Smyth, Dame Ethel (Mary)
- Sophie Fuller
(b London, April 22, 1858; d Woking, May 8, 1944). English composer and writer. Though persistently neglected by the musical establishment, she was a significant and vital voice of the British musical renaissance. During her lifetime she received critical acclaim for her music and her autobiographical and polemical writings, as well as a reputation for militancy through her insistent demand for recognition for herself and other female musicians.
Born into a military upper middle-class family, Smyth was educated at home and at a London boarding school. Her early musical education included lessons in harmony from Alexander Ewing. In 1877, despite her father's opposition to the idea of women studying music as a professional career, she entered the Leipzig Conservatory, where she studied composition under Reinecke, Jadassohn and Louis Maas. In 1878, disappointed by both staff and students, Smyth left the conservatory but remained in Leipzig, taking harmony and counterpoint lessons from Heinrich von Herzogenberg and receiving encouragement for her musical ambitions through involvement in musical circles which included Brahms, Grieg, Joachim and Clara Schumann. For over ten years she remained based in Europe, but kept in close contact with family and friends in England. Her early compositions, mostly songs, piano pieces and chamber music, were frequently heard at private concerts in Germany, while public hearings for her music included performances at the Leipzig Gewandhaus of her String Quintet op.1 (...