Women Composers

Composers from France

Hector Berlioz

December 11, 1803 - March 08, 1869

Romantic Period

Louis-Hector Berlioz was not a child prodigy, did not start serious study of music until he was an adult, and, unlike most other composers, never learned to play the piano or any other instrument. At his father's wish, he enrolled in medical school instead. While in Paris studying for this degree, however, he became very interested in opera and started taking composition lessons. Furious, his father cut off all financial support. Still, through hard work, various musical successes and study at the Paris Conservatory, Berlioz achieved his ambition to be a composer.

Berlioz was noted for his orchestral writing and is credited with creating the modern orchestra. His ideas were quite grand; his Requiem uses an orchestra of 190, four additional brass and percussion ensembles, and a 210-voice chorus! Berlioz’ new style of musical composition led directly to the Romantic era.

Although he wrote several major musical works, Berlioz was better known in his lifetime as a music critic than as a composer. He also conducted most performances of his own works, not trusting this responsibility to anyone else.

 


Georges Bizet

October 25, 1838 - June 03, 1875

Romantic Period

Georges Bizet was born in Paris, France. Both his parents were musicians, and they actually wanted their son to become a composer when he grew up! Bizet loved music, but he also loved to read books. His parents wound up hiding his books so that he would spend more time on his music.

When Georges was 10 years old, his father enrolled him in the Paris Conservatory. While he was there, he wrote his only symphony, but it wasn't performed until many years after he died. Bizet graduated from the Conservatory with awards in both composition and piano.

Bizet also composed operas. His most famous opera is Carmen. When Carmen first opened in Paris, the reviews were terrible. Many critics said there were no good tunes in it, so audiences stayed away.

In the middle of the night during the first round of Carmen performances, Bizet died. He was only 36. Four months later, Carmen opened in Vienna, Austria, and was a smash hit. It is now one of the most popular operas ever written. Bizet never knew that audiences would come to consider it his masterpiece.

Bizet was also very good at writing dramatic music. The music he wrote for the play L'Arlesienne (The Girl from Arles) is still enjoyed today.

 


Cecile Chaminade

August 08, 1857 - April 13, 1944

Late Romantic Period

Cecile Chaminade received her first music lessons from her mother, who was a pianist and singer. When Cecile wanted to study at the Paris Conservatory, her father wouldn’t let her, so she wound up being taught privately by Conservatory professors. She especially focused on composing and her works were well received. She promoted sales of her music through concert tours and performed regularly in England, often as a guest of Queen Victoria.

She also became popular in the United States, where she 12 cities in 1908. Considering the difficulties she faced as a woman composer, the large number of her compositions - almost 200 piano works and 125 songs - is worthy of note.

 


Claude Debussy

August 22, 1862 - March 25, 1918

Impressionist Period

Claude Debussy really had a double first name: Achille-Claude. He was born in a suburb of Paris, and it was his aunt who first noticed how musical he was. She got him started taking piano lessons. When he was only ten, Debussy started studying at the very strict Paris Conservatory.

As a child, Debussy was fascinated by visual art, and as he grew up, he loved the new style called "Impressionism." Instead of painting realistic, lifelike paintings with hard outlines, Impressionists used thousands of dots, or many different shades of color to create the "impression" of what they wanted to depict. Debussy took that idea and applied it to music, creating Impressionism in music.

 


Paul Dukas

October 01, 1865 - May 17, 1935

Late Romantic Period

Paul Abraham Dukas was born in Paris on October 1, 1865. When he was five, his mother died in childbirth. Dukas did not show significant musical ability until he was 14, when he began composing while recovering from an illness. At 16 he entered the Conservatoire de Paris where he studied music with Claude Debussy, and where he would later teach. Dukas was very critical of his work and destroyed many of his compositions after they were finished. His most famous surviving work is The Sorcerer's Apprentice (1897) which was featured in Disney's Fantasia.

 


Gabriel Fauré

May 12, 1845 - November 04, 1924

Late Romantic Period

Gabriel Fauré studied music at the École Niedermeyer in Paris, where Saint-Saëns, another great French composer, was his teacher. Thanks to this education, he learned about lots of different kinds of music. He graduated at the age of twenty with first prizes in piano, organ harmony and composition.

