Showing posts with label feminists. Show all posts
Showing posts with label feminists. Show all posts

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Bluebell Klean, Josephine Lang and Ida von Hahn-Hahn

Bluebell Klean, Ella Mary Leather, Olga Samaroff, Josephine Lang, Ida von Hahn-Hahn.... what names! Who could they have been?  Names like that conjure up colourful connotations. The latest edition of Signature, the Maud Powell Society's magazine, is now out. Download it HERE (and also back issues). Do explore, because it's about singular, often courageous people who had interesting lives even if they aren't household names. We don't even begin to appreciate what women have achieved because we're brainwashed by clichéd assumptions about what women could or couldn't do in the past.  Because society teaches us to evaluate things in male terms, we evaluate male composers primarily by their formal achievements. Thus we underestimate the extent to which female composers were productive in several different aspects of life at the same time.

Josephine Lang is a perfect example of a woman whose creativity was expressed in different directions. She raised a large family in difficult circumstances while continuing to write good music. Having a family is a vocation even if it's not regarded in modern terms as a "career". For Lang, family wasn't an optional either/or, it was part of who she was. The definitive biography by Harald and Sharon Krebs,  comes with a full CD of her music. Malcolm Martineau included Lang's songs in his current series on German song at the Wigmore Hall. In this current edition of Signature, Sharon Krebs writes about Lang's relationships with the poets whose music she set. Some of them were personal friends, women like Ida von Hahn-Hahn, who led similarly muti-tasking lives as she did. She networked. She wasn't "suppressed".  One of the interesting things about Lang is her relationship with Felix Mendelssohn, who mentored her. This supplements R Larry Todd's authoritative study of Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel. I admire Josephine Lang (and Fanny Hensel) because their creativity was channeled through more than one course. Read the article on Lang and her poets in Signature, it's fascinating. (scroll to page 18 onn the download).

Similarly, Bluebell Klean, who adopted her unusual first name herself. She was a composer and pianist who gave a concert of her own music at the Bechstein Room in 1906, now renamed the Wigmore Hall. Programmes remain of other concerts of her work until 1914, after which she seems to disappear from the archives. But she didn't retreat from life. There's a wonderful photo from a 1924 newspaper where she's grinning next to a huge fish. Champion angler, winning a competition out of a field of 300!

Also in this current issue is an article on Olga Samaroff,  aka Mrs Leopold Stokowski, but a most distinctive personality in her own right. Her "Russian" name was an invention, adopted to sound exotic and more marketable. She came from Texas and was a charismatic teacher.  Also articles on Myra Hess in the US, Meira Warschauer and  Elinor Remick Warren, who looks the spitting image of the actress Lee Remick. Are they related ? If so, creative women in several generations.

Ella Mary Leather? She appears in a back issue of Signature but what a name!  She was a county matron from the shires who spent her life doing good deeds for others, a pillar of her community which is no bad thing at all. Yet she also researched folk customs and music in her local area. Raplh Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth awere indebted to her. Cecil Sharp eventually monopolized the folk song and dance scene, so the women who were so active in the field were eventually written out of the record. But they were there ! And it's thanks to magazines like Signature that they won't be forgotten.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Franziska zu Reventlow, queen of the Secession

Radical mother? Franziska, Gräfin zu Reventlow (1871-1918), Queen of the scene in Schwabing, heart of vibrant Secessionist Munich. She hung out with artists, writers and thinkers, but her art was life itself.

Reventlow's father was a Graf (prince) from Husum in North Frisia, where the flat landscape opens out to the sea, like Holland, only colder. The family was ancient and aristocratic. The name still opens doors today. Had Fanny (as they called her) chosen, she could have led a grand, comfortable life. Instead, she rejected it all at a very early age. No Romantic "New Woman" role model to follow, and a society much more repressed than most. Reventlow had to invent herself.

