Smyth: String Quartet in E Minor

october COMPOSER: dame ethel smyth

Ethel Smyth

string quartet in e minor, 1902-12

String Quartet in E minor is one of Dame Ethel Smyth’s most popular works. She began the quartet in 1902 then abandoned it to work on an opera. She didn’t pick it up again until ten years later when she wrote the final two movements. In those intervening years significant events happened in Smyth’s life: she became an active part of the Suffragette movement and she lost her close companion Henry Brewster. Both of these — her grief over Henry and her desire to show other women what could be achieved — heavily influenced the final composition. String Quartet was Smyth’s first published quartet (she wrote a couple of others while studying in Leipzig). It is a bold and stirring piece, but not without its playful elements. It’s said by many to have been the composition where Smyth found her voice.

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Smyth: Sonata in A minor for Cello and Piano

october COMPOSER: dame ethel smyth

Ethel Smyth

sonata in a minor for cello and piano, Op 5, 1887

Sonata in A minor is a sonorous treat for the ears. A piece that displayed Dame Ethel’s move from student to professional; she composed it a few years after studying at the Leipzig music conservatory. You can hear the influence of Brahms, a man she both met and admired while studying. Indeed her time in Germany provided her a musical community that she had not found growing up in England. This sonata is dedicated to one of these friends, famous cellist Julius Klengel. The combination of cello and piano never fails to provoke an emotional response. It is especially true in Sonata in A minor where they are so magnificently woven around each other by Smyth’s lyrical expertise.

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Composer of the month: October

The catalogue of classical music is massive. It’s hard to know where to start.  As part of this journey into the classical world I’ve decided to immerse myself in a different composer every month. Each week of that month I’ll look at a popular or interesting piece and the story around it. It’ll be their story and my story.

Dame Ethel Smyth was a seriously accomplished woman. Talented in both musical and literary arts she was also an iconic suffragette activist who fought alongside Emmeline Pankhurst. As well as chamber and symphonic music she composed choral pieces, songs and ballets. She is still the only woman to have had an opera performed at The Met.

Dame Ethel smyth

Ethel Smyth