For much of his lifetime, Fauré worked as an organist. He also eventually taught composition himself at the Niedermeyer and became the school's director in 1905. Conservative professors didn’t like him because he introduced new forms of music to the students. He responded by calmly dismissing his critics one by one. As head of the school for fifteen years, he influenced many young composers, including Ravel and Debussy.

Fauré is known for his small, intimate pieces. He composed many works for piano plus songs and chamber music but never wrote a concerto or a symphony. His piano music is refined, delicate and difficult to play. It was greatly influenced by Chopin. His songs are lovely; he was a master at setting words to music. Fauré never liked orchestrating and often had his students arrange his works for larger ensembles when this was necessary.

Like Beethoven, Fauré suffered from a loss of hearing. However, he continued to compose, and some of his best music comes from that time.

 


Elizabeth Jacquet de la Guerre

October 10, 1666 - June 27, 1729

Baroque Period

Elizabeth Jacquet de la Guerre was the daughter of Claude Jacquet, an organist and harpsichordist who taught all his children – boys and girls – to play. Elizabeth played and sang so well that French King Louis XIV allowed her to perform in public at a time when women weren’t allowed to do that. She started performing in court when she was 5, and only left to get married to another keyboard player, organist Marin de La Guerre.

Like most harpsichordists of her day, Elizabeth was well known for her improvisations. She was the first woman in France to write an opera, and also wrote sonatas and cantatas, which were new forms at the time.

 


Darius Milhaud

September 04, 1892 - June 22, 1974

Modern Period

Darius Milhaud was a Jewish French composer who used elements of Jazz in his compositions. Born in Marseilles in 1892, he studied at the Paris Conservatory. On a trip to the United States in 1922 he heard real jazz for the first time. He wrote over 400 compositions, among them Suite Provencale (1936). Milhaud was also a music teacher; some of his famous pupils include Burt Bacharach and Dave Brubeck.

 


Jacques Offenbach

June 20, 1819 - October 05, 1880

Romantic Period

Jacques Offenbach was a French composer and cellist of the Romantic era with German-Jewish descent and one of the originators of the operetta form. He was one of the most influential composers of popular music in Europe in the 19th century, and many of his works remain in the repertory. While his name remains most closely associated with the French operetta and the Second Empire, it is his one fully operatic masterpiece, Les contes d'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann), that has become the most frequently performed of Offenbach's works.

 


Francis Poulenc

January 07, 1889 - January 30, 1963

Modern Period

Francis Poulenc was a member of a group of French composers called "Les Six." A charming and amusing man, much of his music is light-hearted and gay.

Poulenc was largely self-taught. Although he composed during the early part of the 20th century, when many musicians were experimenting with new sounds and techniques, his music is more traditional with bright colors and strong rhythms. Poulenc is particularly noted for his songs; he wrote over 150 of them. He had a great gift for writing melodies and was skilled at putting words to music in clever ways. He also wrote some beautiful religious choral music, three operas, and pieces for the piano, including a work called Mouvements Perpetuels that many pianists still play today.

 


Joseph-Maurice Ravel

March 07, 1875 - December 28, 1937

Late Romantic Period

Joseph-Maurice Ravel was a French composer best known for his piece Bolero (1928), which he considered a trivial piece of music. He was expelled from the Conservatoire de Paris because he could not meet their competitive requirements, and would continue to have trouble with critics. Ravel joined a group of other musicians called the Apaches. His masterpiece Pavane for a Dead Princess (1902) was performed with the group. Ravel became friends with Claude Debussy and they often compared works. But fans of each composer began feuding, so they decided it was best to stop seeing each other. Ravel went on to compose until 1932. His arrangement of Mussgorsky's Pictures at an Exhibition brought him great profit. In 1928, he made a four month tour to America, where he met and became friends with George Gershwinn. Critics in America were much more receptive of Ravel's work and boosted him to international acclaim. He died in France in 1937 after an experimental brain surgery.

 


Camille Saint-Saëns

October 09, 1835 - December 16, 1921

Romantic Period

Like Mozart, Camille Saint-Saëns was a child prodigy. At 2½ he could pick out tunes on the piano; at the age of 3 he composed his first piece; and by 7 he was giving public concerts as a pianist and organist. When he was 10, he made his public debut and offered to play any one of Beethoven's 32 sonatas from memory. He had total recall of anything he had ever read.

