A new record label is helping to bring classical music’s unsung heroines into the spotlight.
Héloïse Luzzati, a French cellist, established this revolutionary record label, La Boîte à Pépites (The Jewel Box). It expands on the “Elles – Women Composers” festival and YouTube channel Luzzati founded to showcase under-appreciated female composers.
Shifting the gender bias
Luzzati spent many hours going over original manuscripts and first editions to bring these composers’ works back from the brink of obscurity, as many of them have never been recorded before.
The realization that she had spent the better part of three decades studying and performing work created completely by men spurred Luzzati into action.
“How could I have spent so many years without ever having played a piece composed by a woman?” she quipped. “Too few works by women are published and therefore even fewer recorded.”
Recognizing women composers of the past
According to the charity Donne, Women in Music‘s research, just 5 percent of the 15,000 works performed by orchestras in the 2020-2021 season were composed by women. This gender imbalance, according to Luzzati, is deeply entrenched in the classroom.
“This problem is present from the time we learn music as children,” she said. “We don’t work on any, or almost any, pieces by women composers throughout our studies. They are absent from music theory classes, from music history classes.”
The first UK release from La Boîte à Pépites, which came out in September, is a three-CD box collection of work by late French composer Charlotte Sohy, who died in 1955.
In order to avoid prejudice, Sohy, a mother of seven who survived two world wars, frequently composed under the name of her grandfather Charles.
Sohy’s oeuvre, which consists of 35 separate compositions, is described by Luzzati as “sometimes impressionistic, sometimes figurative, with colors of Ravel, Chausson, or Debussy.”
New music by Liza Lehmann, Alice Mary Smith, and Adela Maddison, three relatively unknown British composers, is in the works.
“I hope that by rehabilitating these women composers of the past, we will give access to a more equitable version of the history of music to younger generations,” Luzzati stated.