Cd La muse oubliée: pianist Antonio Oyarzabal showcases female composers: ‘It was difficult to find good editions of their scores’

On his CD La muse oubliée, Spanish-British pianist Antonio Oyarzabal places thirteen well-known and lesser-known composing ladies in the spotlight. The title speaks volumes, of course, because for centuries women were considered only as inspirers/muses, while their own compositions remained undervalued and unperformed.

But what drives a male musician to delve into the work of women composers? ‘I grew up in a world full of women who were independent, creative, strong and intelligent,’ Oyarzabal answers. He dedicated the CD to his mother, who taught him ‘to be curious about the unknown. From the time I was little I wondered where they were anyway, the women who were not mentioned in class, but whose presence you could still feel.’

not the exception but the rule

An exception was Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729) whose music he got to know at an early age. ‘This was when I started studying harpsichord in addition to piano.’ Later on, during a course in modern piano music, he got to know pieces by such luminaries as Elena Firsova, Sofia Gubaidulina and Karen Tanaka. ‘That felt like a privilege, for which I am grateful, but it shouldn’t be the exception but the rule!’

‘And my own passion for French music – impressionism, Groupe des Six – led me to discover Germaine Tailleferre and Lili Boulanger quite early on’, he adds. ‘The sound worlds of these two wonderful composers had a clear impact on me, and I have been including their works in my different programmes for years now. In my recitals I often play music by other fantastic women composers as well, such as Henriëtte Bosmans and Rebecca Clarke.’

Poor editons

He decided to undertake a year of research to discover even more neglected ‘female notes’. This proved to be easier said than done: ‘Unfortunately, the works discussed in biographies and encyclopedias often turned out to be impossible to find, or in poorly edited editions.’ Only later did he find his way to such institutions as Archiv Frau & Musik in Frankfurt am Main and Furore Verlag in Kassel, which specialize in music by women. ‘And the Dutch publisher Donemus helped me find scores of Henriëtte Bosmans.’

Bosmans may not have made it to the CD, but there is plenty to enjoy; Oyarzabal offers a fascinating selection of four centuries of music. In addition to the inevitable Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann and Lili Boulanger, he showcases a wide variety of composers. Ranging from the aforementioned Jacquet de la Guerre, court composer of Louis XIV, to Ruth Crawford (1901-1953), serialist avant-la-lettre, and from Mana Zucca (1885-1981) to Vítězslava Kaprálová (1915-1940), who like Leoš Janáček and her lover Bohuslav Martinů was inspired by the folk music of her homeland Moravia.

Arranged by mood

Remarkably, Oyarzabal has not arranged the pieces chronologically, but by mood. This works wonderfully well. For example, the Scottish Legend by Amy Beach (1867-1944), inspired by Scottish folk music, connects seamlessly with the romantic Prelude op. 73 by Zucca. After Beach, the swirling Femmes de légende by Mel Bonis (1858-1937), sometimes reminiscent of Debussy, sound completely natural. Nor is there a clash with the next track, featuring the contrapuntal Sélection de pièces de clavecin by Jacquet de la Guerre; pity though the virtuoso grace notes do not always sound as smooth as one would wish.

With his firm, clear toucher, Oyarzabal makes every note audible; in whichever style he plays, the music always sounds transparent. With his down-to-earth interpretation, he avoids sentimentality. Even Clara Schumann’s hyper romantic Drei Romanzen exude a somewhat matter-of-fact, detached atmosphere. But with his consistently unadorned interpretation, the pianist forges the various pieces into one coherent whole. Which, moreover, begins and ends in C-sharp minor, as he observes in the CD booklet.

Sadly, even today good performances of music by women are still rare. La muse oubliée offers a welcome addition to the existing body of recordings.

This article first appeared in both the Dutch and German issues of the music jounal Pianist.

Antonio Oyarzabal: La muse oubliée
Music by 13 female composers
LBS Classical LBS52021

About Thea Derks

I am a Dutch music journalist, specializing in contemporary music, and a champion of women composers. In 2014 I wrote the biography of Reinbert de Leeuw (3rd edition in 2020) and in 2018 I published 'Een os op het dak: moderne muziek na 1900 in vogelvlucht'.
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