Saint-Saëns was also a conductor, critic, music scholar, teacher and composer. Working in Paris, he founded a society that supported an entire new generation of French composers. Despite these talents, he never quite lived up to expectations. While he composed operas, none were very popular. His style of music was traditional and conservative and for the most part followed Classical traditions. His best-known works are several concertos, an organ symphony and The Carnival of the Animals.

 


Erik Satie

May 17, 1866 - July 01, 1925

Late Romantic Period

Erik Satie was a French avant-garde composer born in 1866. He was also a writer who contributed to publications such as Vanity Fair. His work anticipated 20th century music and is considered minimalist by today's standards. Some compositions featured instruments which mimic animal sounds and other non-instrumental noises. In 1879 he entered the Paris Conservatory, where his teachers said he was a lazy and untalented pianist. He never finished at the school. He performed mainly for caberet and cafe audiences, as his work was not widely accepted by the public. He became friends with Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy, who helped bring his work into the public eye. He died in 1925.

 


Germaine Tailleferre

April 19, 1892 - November 07, 1983

Modern Period

Germaine Tailleferre was born in Paris and had early success as a pianist. When she was 12, she started studying at the Paris Conservatory to study, where she won many prizes. Erik Satie was so impressed with one of her piano compositions that he called her his “musical daughter,” and promoted her career. She went on to become the only female member of “Les Six,” a group of prominent French composers. She composed concertos, sonatas,operas, ballets, and film music.

Although most of her acclaim occurred early in her career, Tailleferre composed and taught throughout her life. She was especially devoted to children and their music.

 


Philippe Verdelot

January 01, 1470 - --

Early Music Period

Not much is known about Philippe Verdelot’s early career. He was born around 1470 in France, but spent much of his later life living and working in Italy. He is most remembered as a leader in the history of the Italian madrigal – a piece for multiple voices, each of equal importance, set to fine poetry.

While living in Florence during the 1520s, Verdelot held several important positions. He was placed in charge of the music of the baptistry and later the cathedral! He became so popular with the public that Pope Clement the VII requested Verdelot perform at his coronation in 1524.

During the Florentine republic in the later 1520s, Verdelot decided to change his loyalties and ally against the papal and imperial forces. It is unknown whether he survived the siege of Florence in 1530, as no record of his music exists after this point.

 


Women Composers

Composers from France

Hector Berlioz

December 11, 1803 - March 08, 1869

Romantic Period

Louis-Hector Berlioz was not a child prodigy, did not start serious study of music until he was an adult, and, unlike most other composers, never learned to play the piano or any other instrument. At his father's wish, he enrolled in medical school instead. While in Paris studying for this degree, however, he became very interested in opera and started taking composition lessons. Furious, his father cut off all financial support. Still, through hard work, various musical successes and study at the Paris Conservatory, Berlioz achieved his ambition to be a composer.

Berlioz was noted for his orchestral writing and is credited with creating the modern orchestra. His ideas were quite grand; his Requiem uses an orchestra of 190, four additional brass and percussion ensembles, and a 210-voice chorus! Berlioz’ new style of musical composition led directly to the Romantic era.

Although he wrote several major musical works, Berlioz was better known in his lifetime as a music critic than as a composer. He also conducted most performances of his own works, not trusting this responsibility to anyone else.

 


Georges Bizet

October 25, 1838 - June 03, 1875

Romantic Period

Georges Bizet was born in Paris, France. Both his parents were musicians, and they actually wanted their son to become a composer when he grew up! Bizet loved music, but he also loved to read books. His parents wound up hiding his books so that he would spend more time on his music.

When Georges was 10 years old, his father enrolled him in the Paris Conservatory. While he was there, he wrote his only symphony, but it wasn't performed until many years after he died. Bizet graduated from the Conservatory with awards in both composition and piano.

Bizet also composed operas. His most famous opera is Carmen. When Carmen first opened in Paris, the reviews were terrible. Many critics said there were no good tunes in it, so audiences stayed away.

In the middle of the night during the first round of Carmen performances, Bizet died. He was only 36. Four months later, Carmen opened in Vienna, Austria, and was a smash hit. It is now one of the most popular operas ever written. Bizet never knew that audiences would come to consider it his masterpiece.

Bizet was also very good at writing dramatic music. The music he wrote for the play L'Arlesienne (The Girl from Arles) is still enjoyed today.

