Sounds and Sweet Airs

Pages: 384
Subject: Art
Imprint: Oneworld

Sounds and Sweet Airs

The Forgotten Women of Classical Music

Anna Beer

The hidden history of the women who dared to write music in a man's world
Hardback
9781780748566 (7 Apr 2016)
RRP £16.99 / US$22.99

The Book

Francesca Caccini. Barbara Strozzi. Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre. Marianna Martines. Fanny Hensel. Clara Schumann. Lili Boulanger. Elizabeth Maconchy.

Great composers all, but their musical legacy is still rarely acknowledged.

Since the birth of classical music, those women who dared to compose have been patronised, had their sex lives scrutinised and the veracity of their authorship questioned. They worked within a musical culture where beliefs about what women could and could not do determined their every move. Yet, time and again there emerged individuals who would evade, confront and ignore the rules that sought to exclude them from the world of composition.

Taking the reader on a journey from seventeenth-century Medici Florence to London in the Blitz, and beyond, Anna Beer reveals the hidden histories of eight remarkable women, explores the special communities that enabled them to compose their music, and asks tough questions about why we still don't hear their masterpieces performed.

A long-overdue celebration of neglected virtuosos, Sounds and Sweet Airs presents a complex and inspirational picture of artistic endeavour and achievement that deserves to be part of our cultural heritage. 

Additional Information

Subject Art
Pages 384
Imprint Oneworld

About the Author

Anna Beer is a cultural historian, and the author of biographies of Milton and Lady Bess Raleigh. She is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Oxford. She lives in Oxford, England.

Reviews

‘Beer's writing is lucid, engaging and exuberant, strongly evoking the cultures and atmospheres that surrounded her subjects…the book in general is terrifically enjoyable and accessible, and leaves one hankering for a second volume.'

- Sunday Times

‘A meticulously researched, engrossing read, vividly bringing its eight subjects to life. It should appeal not only to music connoisseurs but to anyone interested in social and cultural history - and women's place in it.'

- Financial Times

‘Such traits, as Beer laments, are still with us…All the more important, then, for excellent books like this one to remind us of what we are all missing'.

- Catholic Herald

'Offers vivid, colourful context on a situation that is echoed back through the centuries…Readable and wide-ranging, Beer's deft sketches are an elegant introduction to their subjects'.

- Spectator

'Never less than highly readable'. 

- Classical Music

'Beer's meticulously researched book is a vital step in the battle to overturn that ultimate injustice'.

- Observer

'Beer has an eye for detail, and gives us a vivid sense of the stratagems these gifted, determined women had to employ'. 

- Sunday Telegraph

'In this riveting book Anna Beer wades through centuries of prejudice from the fear of women composing at all…to the persistent unwillingness to perform, discuss or distribute their music'.

- BBC Music Magazine

''[A] stimulating and engaging book, written with passionate enthusiasm and a light touch'.

- Literary Review

‘I am constantly in search of books that explore the lives of women who have been dismissed or overlooked by history, and this is what makes Anna Beer's latest book a total godsend. Sounds and Sweet Airs is an intoxicating historical examination of the way gender has shaped what we consider to be canonical... Beer's impassioned overview delves into the hopes, motivations, and struggles each woman faced as she attempted to pursue her vocation while coping with the "boys club” mentality of their respective music communities.'

Lenny Letter's Lit Thursday

- Lenny Letter’s Lit Thursday

‘Books could be written about composers denied a place in the classical canon because of ethnicity or class or religion, but that doesn't negate the truth and importance of Sounds and Sweet Airs'.

- Gramophone

‘Beer's snapshot lives of women composers are savvy, sympathetic... [an] essential and insightful study of a woman's unsung place in the closed world of classical music.'

- Wall Street Journal

‘An engaging read and…contains a powerful and timely message'.

- History Today

‘This is a truly inspiring and fascinating book... Female composers today no longer need to feel there is anything to stop them creating music and forging a career as a composer - if there is still any doubt, then just read Sounds and Sweet Airs.'

- Debbie Wiseman MBE – Classic FM’s Composer in Residence

‘A fascinating and refreshing rescue of a few well-chosen exemplars from the worthy but dull hands of musicologists... Thrilling.'

- Natalie Wheen, former presenter on BBC Radio and Classic FM

‘Both feminist analyst and fluent biographer, Beer makes engrossing and cogent cases for her subjects. She concludes that the proof of their art lies in the hearing and recommends recent recordings.'

- Booklist

This book is a delight. Eight striking composers are reinstated in musical history, thanks to Anna Beer's energetic research and lively writing.'

- Nicola LeFanu, composer and Professor Emeritus, University of York

‘A fascinating glimpse into the world of the women whose music we should know and be hearing in the canon.'

- Charlotte Bray, winner of the Lili Boulanger Memorial Prize 2014 and composer of At the Speed of Stillness

‘Elegantly written, Sounds and Sweet Airs offers compelling evidence of the prejudices against women composers' aspirations across the centuries.'

- Rhian Samuel, Composer and Professor Emeritus, City University London

‘An important book... groundbreaking and entertaining... This book should be required reading not just for those interested in cultural history, but for anyone wishing to understand the perception of women in the modern era.'

- Professor Steven Parissien – Director, Compton Verney

Anna Beer's eloquent and passionately argued narrative builds on the most up-to-date scholarship and makes an irresistible case for listening again to the work of women who were among the most admired musicians of their age. Much more than simply an attempt to balance the historical record, Sounds and Sweet Airs is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand music's power and the politics of gender and sexuality that promoted, shaped and silenced women's compositional careers from the Renaissance to the twentieth century.'

- Professor Daniel Grimley, Merton College, Oxford

Absorbing ... [Beer] writes with rich detail and sympathetic insight about [these women's] ambitious, adventurous battles to overcome barriers to creativity.'

- Publishers Weekly

‘Serious students of music and women's history will want to add this title to their required reading lists.'

- Library Journal