Smyth, Dame Ethel
English composer. Her works include Mass in D (1893) and operas The Wreckers (1906) and The Boatswain's Mate (1916). In 1911 she was imprisoned as an advocate of women's suffrage.
She studied at the Leipzig Conservatory and then privately there with Heinrich von Herzogenberg. She had some works performed there and after her return to England one or two appeared in London, including the Mass in 1893. She was encouraged by the conductor Hermann Levi (who had premiered Wagner's Parsifal in 1882) to write an opera. Fantasio was performed at Weimar in 1898 and was taken up three years later by Felix Mottl in Karlsruhe. Der Wald/The Forest was premiered at the Royal Opera Berlin in 1902 and was performed at Covent Garden three months later; the following year it became the first opera by a woman to be shown at the New York Metropolitan Opera. The Wreckers was completed in 1904 and premiered at Leipzig in 1906; its 1909 performance in London under Thomas Beecham almost caused the conductor to alter his unflattering opinion of women composers.
Smyth lived much abroad, but in 1910 received an honorary PhD from Durham University and about that time joined actively in the movement for women's suffrage. In 1911 when jailed at Holloway she led her fellow suffragettes in her song ‘March of the Women’, conducting them with a Government-issue toothbrush. She continued to be fierce in the promotion of her music and in 1916 her most successful opera The Boatswain's Mate was premiered in London. After the war she turned increasingly to writing, producing ten entertaining volumes of memoirs, including the autobiographical Female Pipings in Eden (1933) and What Happened Next (1940). In her later years she lived at Woking in Surrey and, regarding herself as neglected on account of her sex, composed less and less. During her last years she suffered much from deafness and distorted hearing.
Fantasio (after Musset, Weimar, 1898), The Forest (Berlin, 1902), The Wreckers (Leipzig, 1906), The Boatswain's Mate (after W W Jacobs, 1916), Fête galante (1923), Entente cordiale (1925).
Choral and orchestral
Mass in D major; The Prison for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra; overture to Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra; serenade for orchestra (1890); concerto for violin, horn, and orchestra; three Anacreontic Odes for voice and orchestra.
string quintet, string quartet; sonatas, songs.
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