ARTICLE | 5 DECEMBER 2023
Donne is often told “we are trying to organise a Christmas Concert with choral works by women composers, but it’s impossible to find the music”. So we asked X (formerly Twitter) what festive choral works by women they could recommend…
TOP RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FESTIVE CHORAL MUSIC BY WOMEN
Songs of Celebration by Emma Johnson
Described by The Times as “Britain’s favourite clarinettist”, Emma Johnson is one of the few clarinet players to have made a career as a soloist. Since winning the BBC Young Musician of the Year at the age of seventeen she has gone on to become one of the UK’s biggest selling classical artists and is known for the diverse range of the repertoire she plays. She was awarded an MBE by the Queen in 1996.
Emma was recently commissioned to write Songs of Celebration, for clarinet and upper voices. The songs have been performed in London, Dublin, Tokyo, Canada, and Emma enjoys performing them herself with choirs at Christmas and Easter alongside some well known music she has arranged for clarinet and choir. The music is available at Encore Publications.
Christmas Eve by Tansy Davies
“Tansy Davies writes music that is sleek, hot, earthy, physical. Her instruments glint and sigh and thrust. Her textures are lean and gleaming. Her rhythms are all punch and sinew. As a composer she is immensely herself: a woman of fearsome drive and rigour and self-knowledge, a woman who connects with body, spirituality and political convictions – and who conveys all that without without filter or apology. That’s what makes her music so immediately and intoxicatingly her own. To hear it is beguiling, bracing, provocative, a rush of blood to the head, a soft breath to the skin, a reboot to the system.” Music available through Faber.
Christmas Eve by Anna Disley-Simpson
A satisfying festive work by composer/performer/teacher Anna Disley-Simpson.
Brooms of Steel by Patricia Wallinga
“A strophic adaptation of an Emily Dickinson poem that illustrates and celebrates the harsh stillness of winter. I’ve long admired Dickinson’s ability to craft inventive metaphors for simple scenes, and here she is at her best– imagine the kind of mind it takes to spin the rays of the weak winter sun into backup battalions for a snowed-in house or paint fruit packed in a cellar as “playing” in comparison to the perfect stillness outside. This setting, however, is anything but still; instead, it pairs crystalline open harmonies with a virtuosic fiddle reel meant to evoke the whistling winter wind.” – Wallinga
Wallinga is a living American composer-performer, specialising in contemporary and choral performance and works.
Around the Manger by Amy Beach
Around the Manger (R. Davis), 4 voices, organ/piano (1925), version for 1v, piano/organ (1925); rev. female chorus 3 voices, organ/piano (1925), rev. female chorus 4 voices, organ/piano (1929), Op. 115.
Amy Marcy Cheney Beach (September 5, 1867 – December 27, 1944) was an American composer and pianist of the late Romantic and early 20th century. Amy Beach’s contributions to American music and her role in breaking gender barriers have earned her a lasting place in the history of classical music. Her work continues to be celebrated and performed, preserving her legacy as a pioneering and influential figure in the world of composition.
A piece for SSAA, violin, and hurdy gurdy, initially commissioned by the Glasgow Madrigirls, with text by George Mackay Brown.
My Guardian Angel by Judith Weir
You can purchase the sheet music for My Guardian Angel (SATB) here.
“Judith Weir was born into a Scottish family in 1954, but grew up near London. She was an oboe player, performing with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, and studied composition with John Tavener during her schooldays. She went on to Cambridge University, where her composition teacher was Robin Holloway; and in 1975 attended summer school at Tanglewood, where she worked with Gunther Schuller.
In July 2014 Judith Weir was appointed to the 395-year old royal post of Master of the Queen’s Music, in succession to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Amongst her priorities in this role are the support of school music teachers, of amateur orchestras and choirs, and of rural festivals.”
This compilation includes 26 diverse anthems for mixed Voices, by historical and living women composers, including Amy Beach, Judith Bingham, Kerensa Briggs, and many more.
‘Another fine volume, striking in its diversity of styles and approaches. All the contents extremely worthwhile. It’s not often that anthologies maintain this level of excellence. Many congratulations on curating such a rich collection, and for your very high editorial standards. You are doing a great job not only for the cause of women composers but for the repertory of sacred vocal music, period’ – Prof. Edward Higginbottom
A new anthology including eight festive works: Ding Dong! Merrily on High for SS & piano, Es ist ein’ Ros’ for SS & piano, The Dormouse’s Carol SS & piano, Gabriel’s Message for SSA & harp or piano, The Desert for SSA & piano, Gebet in der Christnacht for SSA & piano, This Holy Night for SSA & piano, and I saw three ships for upper voices & piano.
Olivia Sparkhall is a composer, vocal coach, conductor and music educator.
Don’t forget to check Donne’s Advent Calendar Playlist on YouTube as well.
Christmas Choral Music by Female composers, a playlist by Alternative Classical
This Spotify playlist, curated by Alternative Classical, has 115 pieces from composers like Errollyn Wallen to Hildegard von Bingen. This playlist provides a huge range of composers and styles and offers 7 hours of Christmas Choral inspiration.
Have you checked our shop full of Christmas gifts ideas?
Elizabeth Hardman is Soprano & PhD Researcher
Music PhD | OOC-DTP Studentship | “Confronting canonicity and promoting diversity: Gender and contemporary concert programming”
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
You can find her on Twitter & Instagram @Lizzyhardmansop or on her website.