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Astonished at How This Astonishing Opera Composer is Unrecognized - -Ethel Smyth

By: Kathy Wu

As a feminist composer that set sound records to the max and shared her passion for music, you would have thought this was enough. But Ethel Smyth was impassioned of many other things, one of them being her fight for female rights.

Ethel Smyth was simply the early-20th Century’s classical voice. Famous for her operas and the unique extroverted personality she put in music, she managed to express her willingness for women to be noticed. Many of her famous works included The March of the Women, celebrating the day of women winning the right to vote - -The Prison, a Grammy-award recording that was published 1930. Smyth’s most impressive work, The Wreckers opera, was even sung at the Glyndebourne festival this recent May. The New York Times newspaper (NYT) couldn’t even resist describing the composition as "wild waves of passion".

Smyth was a rebel from the very start of her childhood. Born in Sidcup, U.K. in 1858, she was strongly approved for a distinctive music career. She walked through her father’s distaste for music and went to study at the Leipzig Conservatory in Germany. It was there that she met composers even the most talented musicians today couldn’t even have imagined meeting; Smyth shook hands with Tchaikovsky, Dvorak and Grieg, and was even introduced to Brahms and Schumann by a fellow colleague.

Smyth has influenced and changed the possibilities for the future of women. People have brought up her name time and time again, in celebration of what’s to come in female composers. Assistant professor of music at the Salem College, Dr. Amy Zigler, has researched information on Smyth and feminist musicologists for a decade and a half. "She pursued her passions, in her music and personal life. She was ambitious and unapologetic,” Zigler said. “She didn't seem afraid to knock on a conductor's door or smash in a politician's window – both were the necessary course of action her mind."


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