Music for Solo Piano by Women Composers

Amy Beach, Margaret Bonds, Lili Boulanger, Agathe Backer Gr√łndahl, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Florence B. Price, Germaine Tailleferre




"...this music is strongly melodic."
American Record Guide - November/December 2006
"Mueller has an easy-going way of presenting these works [and is] very comfortable with the music, always making sure to bring out the melodies. ... it is great to see some neglected works and composers get a chance to be heard."
All Music Guide - July 2006
Amy Marcy Beach: Eskimos (1907) - A child of the Victorian era, a member of Boston high society and an extraordinarily gifted musician, Amy Beach divided her time between domestic duties and composing music in a wide range of genres from songs to symphonic works. After her husband’s death in 1910, she returned to the concert stage, increased her compositional output and contributed her efforts to organizations designed to improve conditions to women composers.

Amy Beach was influenced by the 19th century Romantic traditions and the Bostonian School of Chadwick, Foote and Paine. In Eskimos, she explored a combination of long melodic lines and colorful harmonies with American Indian folk tunes. The four movement suite for piano includes eleven Inuit melodies all derived from an early monograph on the Alaskan Inuit by the anthropologist Franz Boas. Although intended for teaching, Beach included this charming suite often in her own recital programs.

Germaine Tailleferre: Romance (1924) - Most often recognized by her association with "Les Six," Germaine Tailleferre was an exceptional composer in her own right. Although her father vehemently discouraged her interest in music, Tailleferre entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1904 where she won numerous awards and began a career in composition. She was recognized and encouraged by leading figures in the arts such as Pablo Picasso, Maurice Ravel, Alfred Cortot, and Artur Rubinstein. Erik Satie called her his "musical daughter" after hearing her play one of his compositions. She composed for voice, piano, orchestra, chorus, opera and film in a variety of styles and techniques ranging from neoclassical to modern, the essence of her own personal style always present.

One of her few works for solo piano, Romance reveals her capacity for tenderness and lyricism. Throughout this short piece, she maintains a simple style with traditional harmonic language and a texture of long melodies accompanied by broken choral figures.

Lili Boulanger: Trois Morceaux pour Piano (1914) - At the age of 19, Lili Boulanger was awarded the prix de Rome, launching her into international renown as the first woman to win this coveted composition prize. With a father who had won the Prix de Rome years earlier and an older sister who would later became one of the greatest composition pedagogues of the century, Lili was born into a musical family where her natural gifts were recognized and encouraged at an early age. At the age of six, she sight-read some songs by her future teacher, Faure, accompanied by him at the piano, a memory that she would cherish throughout her life. Afflicted with chronic ill health, she nonetheless established herself as an accomplished and mature composer, completing more than 50 works during her short lifetime of 24 years.

The Trois Morceaux pour Piano was not originally conceived by the composer as a unified work of three piano pieces. All of them, however, were completed in 1914 at the Villa Medici in Rome, one year after she received the Prix de Rome. Cortege was written in two versions, one for solo piano and the other for violin and piano. The work was dedicated to violinist and close friend of the Boulanger family, Yvonne Astruc. Cortege is a cheerful piece with a melody well suited for the violin. Like Cortege, D’un Jardin Clair is written in the key of B major and shares the same youthful optimism. D’un Vieux Jardin is written in the key of C-sharp minor, and is the most introspective of the three pieces. Like the others, it is very reminiscent of the Impressionist School and is clearly written in the French style.

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel: Notturno (1938) & March from"Das Jahr" (1841) - Elder sister of the renowned composer, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Fanny as a child displayed prodigious abilities in performance and composition equal to her brother’s. Both were regarded as child prodigies and provided with the best education and a thorough grounding in the music of J.S. Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. By the age of 13, Fanny had performed from memory the first book of the Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. By the age of 16 she had composed 11 piano pieces, 38 songs and a number of choral works and arias. Sadly, as adulthood approached, this early familial encouragement came to an end for Fanny. While her mother wished professional success for her daughter, Fanny’s father and brother felt her true ambition should lie with home and family and not that of the professional world.

In 1829 Fanny married Wilhelm Hensel, an artist, who recognized his wife’s musical abilities and encouraged her to continue composing and to publish music in her own name, rather than that of her brother’s as had been the practice heretofore. Although Fanny appreciated her husband’s support, she craved her brother’s approval and pleaded with him on several occasions for permission to publish in her own name. Between 1839 and 1840, Fanny, her husband and son traveled to Italy where she met Gounod, Massenet and Berlioz, all of whom praised her work. Recognition from such renowned composers renewed her determination and revived her creative spirit. Encouraged, in 1836 Fanny requested her brother’s approval once again which he granted only half-heartedly. Still, she took this luke-warm response and proceeded to publish several works. She had little time to enjoy her success, however, dying at the age of 42 soon after receiving reviews for her recently published compositions. In grief at the loss of his beloved sister, Felix sent the Leipzig publisher, Breitkopf and Hartel four works by Fanny for publication, only to fall ill and die six months later with, most likely, the same affliction as his sister’s.

Published for the first time in 1986 by G. Henle Verlag, the G minor Notturno is a tempestuous character piece that combines long lyrical melodies with an undulating arpeggiated accompaniment, reminiscent of a Barcarolle. March, one of 12 pieces titled after the months of the year, was completed in November 1841 in Berlin after her return from Italy. The piece celebrates the month of Easter as a Prelude and Choral work based upon the Lutheran Chorale "Christ ist erstanden."