 


Cecile Chaminade

August 08, 1857 - April 13, 1944

Late Romantic Period

Cecile Chaminade received her first music lessons from her mother, who was a pianist and singer. When Cecile wanted to study at the Paris Conservatory, her father wouldn’t let her, so she wound up being taught privately by Conservatory professors. She especially focused on composing and her works were well received. She promoted sales of her music through concert tours and performed regularly in England, often as a guest of Queen Victoria.

She also became popular in the United States, where she 12 cities in 1908. Considering the difficulties she faced as a woman composer, the large number of her compositions - almost 200 piano works and 125 songs - is worthy of note.

 


Claude Debussy

August 22, 1862 - March 25, 1918

Impressionist Period

Claude Debussy really had a double first name: Achille-Claude. He was born in a suburb of Paris, and it was his aunt who first noticed how musical he was. She got him started taking piano lessons. When he was only ten, Debussy started studying at the very strict Paris Conservatory.

As a child, Debussy was fascinated by visual art, and as he grew up, he loved the new style called "Impressionism." Instead of painting realistic, lifelike paintings with hard outlines, Impressionists used thousands of dots, or many different shades of color to create the "impression" of what they wanted to depict. Debussy took that idea and applied it to music, creating Impressionism in music.

 


Paul Dukas

October 01, 1865 - May 17, 1935

Late Romantic Period

Paul Abraham Dukas was born in Paris on October 1, 1865. When he was five, his mother died in childbirth. Dukas did not show significant musical ability until he was 14, when he began composing while recovering from an illness. At 16 he entered the Conservatoire de Paris where he studied music with Claude Debussy, and where he would later teach. Dukas was very critical of his work and destroyed many of his compositions after they were finished. His most famous surviving work is The Sorcerer's Apprentice (1897) which was featured in Disney's Fantasia.

 


Gabriel Fauré

May 12, 1845 - November 04, 1924

Late Romantic Period

Gabriel Fauré studied music at the École Niedermeyer in Paris, where Saint-Saëns, another great French composer, was his teacher. Thanks to this education, he learned about lots of different kinds of music. He graduated at the age of twenty with first prizes in piano, organ harmony and composition.

For much of his lifetime, Fauré worked as an organist. He also eventually taught composition himself at the Niedermeyer and became the school's director in 1905. Conservative professors didn’t like him because he introduced new forms of music to the students. He responded by calmly dismissing his critics one by one. As head of the school for fifteen years, he influenced many young composers, including Ravel and Debussy.

Fauré is known for his small, intimate pieces. He composed many works for piano plus songs and chamber music but never wrote a concerto or a symphony. His piano music is refined, delicate and difficult to play. It was greatly influenced by Chopin. His songs are lovely; he was a master at setting words to music. Fauré never liked orchestrating and often had his students arrange his works for larger ensembles when this was necessary.

Like Beethoven, Fauré suffered from a loss of hearing. However, he continued to compose, and some of his best music comes from that time.

 


Elizabeth Jacquet de la Guerre

October 10, 1666 - June 27, 1729

Baroque Period

Elizabeth Jacquet de la Guerre was the daughter of Claude Jacquet, an organist and harpsichordist who taught all his children – boys and girls – to play. Elizabeth played and sang so well that French King Louis XIV allowed her to perform in public at a time when women weren’t allowed to do that. She started performing in court when she was 5, and only left to get married to another keyboard player, organist Marin de La Guerre.

Like most harpsichordists of her day, Elizabeth was well known for her improvisations. She was the first woman in France to write an opera, and also wrote sonatas and cantatas, which were new forms at the time.

 


Darius Milhaud

September 04, 1892 - June 22, 1974

Modern Period

Darius Milhaud was a Jewish French composer who used elements of Jazz in his compositions. Born in Marseilles in 1892, he studied at the Paris Conservatory. On a trip to the United States in 1922 he heard real jazz for the first time. He wrote over 400 compositions, among them Suite Provencale (1936). Milhaud was also a music teacher; some of his famous pupils include Burt Bacharach and Dave Brubeck.

 


Jacques Offenbach

June 20, 1819 - October 05, 1880

Romantic Period

Jacques Offenbach was a French composer and cellist of the Romantic era with German-Jewish descent and one of the originators of the operetta form. He was one of the most influential composers of popular music in Europe in the 19th century, and many of his works remain in the repertory. While his name remains most closely associated with the French operetta and the Second Empire, it is his one fully operatic masterpiece, Les contes d'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann), that has become the most frequently performed of Offenbach's works.

