Wednesday 8 March 2017

Morfydd Owen - Talent has no gender

Is International Women's Day bad for women?  Is it innate hypocrisy to make a fuss one day a year when all round the world, millions of women are struggling simply to survive and protect others? Making a fuss about middle class white folk priorities distracts from much more immediate issues like poverty, abuse, health, education, even climate change, where activism would really make a change. So some people react in fury because some women composer isn't revered like Schubert?  Tell that to the women of Africa and the Middle East, or in the underclasses in affluent "civilized" societies. Until women are respected for themselves, not for their gender, media frenzy about Women's Day is demeaning.

Good women have been doing good things for millennia, almost always against the odds. Today, let's remember Morfydd Owen (1891-1918).  She doesn't seem to have been shaped by her gender. Though she died before her 27tth birthday, she was prolific. She moved in interesting artistic and intellectual circles and might, quite likely, have developed well.  Read more about her HERE on Tŷ Cerdd, Discover Welsh Music, from which you can buy printed scores and also a CD of her songs for voice and piano.  Making her work available is the proper way  to honour her memory.  Talent needs no special pleading.  
Morfydd Owen's Nocturne for orchestra can be heard on BBC Radio 3 here, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Perry So, and not, as far as I can tell, recorded commercially. It's original and quite distinctive, especially considering it was written in 1913 when Owen was a postgraduate student at the Royal Academy of Music in London. A lone clarinet sings a melody, taken up by strings. Almost immediately a flute enters, gradually taking over, introducing a new theme, itself taken up by celli and low strings. The first melody and gradually, a richer, deeper theme emerges.  In this second section, the mood is confident, framing a vivacious cantilena for woodwinds, which dances merrily along, decorated by harps and percussion.  A solo violin extends the melody which is then taken up by the full strings. The tempo stirs, and the music surges towards a striking climax where chords thrash wildly but purposefully, then diminishes to reveal a new theme, quirky, sassy and spirited. A nocturne, yes, but very unusual.

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