethel Smyth share recollections of Johannes Brahms in this recording from the 1930s. 

This post is part WXXI Classical 91.5’s celebration of Women’s History Month. For more of these stories and other resources, check out Celebrating the Contributions of Women to Classical Music.