Review: 900 YEARS OF WOMEN COMPOSERS – ADELAIDE FRINGE 2021 at Torrens Parade Ground Drill Hall

The choir specialises in medieval and contemporary music.

By: Mar. 16, 2021
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Review: 900 YEARS OF WOMEN COMPOSERS – ADELAIDE FRINGE 2021 at Torrens Parade Ground Drill Hall Reviewed by Ewart Shaw, Saturday 13th March 2021.

Lumina, the vocal ensemble founded and directed by Anna Pope, is better known online than in person. Their YouTube channel has an amazing international response. Many of their performances are the only ones available of much music of the medieval period and 900 Years of Women Composers is their offering for the Adelaide Fringe.

They most often perform in the reading room of the Barr Smith Library of the University of Adelaide, dressed in an eclectic assortment of mediæval-ish garb: hoods, garlands, and habits. For this concert, in more traditional concert clothes, they took on the Drill Hall on the Torrens Parade Ground, which easily accommodated the more than two hundred people who came to hear their tribute to women composers through the ages.

The acoustic was also impressive. Sitting right at the back of the large audience, I found the sound distant, but clear and well projected. Tim Kersten's lute accompaniment was perfectly audible. He was joined by two members of Lumina's favourite accompanists the Lyrebird ensemble, Meg and Eleanor Pope, on rebec and viol.

The choir specialises in medieval and contemporary music and, on their home ground, so to speak, they were most successful.

Every tribute to women composers across the ages acknowledges Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) as their touchstone. This immensely long lived Abbess wielded immense political and religious influence in her day. Opposition to her by local male members of the clergy was met with resolution and success. There may have been other women writing music at the time, but she was published, and that makes all the difference. O Nobilissima Viriditas was sung by seven women of the choir each taking a line in sequence. A bowed psaltery provided the drone.

Beatriz, Comtesse de Dia was one of a number of women troubadours or troubaritz active in the south of France in the early 13th century. Again, her song, A Chantar M'er de so Qu'eu no Volria, the only verse of hers to survive with its music, was shared among women's voices, with instrumental accompaniment.

The Renaissance in Italy recorded and published a few more women composers Maddalena Casulana (1544-1590), Vittoria Aliotti( 1575?-1620) and Lucrezia Orsina Vizana( 1590-1662). Casulana's Amor Per Qual Cagion was particularly attractive.

Barbara Strozzi (1619-1664)is another key figure in the history of music by women composers. She was represented by a loving duet, I Baci, sung by Anna Pope and Rachel Sag, and Silentio Nocivo.

After the interval, we arrived in the nineteenth century, where the challenges faced by women composers went beyond issues of publication. Fanny Mendelssohn Hense (1805-1847), sister to Felix, was a superb composer whose family, including her brother, disapproved of recognition for her work. Many of her prolific compositions were published under his name. When this was announced during the concert, someone booed. Clara Wieck Schumann ( 1819-1896), an infant prodigy pianist and composer, mother of eight, and carer for her husband Robert, who was mentally ill, gave up composing and questioned even her right to the talent she possessed. Fanny Mendelssohn's Abendlich Schon Rauscht der Wald, and Clara Wieck's Gondoliera, and enigmatic Ave Maria-Abendfeier im Venedig, with works by Mel Bonis (1858-1937) and Catharina van Rennes (1858-1940), brought the choir into the twentieth century, indeed, into the twenty-first. Three works by members of the choir, Salt Pan, by Anna Pope (1968), Kata Tjuta, by Rachel Sag (1974) with magical overtone singing, and a rollicking piece by Saam Thorne (1975), The Common Perception of Demons, brought this highly successful concert to a close.

Lumina has produced CDs and has a very popular website. This concert extends their success and recognizes the immense hard work of Anna Pope, and her remarkable family.


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