Agathe Backer Grøndahl: Piano Suite, Op. 20 (1887) - Agathe Backer Grøndahl was raised in a cultured and traditional Norwegian home in which female children were encouraged to study music only for pleasure and most certainly not for a public career. In spite of her parents reservations concerning Agathe’s ambitions, she left home twice to study abroad, first to Berlin where she studied piano and composition under Theodor Kullak and later to Florence where she studied with Hans von Bulow and finally to Weimar with Franz Liszt. Back in Norway, she concertized widely, impressing the great playwright and music critic, George Bernard Shaw who considered her one of the greatest performing artists of the day and who also admired her compositional creativity. Edvard Grieg not only conducted her in concerto performances, but was a close friend who advised her at crucial moments in her life and career.

The Piano Suite Op. 20 is a virtuoso masterwork. The Prelude begins with a bold and dramatic opening in the key of G minor, followed by passagework that develops throughout with sweeping gestures and widening ranges until the climax arrives in the triumphant key of G major. By contrast, the gentle, moving Nocturne reveals Grøndahl’s strengths as a songwriter in its lyricism and beautiful broken chord accompaniment. Both the Gavotte and Menuet are reminiscent of early stylized dances, and the finale, the Scherzo, is a light-hearted tour de force in the best Romantic tradition, distinctly similar to Mendelssohn’s style. A composer primarily of songs and piano works, Grøndahl continued the 19th century tradition of combining lyricism with virtuosity in her Suite.

Florence Beatrice Price: Dances in the Canebrakes (1953) - The first African-American woman composer to write a symphony, Florence Price distinguished herself as one of the leading black composers of the early 20th century. She attended the New England Conservatory, enrolling as a Mexican, hoping that in so doing she would encounter less racial discrimination. She graduated in 1906. During her lifetime, she composed nearly 300 compositions and was recognized by leading musicians such as Frederick Stock, who conducted the Chicago Symphony in the 1933 performance of her Symphony in E minor, and Sir John Barbirolli who later commissioned a piece from her. Florence’s musical language is conservative yet replete with African-American musical idioms. Her Dances in the Canebrakes carry the inscription "based on authentic Negro rhythms", and are written in a cakewalk rhythm.

Margaret Bonds: Troubled Water (1967) - Pianist and composer Margaret Bonds grew up during the height of the Harlem Renaissance. As a child, she met the leading black writers, musicians, playwrights and artists who congregated at her home during social gatherings organized by her mother. These encounters were to influence her attitudes throughout her life toward advocacy for social issues as well as recognition of women and African American musicians. During her youth, she studied composition with Florence B. Price and William Dawson, later attending Northwestern University where she received her Bachelor and Master of Music degrees. In 1933, while finishing her graduate degree, she distinguished herself as the first African American to perform as soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In 1936, Margaret met writer and poet Langston Hughes, who she referred to as her "soul mate," and with whom she continued to collaborate in writing musicals, cantatas and song cycles until his death in 1967. During the Great Depression, she moved to New York where she continued her compositional studies at The Juilliard School. During the 1950s she gave her Town Hall debut, and formed the Margaret Bonds Chamber Music Society, which presented their inaugural concert in Carnegie Recital Hall featuring works by black composers. Although a prolific composer of approximately 200 works, Bonds is most celebrated for her arrangements of spirituals. Kathleen Battle, Jessye Norman and Leontyne Price are among a number of noted performers who have recorded her works.

Troubled Water, one of Margaret Bond’s few works for solo piano, is based on the Negro spiritual "Wade in the Water." The opening begins improvisatorially in a contrapuntal texture and intensifies into complex harmonies reminiscent of Bond’s early encounters with jazz and blues. The theme is played out in a variety of ways until the rhythmic drive increases in intensity and propels the work to its ecstatic conclusion.

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Charlotte Mueller has established a multi-faceted career that encompasses solo and chamber music performances of works ranging from the Baroque to the avant-garde. She holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Piano Performance from Peabody Conservatory of Music, and the degrees Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts in Piano Performance from the University of Texas at Austin. A Rotary Foundation Scholar, she studied in The Netherlands at both the Royal Conservatory of Music in The Hague and the Amsterdam Sweelinck Conservatory. Her professors of piano include Walter Hautzig of New York, Danielle Martin, Gregory Allen, and David Renner of Texas, contemporary music specialist Geoffrey Douglas Madge and Jan Wijn, former teacher of numerous concert artists and adjudicator for international piano competitions. Charlotte Mueller’s performing experience includes solo recitals in The Netherlands, Germany, Norway and in cities across the United States of America. She has performed chamber music on both the piano and the harpsichord, and has appeared on many occasions as soloist with orchestra. In honor of the 100th year anniversary of the death of Vincent van Gogh, Mueller was invited by the Gaudeamus Foundation of The Netherlands to perform a lecture/recital at De IJsbreker, an internationally known concert hall in Amsterdam for contemporary music. Dr. Charlotte Mueller heads the Piano Program at Lee College in Baytown, Texas. She is also an independent teacher, scholar and concert pianist. She appears as guest clinician at colleges and universities and continues to give lecture/recitals as an advocate for the recognition and understanding of music by women composers.


Amy Beach (1867-1944)

Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983)

Lili Boulanger (1893-1918)

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1847)
MARCH (from Das Jahr)

Agathe Backer Grøndahl (1847-1907)

Florence Price (1887-1953)

Margaret Bonds (1913-1972)

MSR Classics