A couple of years ago I heard BBC Radio 3 controller Alan Davey recalling his initial proposals for an all-women composers all-day IWD broadcast, something we’ve begun to take for granted after just a few years of operation. People were not at first encouraging. Executives on other international music stations said to him “yes, a whole day of women composers, it’s a nice idea, we tried it, but there just isn’t enough music”. This year, when R3 producer David Gallagher invited me to help him plan the afternoon IWD slot, we often quoted this remark to each other satirically. The problem being that our shared women composer ‘shortlist’ would have taken three months to play, rather than the available three hours.
Abbreviating madly, we fitted in greatest hits by Gubaidulina, Saariaho, Judith Bingham, Arlene Sierra, Kate Whitley, with only the briefest punctuations from historical composers Elizabeth Jacquet de la Guerre and Barbara Strozzi. With the broadcast running late, David rushed into the studio (where Kate Molleson was unflappably presenting) to announce that we would have to kick Hildegard of Bingen out of the running order; which would be acceptable ‘because everyone knows her already’. How wonderful to think that there’s now a woman composer in classical music history of whom we can say this ! Because, as I never tire of pointing out, in the mid-1970s I spent three years at a very respectable university reading Music, and not once ever was the name of a woman composer mentioned during our course.