Second Inversion’s 24-Hour Marathon of Women Composers

by Maggie Molloy

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, we’re featuring a 24-hour marathon of women composers on Second Inversion. Tune in all day long to hear works by over 200 women who have helped shape, inspire, and expand the world of classical music.

Why women composers?

For much of classical music history, socially-prescribed gender roles excluded women from participating in composition. Women were denied access to musical resources, financial patronage, art and music networks, and performance and publication opportunities.

It had far reaching effects: what we now consider the Western classical music canon solidified around the music of white men, and even in the 21st century concert programs are still overwhelmingly dominated by the music of male composers. According to a survey of 89 American symphony orchestras, women composers accounted for only 1.7 percent of the total pieces performed in the 2015-2016 concert season. 

Research conducted by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Infographic by Rachel Upton and Ricky O’Bannon.

Second Inversion is working to help balance the scales. We’re proud to feature music by women composers today and every day on our 24/7 online stream and web publication.

Click here to stream our 24-Hour Marathon of Women Composers from anywhere in the world, and check out our hosts’ top music picks below. For more resources (including 50+ pieces of advice from women composers), visit our Women in (New) Music series.

Franghiz Ali-Zadeh: Music for Piano (Nonesuch Records)

Azerbaijani composer Franghiz Ali-Zadeh performs this solo piano piece, but with some prepared piano sorcery she manages to create the illusion of a duet.  Just before sitting down to record, she draped her necklace over the middle range of the piano strings, making it sound like a string instrument called a tar (similar to a lute) that her father played. Music for Piano is a bold fusion of the traditional music of her homeland and adventurous experimental music of the present.  The way she draws from her culture adds a philosophical and mysterious tinge to this lovely piano composition.
– Rachele Hales


Pauline Oliveros: Suiren (New Albion Records)

“Listen to everything all the time and remind yourself when you are not listening,” Pauline Oliveros said in her 1998 keynote address at the ArtSci98 symposium. Over 20 years later, those words have come to encapsulate the astonishing legacy left behind by this pioneer of experimental and electronic art music.

During today’s marathon I’m excited to share Suiren, a piece of hers that was created and recorded in a massive cistern on the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula here in Washington. Using nothing but their voices, a garden hose, and the cistern’s famous 45-second reverb, Oliveros and her Deep Listening Band craft a quiet, meditative soundscape that lulls you straight into sonic hypnosis. – Maggie Molloy


Madeleine Cocolas: Rothko, No. 16 (Bigo & Twigetti Music)

I lived in Houston for most of my life, and one of my favorite places there was the Rothko Chapel. The peace of the Chapel is thick and indifferent—an atmosphere created in large part by the giant Rothko paintings on all of the walls. For lots of reasons, it’s a place a I love and return to.

When Madeleine Cocolas moved to New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art was that kind of place for her—a place she loved and found herself returning to. Her album Metropolitan is a tribute to the museum. She took her nine favorite pieces from the Met and used software to analyze those visual works and turn them into sound. She then incorporated the sounds generated by the software into her compositions. For Rothko, No. 16, she represents the four major colors in Rothko’s piece with four chords, and the pitch of each note in her piece is determined by the intensity of the color.

Cocolas’s Rothko, No. 16 is happy and bright and weird and full of life. I love it and plan to return to it often. – Dacia Clay


Second Inversion’s 24-Hour Marathon of Women Composers is streaming worldwide all day on Friday, March 8. Click here to listen.

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