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Women in Music

Classical Music by Women Composers CD Collection

Bellingham Public Library is home to a Collection of 60 CDs of Classical Music by Women Composers contributed by local donor Catherine Rae Sheldon. The collection of features works by 40 rarely heard women composers from the 9th century through contemporary times.

“The impetus for this CD collection was sparked by my love for classical music, fascination with women’s history, and a dedication to righting wrongs,” explains Sheldon.

Historic Music by Women Composers Is No Longer Hidden

Although forgotten or ignored by history, many women composers of classical music throughout the world were very well known and acclaimed in their lifetimes. They worked, studied, taught and socialized in the same circles as their male contemporaries, often earning the professional support and respect of the male composers we have long revered.

Re-discovery of women classical composers’ contributions began with academic research in the 1970’s, culminating in the recording and widespread dissemination of the music of Hildegaard von Bingen in the 1980’s. This uncovering has accelerated in the last three decades; new discoveries and recordings continue, when pieces thought long lost turn up in an attic or library archive, or misattribution to a father, brother, husband or teacher is corrected for a composer listed only by initials or published under a male pseudonym.

How the Collection Was Developed

“Toward the end of 2019, I attended a classical concert where the program included the phrase women composers of classical music,” said Sheldon.  “WHAT women composers of classical music?!”  I exclaimed aloud. Despite my lifelong love of classical music, I knew Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendolssohn, but that’s about it. I soon discovered the many excellent web sites and blogs, listening links and videos which have been created in the last ten years by others whose hard work had unearthed the long overlooked music I then could easily discover. Throughout my immersive listening, I couldn’t quite believe how much beautiful music the world had been deprived of for so long.”

“I wanted to share my discoveries with my Bellingham community by offering something immediate, concrete, practical and low/no cost. The idea of a circulating cd collection at Bellingham Public Library came to mind. When I reached out to the library, I got connected with librarian Katie Bray, who assured me that cds and talking books were still being checked out, and that the library would be interested in what I proposed. From there it was easy to decide to donate funding for a cd collection of music by overlooked women composers,” said Sheldon. 

“The result is a collection of 60 CDs by 40 plus women composers, with music from many different eras-some contemporary-but mostly historic- written for vocal/choral, solo or accompanied instrument, trio/chamber group, orchestral or operatic performance,” said Sheldon.

“I hope others will find joy and amazement in discovering this music and share it with friends, and that new listeners will join me in contacting local classical music organizations to encourage programming of their favorites,” said Sheldon.

MEDIEVAL Period: Beatrice de Dia, Hildegaard of Bingen, Kassia

RENAISSANCE Period (William Byrd, Guillaume Dufay,Thomas Tallis): Caterina Assandra, Maddelena Casulana.

BAROQUE Period (J.S.Bach, Handel, Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Telemann): Francesca Caccini, Chia Margarita Cozzolani, Leonara Duarte, Isabella Leonarda, Camilla de Rossi, Barbara Strozzi.

CLASSICAL Period (Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart, Paganinni, Donezetti): Anna Bon, Elisabeth Jacquet de a Guerre, Marianne Martinez, Emilie Mayer, Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen, Wilhelmine von Bayreuth.

EARLY ROMANTIC Period (Berlioz, Brahms, Chopin, Liszt, Felix Mendolssohn, Robert Schumann, Wagner): Elfrida Andree, Teresa Carreno, Louise Farrenc, Augusta Holmes, Fanny Mendolssohn-Hensel, Clara Schumann, Alice Mary Smith, Maria Szymanowska.

LATE ROMANTIC Period (Elgar, Puccini, Ravel, Shostakovich):Cecile Chaminade, Amanda Maier, Ethyl Smith, Melanie Bonis, Amy Beach, Florence Price.

20th CENTURY (Shostakovich, Barber, Copland, Bernstein): Marion Bauer, Margaret Bonds, Lili Boulanger, Nadia Boulanger, Rebecca Clarke, Ruth Crawford, Ruth Gipps, Elizabeth Maconchy, Florence Price, Germaine Tailleferre, Louise Talma.

EARLY CONTEMPORARY Period: Gabriella Frank, Jennifer Higdon, Libby Larsen, Cindy McTee, Caroline Shaw, Joan Tower, Grace Williams, Ellen Taaffe Zwillich.

Bellingham Public Library thanks Catherine Rae Sheldon for her generous donation to fund this collection.