Celebrate Women's History Month With TRAILBLAZERS Featuring Sonatas by Bosmans, Smyth, and Pejačević

North American violist Molly Gebrian arranged the works and collaborated on this recording with pianist Danny Holt.

By: Feb. 22, 2024
Celebrate Women's History Month With TRAILBLAZERS Featuring Sonatas by Bosmans, Smyth, and Pejačević
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TRAILBLAZERS has been released, the new album of viola sonatas composed by three formidable women: a queer member of the Dutch Resistance, a Suffragette, and a countess who rejected her class.

"Trailblazers"-three women who were unabashedly themselves, defying the social conventions of their time. The underappreciated music of Henriëtte Bosmans (openly queer), Ethel Smyth (suffragette leader), and Dora Pejačević (rejected her nobility) is brought together for the first time on this recording in brand new transcriptions for viola that grab the attention of the listener and elevate the lives of three extraordinary women.

North American violist MOLLY GEBRIAN arranged the works and collaborated on this recording with pianist DANNY HOLT, whom the late Alan Rich once described as "phenomenal". "Violists are always looking for ways to augment our repertoire," explains Gebrian, "and I am especially drawn towards periods of history where there is a dearth of music for the viola." Unlike the violin and cello, where displays of soloistic virtuosity are commonplace, the viola was largely ignored by composers as a solo instrument until the twentieth century. Gebrian continues, "These three sonatas, originally written for cello, not only fill a gap in the late-Romantic repertoire for violists but are clearly outstanding pieces that deserve much wider recognition. It also happens to be a critical time for women's rights, and these three composers pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable for women during their lifetimes. Their lives and work serve as a powerful inspiration for the generations that have come after them."

Gebrian's album notes describe the life of each composer and their historical context. Henriëtte Bosmans (1895-1952) was a Dutch pianist and composer, whose life was shaped by the death of her cellist father and her family's Jewish identity during Nazi occupation, her early relationship with prominent cellist (and later Dutch resistance leader) Frieda Belinfante, and prominent solo work with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in the 1930s. English composer Dame Ethel Mary Smyth (1858-1944) defied her father for the opportunity to study music in Leipzig, where she met Brahms, Dvořák, Clara Schumann, and Tchaikovsky. She went on to be a prominent figure in the British women's suffrage movement alongside Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928), writing the music that was adopted as their protest anthem, and getting arrested and imprisoned for her beliefs. Pianist and composer Dora Pejačević (1885-1923) was born into one of Croatia's oldest lines of nobility, but she rejected the privilege of her class-"I simply cannot understand how people can live without work... I despise them because of this... the truth is that I cannot continue to associate with the members of my own class."-working as a nurse during the Great War and requesting a commoner's burial.

Each sonata is a substantial work-Bosmans (21 min), Smyth (20 min), Pejačević (27 min)-and tests the mettle of the performers both individually and in ensemble with each other. Each work has a drama and intensity that perhaps reflect the loss, upheaval, and challenges at the turn of the twentieth century. The album opens with the brooding sweep of the Bosmans, clearly shaped by the time of its composition (1919) at the end of the War and during the "Spanish" influenza.

The album is out now and streaming everywhere. Retail downloads and hardcopy are available from the label, www.acisproductions.com.