In celebration of Ludwig van Beethoven's 250th birthday, we are excited to present a recital with mezzo-soprano Sarah Larsen and pianist, John Keene in collaboration with the This is Beethoven festival by Emerald City Music. Ms. Larsen has prepared a program with selections by Ludvig van Beethoven as well as pieces by female composers Fanny Mendelssohn and Dame Ethel Smyth who were greatly influenced by Beethoven's style. According to Larsen this women wrote, "with extensive range–exploring harsh, stark textures as well as soft, ﬂuid ones. I can only come to the conclusion that they wrote brilliantly." Read Sarah Larsen's full comments about her program below.
From Sarah Larsen
It’s been a joy to dive into Beethoven’s extensive song literature for this project. In addition to focusing on some familiar classics, I’ve been especially drawn to his Italian songs. They are extremely Mozartian, almost satirically so, and were often written in competitive settings.
When Fanny Mendelssohn was only a child, Beethoven was in his “late period” of composition. Mendelssohn was an exceptional young performer and composer, due in large part to her extensive study of Beethoven’s works. While her work with lieder is traditional in its frame, she explored chromaticism in a very unexpected way—not unlike the late compositions of Beethoven. Her mastery of composition and performance was described as distinctly “masculine” by her critics and admirers. This made me think of another composer - Dame Ethel Smyth. Smyth was a suﬀragette and proliﬁc composer in the late 19th century and early 20th century. She idolized the works of Beethoven, and many of her works were compared to his. Smyth also received the comment of possessing a “masculine” way of composing.
What does it mean then, that the works of Mendelssohn and Smyth were described in this way? Both write with extensive range–exploring harsh, stark textures as well as soft, ﬂuid ones. I can only come to the conclusion that they wrote brilliantly, and that since women were considered by the intellectuals of their times as incapable of full expression, that the male critics couldn’t conceive of any higher praise than to deem it “masculine.”
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