From Blindingham Hall: women composers on top

From the blog of Blindingham Hall, jointly written by Catherine Rose and me… I recommend reading from the beginning…

Letters the Twenty-first and Twenty-Second:
From Rogers to Lady Effingham; and from Lady Effingham to Rogers

Dear Lady Effingham,

I do hope you weren’t disturbed by the commotion last night. Helga and Daisy were – I’m sorry to say – a little the worse for wear. They had just come back from celebrating what they called a breakthrough in recognition of women artists.

It seems that Blindingham University Music Society have elected their first ever female composer to be the Master of the BUMS Music. Judy Weird is taking over from Peter Maxwell-House, and her first commission will be to commemorate the visit of a well known boy band of the 90s to Blindingham, as well as celebrating the organisation itself. It will be called ‘Take That – Up the BUMS!’. Vauxhall said that he thought Mr Dawson would like that. He must be getting more interested in classical music.

But then things became a bit more difficult, as I asked Helga and Daisy to name anything that Judy Weird had written. They looked at each other for a moment, before telling me that wasn’t important and that I should stop oppressing them with my patriarchal achievement oriented dialectic and that my obsession with single spurts of success was symptomatic of male sexual behaviourist thinking. I had no idea I was so clever.

So, Lady Effingham, as ever I turn to you with my questions. Firstly, why does it matter whether a composer is a man or a woman? Shouldn’t BUMS just be appointing the best person for the job? And secondly, why is it someone whose music is not known by most people in Blindingham?

Shouldn’t it be someone who writes music that people actually like – for example, Andrea Lloyds-Banke? Everyone loves her musical ‘Jesus Christ, Is That The Time Already?’, and there’s that other wonderful female composer Karol Jenkins? Classic FM play her pieces all the time, especially her album ‘Adienuffyet’.

As the conversation became more heated, Mr Dawson entered and told me that if I wanted to know more, I should ask your son Jeck, as he has played many of Judy Weird’s pieces on the trombone. It turns out that Mr Dawson knows more about the trombone than I could have imagined.

I thought there were only 7 positions, but he said that he’d seen Jeck demonstrating more than that, and his 69 was particularly expert. I said that if he could reach 69 positions, he must have a remarkably big trombone that would need a lot of blowing, and Mr Dawson told me I didn’t know the half of it.

I do hope you’re enjoying the fine weather, and I look forward to your reply.

Your humble servant,



Dear Rogers

I am truly delighted to hear of Ms Weird’s elevation up the BUMs hierarchy, but very disappointed to hear that Helga and Daisy were unable to name any of her works.

Who could fail to thrill to the ‘Ride Over Lady Constance’ (an hommage to DH Lawrence, and therefore particularly close to my heart) or her opera ‘A Night at the Chinese Takeaway’? She has also already written what I can only assume is a celebration of monarchy, which is entitled ‘The Welcome Arrival of Reign’. In fact she has a peculiar gift for arresting titles which I must say I have always found very enticing.

May I recommend that you hasten to the website of NME recordings, a favourite haunt of mine, where all sorts of music from the British Isles may be found, and discover more about her inspiration, Judith Weir?

However, to address your wider point (and I am always fond of pressing home any wider points near to hand), of course the job should go to the person best qualified. Fortunately Ms Weird IS that person, and her elevation gives us all a chance to get to know her music better. (I would also be interested to know just how much of Sir Peter Maxwell-House’s music Helga and Daisy are acquainted with, ignorant little harridans that they are.)

It can be difficult for someone in my privileged position to argue for oppressed women everywhere, but if some of today’s famous old masters were to have undergone the difficulties of female composers of the past, I don’t believe they would be quite so cock-a-hoop. Alma Schindler was forced to give up composing by her first husband, the composer Gustav Mahler. Fanny Mendelssohn’s brother Felix actually published works of hers under his own name, as publishers refused to consider the works of a mere female. Listen to the last movement of her G Minor piano sonata and try to deny how sumptuously rich her writing was.

Let us also not forget the now almost completely forgotten Marianna Martines, who studied keyboard with Haydn, performed with Mozart, but never sought a position as a composer, as it would have been unacceptable for a woman of her social class to find employment. Try this aria from her cantata Il Primo Amore, which is meltingly delicious.

Things are better now for female composers, with the likes of Roxanna PanufnikSally BeamishHelen Grime and Dobrinka Tabakova being featured in this year’s BBC Proms season. I hope you have your radio on every evening to listen, as do I. In fact, with the weather so charming, you must have noticed that I have flung all my windows open to allow the music to ring out over the greensward. Do feel free to lurk outside and join in my aural pleasures. We aristocrats should always share what we can with our people – noblesse, I mean to say, oblige, and all that sort of thing.

With kindest good wishes,

Ophelia, Lady Effingham

PS: I am trifle concerned to hear what you say about Mr Dawson and Jeck. Mr Dawson has known Jeck since the moment of his birth – I still quiver to think of his expertise with the hot towels – but I am sure Jeck will be disappointed to know that Mr Dawson might be discussing his positional accomplishments and his embouchure. Mr Dawson will be feeling the rough edge of his tongue next time they are in private, I’m sure.


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