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Imprint: Oneworld Publications

Subject: Art, History

Sounds and Sweet Airs

The Forgotten Women of Classical Music

Anna Beer

A companion to the Classic FM series

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

Since the birth of classical music, women who dared compose have faced a bitter struggle to be heard. In spite of this, female composers continued to create, inspire and challenge. Yet even today so much of their work languishes unheard.

Anna Beer reveals the highs and lows experienced by eight composers across the centuries, from Renaissance Florence to twentieth-century London, restoring to their rightful place exceptional women whom history has forgotten.

  • Publication date: April 6, 2017
  • ISBN: 9781786070678
  • RRP: £12.99
  • Pages: 384
  • Publication date: April 7, 2016
  • ISBN: 9781780748566
  • RRP: £16.99
  • Pages: 384
  • Publication date: April 7, 2016
  • ISBN: 9781780748573
  • RRP: £4.99
  • Pages: 384


‘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'.


'Never less than highly readable'. 

Classical Music

‘Rewarding…insightful…Beer conveys the sexism and lifelong frustrations some immensely gifted creative artists encountered.’

New York Times

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


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

Sunday Telegraph

‘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

'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

‘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’.


Anna Beer

Anna Beer is a cultural historian and biographer. She is author of Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music and Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh, as well as biographies of Bess Throckmorton, William Shakespeare and John Milton. She is a Visiting Fellow at Kellogg College, University of Oxford.

Author page

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