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With Radio 3’s excellent focus on programming women composers since 2015, there has been an increasing awareness of the gaps in our knowledge of works written by women. Orchestras and ensembles have been trying to programme more works by women, with a commitment from orchestras such as Southbank Sinfonia to programme 20 pieces by women in 9 months.

However it is extremely difficult to obtain useful information, parts and recordings of many of these works, some of which are still unpublished, and rarely if ever performed. Most ensembles do not have time or money to spend long in researching such repertoire, and so it remains unplayed, despite goodwill.

The Women Composers Project will offer a focal point for researchers and institutions across the world. The project aims to change our understanding of the canon of classical music, and its overwhelmingly male appearance. It will allow access to a whole new repertoire of music by women, presented using innovative and state-of-the-art technologies, and accessible to everyone from school children to managers of professional orchestras.

We will be creating a research base that allows us to find other material that has hardly been used, and to make it accessible. We also aim to:

  • Support programming across the BBC, led by Radio 3;
  • Host live performances;
  • Offer funding to recording of unrecorded works;
  • Develop educational resources for schools;
  • Digitise manuscript scores to make them accessible for performance and study;
  • Host visiting scholars working on recovering the lives and work of female composers as part of the community of biographers at the Oxford Centre for Life-writing, Wolfson College, Oxford.

The project aims to investigate the forgotten identity of women composers, and to redress the balance. Our ultimate aim would be to erase the need for the distinction of ‘female’ composer entirely.

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Dr Kate Kennedy is a biographer and musicologist who has worked with BBC Radio 3 on the programming for International Women’s Day, presented The Essay on forgotten women in music, the Sunday Feature on the first female string players, Building a Library on Ethel Smyth, and works with orchestras and ensembles such as Southbank Sinfonia and the Berkeley Ensemble to compile and present programmes featuring forgotten women’s work. She is the Associate Director of the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing. Kate is working with the Oxford Dictionary for National Biography on the inclusion of women composers in its studies, and has been asked to write the Cambridge Companion to Women Composers.

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With thanks to soprano Gabriella Di Laccio, Founder & Curator of Donne: Women in Music, here is a list of women composers.

With thanks to the Association of British Choral Directors, here is a reading and listening list from their Women in Music webinar in 2021.

With thanks to pianist Diana Ambache, founder of The Ambache Charitable Trust, and director of the Ambache Ensemble, here is Women of Note, an online resource dedicated to women composers.

Learn about the lives and works of some of the great female composers from BBC Radio 3, and here are some clips from Radio 3’s archive. On the same page you’ll find a link to six archive gems from women composers, broadcast as far back as 1945.

Here is a list of women composers by date from Oxford Music Online, home of Grove Music Online, the world’s premier online music encyclopedia, offering comprehensive coverage of music, musicians, music-making, and music scholarship.

Oxford University Press have published an Orchestral Catalogue and Choral Catalogue for women composers.

Classic FM have published an interesting article on Great Women Composers.

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