Currently on DVD is WOMEN COMPOSERS: A Cinematic Search for Their Lives in Music by Kyra Steckeweh, Tim Van Beveren with Film Movement.
The documentary begins with “…thus I consider it to be the educator’s duty to suppress the girl’s rising genius and to prevent her in every way from noticing the greatness of her own talents”. Here is the story of how music pushed past that useless belief. Pianist Steckeweh, a classical pianist, wants to discover music written by three women. Mel Bonis, Lili Boulanger and Fanny Hensel.
Hensel grew up in Hamburgh born in 1805 and fled back to Berlin years later. In 1820, Fanny’s father made his feelings clear about her study of music and seemed to back only her younger brother Felix. A professional career in music was considered inappropriate for her. Fanny then met artist husband Hensel and they married. Hensel supported his wife’s music and Sunday concerts began happening. She also travels to Rome and writes of her travels in a book that Steckeweh follows on her own.
At the end of the 19th Century, Paris was finding its own culture and a world exhibition was coming up. Lili Boulanger was born of a Russian mother and French father and in 1893 she was born. Lili showed from an early age that she was musically inclined. Playing the violin, organ, cello and harp, it would be her health that caused problems. Moving to Paris and into a musical building, at age 16 Lili would start making a name for herself. Due to her illness, she would never marry but at 19 she becomes financially independent due to her works.
In 1958, Melanie Bonis was born to a watchmaker father and textile worker mother. When she was 12, showing an interest in music, by the time she was 18 she was recognized by musicians such as Debussy. She eventually changed her name to Mel-Bonis so as to not be known as a woman composer. In 1883, she marries an older man, but Mel is now in a safer position financially which allowed her to return to composing. She begins to write piano and chamber music and from that comes the work, Salome.
Other contributors include Musicologist Prof. Beatrix Borchard, and Tobias Niederschlag
Film Movement, founded in 2002, is an award-winning independent and foreign film company that has released more than 250 feature films and shorts. Theatrical releases include American independent films, documentaries, and foreign arthouse titles catalog such directors as Hirokazu Kore-eda, Maren Ade, Jessica Hausner and Ciro Guerra and Melanie Laurent. Bluray and DVD films bring such directors as Eric Rohmer, Bolle August, King Hu, Sergio Corbucci and Luchino Visconti and many more. To discover what Film Movement is all about and find out more about what they have to offer please visit www.filmmovementplus.com.
Bonus Features of WOMEN COMPOSERS include Q&A with Filmmakers Kyra Steckeweh and Tim van Beveren and Kyra Steckeweh Performs Ophelie by Mel Bonis.
WOMEN COMPOSERS is a wonderful, insightful and informative documentary on three women that even I did not know about. Each of these women came from a time where there works were not celebrated. It did not stop each of them from creating some of the most stirring pieces which is a credit to them all.
War breaks out in the world and the music that is composed is heart wrenching and a glimpse into the world. In the case of Boulanger, it is illness that continually plagues her ability to compose as she would wish too. Yet, through everything these women experienced, the music kept flowing in one form or another.
WOMEN COMPOSERS is a documentary I would hope that all music teachers would inspire to show their students. It is time for the question of ‘why aren’t more women composers played in concert halls’ to be answered. I personally would be thrilled to attend a concert that brings the work of women composers, played by women and conducted by a woman – now that would be a concert!
In the end – three brilliant women and three untold stories!