On “Music and Musings, Genius and Gender”

By Grace Bromage ‘23
Features Editor

On Thursday, November 7th, Gabriela Diaz and Betty Anne Diaz stepped out into the center spotlight of Brooks Music Concert Hall. The two musicians prepared to play pieces composed by women as part of their performance “Music and Musings, Genius and Gender.” Gabriela Diaz, who started playing piano at age five and violin at age six under the instruction of her parents, stood with her violin in hand. Betty Anne Diaz, who spent fifty years in higher education teaching at universities in Georgia and then playing all around the Americas, took her place on the piano. Gabriela Diaz and Betty Anne Diaz played thirteen pieces by six different women composers spanning the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, beginning with a detail of their biographies.

Out of the 19th century came music from composer Clara Schuman. Clara, a piano prodigy, spent her childhood performing to sold out crowds all over Europe. After her marriage to Robert Schumann, with whom she had a great romance complete with diaries and love letters, Clara continued to tour all over Europe and compose, as well as help her husband with his music. Though she questioned if she had a right to be a composer as a woman, she composed many pieces over her lifetime including romances to her husband.

Three composers were from the 20th century: Lili Boulanger, Rebecca Clarke, and Gracyna Bacewicz. Boulanger played in Boston in the 1900s. She was a pianist, composer, and singer and was the first female winner of the Prix de Rome composition prize. Clarke grew up with a father who was not supportive of her music career. However, instead of letting this set her back, this inspired her to play more. Her pieces were so beautiful that when she tied for 1st out of 72 people in a music competition, people wondered if perhaps Rebecca Clarke was the pseudonym for a famous male composer of the time. Bacewicz was the first Polish woman to gain international recognition. She played underground during the Nazi occupation of Poland, during which the Nazis tried to silence art.

Out of the six composers played by Diaz and Diaz, two are still alive. Kaija Saariaho studied in Finland and Paris, the latter in which she still lives today. She has worked both as part of an orchestra and as a soloist. Mari Kimura is a violinist and composer who has extended the capabilities of violin music. She does “interactive music” in which she uses a special computer glove on her bow hand and when she moves it the computer gives it sound.

Graphic courtesy of the Department of Music.

As for the actual music, many of the composers were known for different styles and techniques. Boulanger’s music is known for its colorful harmonies. Kaija Saariaho’s music is known for its color, atmosphere, and the transformations of sound she uses. She uses all sound and explores different violin techniques. She uses a technique called “overpressure” that allows for a scratchy sound. This technique is typically used in modern pieces to explore emotional meanings in songs. Saariaho uses it to show all the different sounds a violin can make, both ugly and melodic. Mari Kimura mastered the art of subharmonics. Subharmonics are similar to the scratchy sounds made using overpressure; however, within the noise full notes are created. As they played the pieces, Gabriela Diaz and Betty Anne Diaz brought the full color and beauty to the stage. From soft and gentle lullabies to playful melodies and powerful crescendos, their performance continues to allow these composers’ legacies to live on.

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