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6 amazing women in classical

Classical music has long conjured images of frumpy middle-aged men, and even though there’s still a long way to go before female representation evens out the orchestra pit - there are some really kickass women in the world of classical, and we want to celebrate them. Here’s round one.

1. Peggy Glanville-Hicks: Composer and music critic
Australian, Peggy Glanville-Hicks was a quick-witted, sharp-tongued, pipe-smoking redhead who battled for validation in a man’s world. She travelled the globe writing and critiquing music, and famously recovered - regaining her sight - from a brain tumour which sent her blind. Peggy was the first woman to be commissioned to write an opera in the USA, by The Louisville Philharmonic Society in 1953 - The Transposed Heads.

2. Nicola Benedetti: violin virtuoso

At 27, Nicola Benedetti is the first classical musician in 20 years to break into the UK top 20 pop chart with a classical release. But she’s also somewhat of a musical missionary. Committed to bringing about social change through music, Bendetti devotes time to education projects, teaches children to play in orchestras, lobbies government on preserving music education funding, and lectures on the importance of creativity in schools.

3. Clara Schumann: Composer and pianist

Most people relate the surname Schumann to Robert - the male composer - but few know that he might’ve ended up a lawyer if he hadn’t discontinued his law studies at 17 on meeting and hearing Clara, 8, play the piano during a lesson with her father. He quit school, moved in with the family to take lessons, and married Clara 10 years later. They went on to have eight kids, but when Robert Schumann commit suicide 16 years after their marriage, Clara was forced to give six away. She dedicated her life to performing his music.


4. Simone Young: Conductor

When her engagement with the Vienna Opera was being negotiated, the company’s boss, Ioan Holender, scoffed: “A female conductor? She’d need to be twice as good as a man.” “She’s three times as good,” replied her agent Michael Lewin. Fiercely determined and passionate about her craft, Sydney Conservatorium of Music graduate Simone Young has a list of (albeit and unfortunately gender-based) firsts as long as her arm; the first woman to conduct at the Berlin Opera House, the first woman to conduct at the Vienna State Opera; the first woman to record the complete Wagner’s Ring Cycle; and she’s now one of the longest serving (male or female) directors of the Hamburg State Opera.

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5. Wendy Carlos: Film score composer

Why Wendy Carlos is amazing, from @funkvibe Tumblr:

++ She is a 74-year-old trans woman. She started HRT in 1968. Think transitioning is difficult now? Try doing it in 1968.

++ Her first album, Switched on Bach, is a full hour of her playing Bach’s music on synthesizers. The catch? Synthesizers in 1968 were monophonic. That means you can only play one note at a time. Wendy Carlos sat there and played each instrument’s piece of Bach’s music at least six times per piece, painstakingly overdubbing and re-recording each line, one at a time.

++ Oh yeah, Switched on Bach was the first classical album to sell more than 500k copies and she won three Grammy awards and stayed on the Billboard #1 pop charts for 17 weeks.

++ You know Tron? That really awesome movie whose sequel Daft Punk wrote the soundtrack for? Wendy is the original Daft Punk. Tron’s soundtrack was all her; not only that, but so was a Clockwork Orange and The Shining. We owe a LOT to this badass composer and musician.



6. Evelyn Glennie: Percussionist

Not only is Evelyn Glennie a super-famous virtuoso percussionist, she’s also pretty cool. She’s engaged in some high profile pop collaborations with Bjork, and Underworld for the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games. A modern day Beethoven, she continues to perform over 100 concerts a year despite being diagnosed profoundly deaf at age 1. She just taught herself to “hear the music with different parts of (her) body”.

So there you have it. It’s plainly clear you don’t have to be a soprano, or a flautist to be an amazing woman in classical music… and there are loads more to come - stay tuned!

THE GOLDEN TICKET RATIO IN MUSICThe Golden Ratio is found in all sorts of unexpected places: in the arrangement of branches along the stems of plants, in the veins of leaves; in architecture, in the fibonacci sequence… and in music!
!NERD ALERT! So what is it? Two numbers (a and b) are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities.
(a + b) ÷ a   =   a ÷ b  =  1.61803399…
or, inverted, 0.61803399…
It’s very typical in most pieces of music that the climax – the point of maximum tension and uncertainty – occurs at approximately 62% percent of the way through.
In sonata-allegro form (the structure used in most first movements of classical and romantic works), the climax usually occurs at the end of the development section, where the material of the initial exposition is taken through many keys and whittled down to its most basic building blocks. At the end of the development section, the main theme returns in the home key, where it (typically) remains for the rest of the movement. This final section is called the recapitulation.
Here are a few examples. In each, the recapitulation begins close to the golden ratio 0.61803399…
++ Mozart, Symphony No. 25 (1st mvt.):  5:24 ÷ 8:08 total = 0.66++ Beethoven, Symphony No. 5 (1st mvt.):  3:41 ÷ 6:33 total = 0.58++ Brahms, Symphony No. 4 (1st mvt.):  7:47 ÷ 12:54 total = 0.60++ Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 6 (1st mvt.): 11:42 ÷ 18:09 total = 0.64
The average start of the recapitulation across these works is 0.62 (bang on the Golden Ratio!). Letting a piece of music fall into these two halves – building up to a point of tension, then returning home – gives it a sense of balance and order. And there are loads more examples, especially in Bach’s music.
!NERD ALERT! Want to try it at home for yourself?Download your favourite score, grab a friend who can read music, nerd it up and let us know the results!

THE GOLDEN TICKET RATIO IN MUSIC

The Golden Ratio is found in all sorts of unexpected places: in the arrangement of branches along the stems of plants, in the veins of leaves; in architecture, in the fibonacci sequence… and in music!

!NERD ALERT! So what is it? 

Two numbers (a and b) are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities.

(a + b) ÷ a   =   a ÷ b  =  1.61803399…

or, inverted, 0.61803399…

It’s very typical in most pieces of music that the climax – the point of maximum tension and uncertainty – occurs at approximately 62% percent of the way through.

In sonata-allegro form (the structure used in most first movements of classical and romantic works), the climax usually occurs at the end of the development section, where the material of the initial exposition is taken through many keys and whittled down to its most basic building blocks. At the end of the development section, the main theme returns in the home key, where it (typically) remains for the rest of the movement. This final section is called the recapitulation.

Here are a few examples. In each, the recapitulation begins close to the golden ratio 0.61803399…

++ Mozart, Symphony No. 25 (1st mvt.): 5:24 ÷ 8:08 total = 0.66
++ Beethoven, Symphony No. 5 (1st mvt.): 3:41 ÷ 6:33 total = 0.58
++ Brahms, Symphony No. 4 (1st mvt.): 7:47 ÷ 12:54 total = 0.60
++ Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 6 (1st mvt.): 11:42 ÷ 18:09 total = 0.64

The average start of the recapitulation across these works is 0.62 (bang on the Golden Ratio!). Letting a piece of music fall into these two halves – building up to a point of tension, then returning home – gives it a sense of balance and order. And there are loads more examples, especially in Bach’s music.

!NERD ALERT! Want to try it at home for yourself?

Download your favourite score, grab a friend who can read music, nerd it up and let us know the results!

10 OF THE MOST MAGNIFICENT MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
We trawled the net for some of the most beautiful instruments you’ll ever lay your eyes on (let alone play, or even touch). We’d love to see some more…let us know what you’ve found!

See 10 of the Most Minuscule Musical Instruments

See 10 of the Most Massive Musical Instruments

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