 


Francis Poulenc

January 07, 1889 - January 30, 1963

Modern Period

Francis Poulenc was a member of a group of French composers called "Les Six." A charming and amusing man, much of his music is light-hearted and gay.

Poulenc was largely self-taught. Although he composed during the early part of the 20th century, when many musicians were experimenting with new sounds and techniques, his music is more traditional with bright colors and strong rhythms. Poulenc is particularly noted for his songs; he wrote over 150 of them. He had a great gift for writing melodies and was skilled at putting words to music in clever ways. He also wrote some beautiful religious choral music, three operas, and pieces for the piano, including a work called Mouvements Perpetuels that many pianists still play today.

 


Joseph-Maurice Ravel

March 07, 1875 - December 28, 1937

Late Romantic Period

Joseph-Maurice Ravel was a French composer best known for his piece Bolero (1928), which he considered a trivial piece of music. He was expelled from the Conservatoire de Paris because he could not meet their competitive requirements, and would continue to have trouble with critics. Ravel joined a group of other musicians called the Apaches. His masterpiece Pavane for a Dead Princess (1902) was performed with the group. Ravel became friends with Claude Debussy and they often compared works. But fans of each composer began feuding, so they decided it was best to stop seeing each other. Ravel went on to compose until 1932. His arrangement of Mussgorsky's Pictures at an Exhibition brought him great profit. In 1928, he made a four month tour to America, where he met and became friends with George Gershwinn. Critics in America were much more receptive of Ravel's work and boosted him to international acclaim. He died in France in 1937 after an experimental brain surgery.

 


Camille Saint-Saëns

October 09, 1835 - December 16, 1921

Romantic Period

Like Mozart, Camille Saint-Saëns was a child prodigy. At 2½ he could pick out tunes on the piano; at the age of 3 he composed his first piece; and by 7 he was giving public concerts as a pianist and organist. When he was 10, he made his public debut and offered to play any one of Beethoven's 32 sonatas from memory. He had total recall of anything he had ever read.

Saint-Saëns was also a conductor, critic, music scholar, teacher and composer. Working in Paris, he founded a society that supported an entire new generation of French composers. Despite these talents, he never quite lived up to expectations. While he composed operas, none were very popular. His style of music was traditional and conservative and for the most part followed Classical traditions. His best-known works are several concertos, an organ symphony and The Carnival of the Animals.

 


Erik Satie

May 17, 1866 - July 01, 1925

Late Romantic Period

Erik Satie was a French avant-garde composer born in 1866. He was also a writer who contributed to publications such as Vanity Fair. His work anticipated 20th century music and is considered minimalist by today's standards. Some compositions featured instruments which mimic animal sounds and other non-instrumental noises. In 1879 he entered the Paris Conservatory, where his teachers said he was a lazy and untalented pianist. He never finished at the school. He performed mainly for caberet and cafe audiences, as his work was not widely accepted by the public. He became friends with Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy, who helped bring his work into the public eye. He died in 1925.

 


Germaine Tailleferre

April 19, 1892 - November 07, 1983

Modern Period

Germaine Tailleferre was born in Paris and had early success as a pianist. When she was 12, she started studying at the Paris Conservatory to study, where she won many prizes. Erik Satie was so impressed with one of her piano compositions that he called her his “musical daughter,” and promoted her career. She went on to become the only female member of “Les Six,” a group of prominent French composers. She composed concertos, sonatas,operas, ballets, and film music.

Although most of her acclaim occurred early in her career, Tailleferre composed and taught throughout her life. She was especially devoted to children and their music.

 


Philippe Verdelot

January 01, 1470 - --

Early Music Period

Not much is known about Philippe Verdelot’s early career. He was born around 1470 in France, but spent much of his later life living and working in Italy. He is most remembered as a leader in the history of the Italian madrigal – a piece for multiple voices, each of equal importance, set to fine poetry.

While living in Florence during the 1520s, Verdelot held several important positions. He was placed in charge of the music of the baptistry and later the cathedral! He became so popular with the public that Pope Clement the VII requested Verdelot perform at his coronation in 1524.

During the Florentine republic in the later 1520s, Verdelot decided to change his loyalties and ally against the papal and imperial forces. It is unknown whether he survived the siege of Florence in 1530, as no record of his music exists after this point.

 


 

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