Gravitating to Munich in 1896, Reventlow landed smack in the middle of the hippest scene in Europe at the time. Jugendstil, and the first Secession, was invented in Munich a decade before it hit Vienna. Simplicissimus, the satire magazine, had just been founded, and the atmosphere was irreverent, progressive, innovative. Reventlow wrote for the magazine and others. But then as now, there wasn't any money in  journalism, especially the  avant garde who prided themselves in not playing money and status games. Besides, she was penniless, having lost her inheritance in a bank collapse. She wrote books, too, but also had to scramble a living selling other things, like milk, insurance (new industry) and herself. Prostitution, she reasoned, was no different from marriage, and didn't tie you down as long. Reventlow lived on the edge, scam marriages and all. Famously she posed nude for arty photos. On a beach, not in a studio, in 1900!

Soon after arriving in Munich she gave birth to a son called Rolf, father irrelevant. Most of Reventlow's friends weren't hands on parents or even hetero but Bubi the Baby became the mascot of their lives. Reventlow held breast feeding parties so they could watch in awe, the spectacle of The Eternal Feminine in action. Rolf was brought up free range. He didn't go to school, but had a good education from the adults around him. From photos it seems he stayed up nights at wild, drunken parties, but looked  right and fresh. Perhaps the photos were posed to look wilder than they were and Bubi was protected as fiercely by his mother as a tigress protects her cubs. In 1914, Reventlow helped him escape conscription by rowing him across Lake Constance into Switzerland. Four years later, Franziska was dead, from injuries sustained in a bicycle accident. Read more HERE. 

For all the freedom he was raised in, Rolf wasn't a typical hippie child. The circles he grew up in preached free love and sedition, but also committed values. During the Weimar period, Rolf worked as a left wing journalist with his wife Else Reimann.  Rolf became a target for the Nazis who tried to assassinate him within weeks of coming to power. He fled, first to Vienna, then Russia and later to Algeria where he worked in newspapers, not returning to Germany til the mid 1950's.

Else had a rougher time. Forbidden to work by the Nazis, she returned home to Elbing in  Prussia, now part of Poland. As a girl in 1917, she'd been a refugee from the Russian invasion. In 1945 she had to escape again, this time crossing the Haf (the huge lagoon near Danzig) in midwinter. Eventually she made her way back to Munich. Rolf is buried in Locarno with his mother but I suspect Franziska would recognized something of herself in formidable Else.

Monday, 20 December 2010

L Onerva - feisty woman and poet

L Onerva was an amazing person, the sort of woman about whom books are written because she's so unusual. All in Finnish, though, but perhaps it's time for a change as Onerva is the kind of genuine feminist icon we need to know about.

Born Hilja Lehtinnen in Helsinki in 1882, she was effectively an orphan by age 7, when her mother was locked up in an asylum for the insane, where she lived on for 40 years. With this in her background, Hilja wasn't hindered. She went off to university, graduating in 1902.   She was married for a while to a man who had a home in Karelia, the Finnish heartland. Onerva's problem wasn't how to express her creativity, but which of her many talents to pursue. She was a gifted writer, drawn to poetry, journalism, novels and theatre, a genre pioneered by other women playwrights like Minna Kanth (1844-1897)

Onerva's first collection of poems was published in 1904. Fiery, exotic poems, which shocked many, coming from a young and respectable woman  "But once within a lifetime opens a fiery rose, that for but one night blossoms and in the morning goes... "It has a leaf all bloody; it has a purple lip, it has a dizzy fragrance like spring winds on the steppe."  Life followed art. Onerva went off to live in Rome with the poet Eino Leino, though both were married to others., When Leino didn't treat Onerva right, she dumped him and returned to Helsinki alone. She pursued an independent career as a novelist and wrote for Helsinki newspapers. Apparently she specialized in "New Women",  creative and lively individualists like herself.

She had a friendship with Toivo Kuula, who set her poems, but was killed in a shocking accident during the Finnish war of Independence in 1918. She married Leevi Madetoja (1887-1942) but it didn't work out. He had her confined in an asylum - like her mother - but luckily (for her) he died five years later and she was released. She lived to be 90, writing prolifically to the end. Not an easy life, no money or leisure, but being a true artist, Onerva was driven to defy the odds against her.
Many of Onerva's poems have been turned into song, but perhaps the finest is a song cycle by Madetoja, Syksy-saja, or Autumn Song.  It's an excellent cycle and really should be better known. There are at least four recordings.  Recommended are Karita Mattila and Helena Juntinnen. If I have time, I'll write more about it, but give it a listen.