From Francesca Caccini in the 17th century to Camille Pépin in the 21st, a digital platform rescues the works of more than 700 female composers to rediscover artists long overshadowed. Baptized ‘Demandez à Clara’ (Ask Clara), in reference to Clara Schumann –brilliant pianist, composer and wife of the composer– the free website was launched in June by a team led by Claire Bodin, at the head of the festival Presencias femininas, consecrated to the composers of yesterday and today. “We don’t listen to female composers’ music, or we do it so rarely that we don’t remember it,” says Bodin. “We suck on the idea of the genius of the great composer, always a man, without ever asking ourselves about the repertoire of female composers,” he laments.
Funded by the Association of Authors, Composers and Music Editors (Sacem), the website (presencecompositrices.com) references 4,662 works by 770 composers of 60 nationalities between 1618 and 2020. It plans to add another 4,000 works, including those by Hildegarde de Bingen (1098-1179), a Catholic saint and one of the earliest known female composers.
Search by name, title, instrument, country or era. Among the oldest, the Italians Francesca Caccini – the first composer of an opera -, Isabella Leonarda and Barbara Strozzi, one of the first professional composers, or the French Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre. The research work began in 2006 “and it has not been carried out because it is a fashionable matter.”
“It is not a question of rewriting history or programming them because they are women to have a clear conscience, but rather enriching the repertoire, because there is a genuine artistic interest,” explains Bodin, a harpsichordist who put aside his career to dedicate himself to these projects. He believes that not programming composers “is a major obstacle to the dissemination of their works.”