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The 10 Best Female Composers of All Time

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Best Female Composers of All Time

Although female composers aren’t exactly a rarity, they have often gone unnoticed in the music industry and rarely receive the recognition they deserve. 

That’s why we’re here to shine the spotlight on some of the most brilliant female composers ever to live!

These trailblazing women have created songs that have impacted music history and inspired countless other female musicians to follow in their footsteps.

 

The 10 Best Female Composers of All Time

We’ve researched and listened to a vast array of skilled female composers and handpicked the women who, in our opinion, outshine the rest.

So without further ado, here’s our list of the 10 best female composers of all time: 

 

10. Teresa Carreño

Teresa Carreño was born María Teresa Gertrudis de Jesús Carreño García and is a well-known Venezuelan composer, soprano vocalist, pianist, and conductor.

She dominated classical music, one of the most popular music genres, in the mid to late 1800s and is commonly referred to as the “Valkyrie of the Piano.”

At an early age, her father began teaching her to play piano. Then, in 1862, she and her family moved to New York City, where she studied under pianist and composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk.

When she was only eight years old, Carreño started composing music and began to play concerts across the northeastern United States, even receiving the opportunity to play at the White House for President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

After moving to Paris in 1866, she met many famous musicians, including Georges Mathias, Charles Gounod, and Franz Liszt.

Some of her most famous compositions include Kleiner Walzer (Mi Teresita), which she dedicated to her daughter, Teresita, Serenade for String Orchestra, and String Quartet in B-minor.

Overall, Carreño composed seventy-five piano, chamber music, merengues, and choir and orchestral works. She made such a strong musical impact that a feature film called Teresita y El Piano was made about her life in 2015.

 

9. Lili Boulanger

Marie-Juliette Olga “Lili” Boulanger ranks among the best female French composers of all time, excelling in the post-Romantic style during the early 1900s.

At age two, Boulanger’s parents discovered that she was a child prodigy with perfect pitch. Growing up in a musical family, she was encouraged to pursue a musical career. From an early age, she learned piano, cello, violin, and harp and also sang.

At twenty, she became the first female composer to win the composition prize at the Prix de Rome, which she won for her cantata Faust et Hélène. After this, she quickly became an international name and signed a publishing contract with Ricordi.

Boulanger’s music focused on themes of sadness and loneliness due to the loss of her father and suffering from chronic illness.

Her works were heavily inspired by Claude Debussy and Gabriel Fauré and include the song cycle, Clairières dans le ciel, large-scale settings of Psalms 129 and 130, and the symphonic poem, D’un soir triste.

 

8. Amy Beach

Prodigy, Amy Marcy Cheney Beach, was a composer and pianist who was one of the most respected and esteemed American composers in the classical world between the late 1800s and early 1900s.

When she was just one year old, Beach could already sing over forty songs. At age four, she was composing waltzes for piano and was able to play music by ear.

When she was six, she began learning piano and performing recitals, including instrumental music from Chopin and Beethoven.

At sixteen, she played her first concert and continued to play in various concert halls, even starring in the final performance of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Her most famous works include the one-act opera, Cabildo, Sonata in A Minor for Piano and Violin, Quintet in F# minor, and her esteemed chamber ensemble, The Year at the Spring.

Amy Beach was the first female composer who achieved success with large-scale orchestral works and was among the first American composers to flourish without European training.

She was also the first American woman to compose and publish a symphony after premiering her Gaelic Symphony in 1896.

 

7. Louise Farrenc

Louise Farrenc was born Jeanne-Louise Dumont and is one of the most esteemed female composers of the 19th century, earning widespread fame as a French composer, virtuoso pianist, and music teacher.

At a young age, she began learning piano and showcased incredible talent, ultimately leading to her studying composition under Beethoven’s lifelong best friend, Anton Reicha, at age fifteen.

After marrying in 1821, Farrenc regularly performed concerts throughout France and gained widespread fame. In 1842, she was awarded the prestigious position of Professor of Piano at the Paris Conservatory.

Farrenc’s works include a variety of piano music, symphonies, choral works, and chamber music. Her most famous compositions are the bravura Piano Concerto in A Minor, The Nonet, Violin Sonata in A, and Symphony #3.

She was awarded the Prix Chartier of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1861 and 1869 and was highly praised by music critics for her incredible piano compositions, including one of the greatest Roman composers of all time, Robert Schumann.

 

6. Fanny Mendelssohn

Fanny Mendelssohn was a child prodigy, German composer, and pianist whose phenomenal work mostly went unpublished or published under her brother’s name due to societal expectations of women in the mid-1800s.

By fourteen, Mendelssohn could already play all twenty-four preludes from Johann Sebastian Bach’s work, The Well-Tempered Clavier, by memory.

She developed a close bond with her brother Felix, who also was a composer, and who encouraged her to pursue a music career, eventually helping her get her music published.

For most of her early years, her womanhood forced her to publish her works under Felix’s name. In fact, Queen Victoria described her adoration for Felix’s “Italien,” but this song was actually composed by Fanny.

Throughout her lifetime, Mendelssohn composed more than 450 pieces, including a piano trio, four cantatas, and over 125 piano works. A few of her most popular works include Easter Sonata, Piano Sonata in G Minor, and Vier Lieder Op. 8.

In 2018, the Fanny & Felix Mendelssohn Museum opened in Hamburg, Germany, to commemorate the brother and sisters’ lives and musical contributions, and Fanny remains one of the greatest female composers to this day.

 

5. Marianna Martines

Marianna Martines was one of classical music’s best female composers, pianists, and singers, who rose to fame in the mid-1700s. It’s likely that she’d be on our list of the best female singers of all time if she was still alive today.

During her childhood, she received piano lessons from famous Austrian composer Joseph Haydn and performed for the Imperial Court and the Empress, Maria Theresa.

Among her, countless works are four masses, one symphony, six motets, and two Italian oratorios, which featured the early Classical Viennese style.

Her skill was so widely celebrated that even Mozart was one of many regular guests at her performances.

Some of her most famous pieces include Laudate Pueri Dominum, Sonata in E Major, and Mass No. 1 in D Major, which is believed to have inspired Mozart’s Mass K139.

Her gorgeous symphony, Overture in C, was also the first known symphony written by a woman composer.

In 1773, she became the first woman to be admitted into Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna, a prestigious musical education institution.

This paved the way for other brilliant female composers to enter, including Maria Rosa Coccia and Marianna Bottini.

Martines was not only an esteemed composer but is also widely considered a trailblazer for women’s rights to music education.

 

4. Francesca Caccini

Francesca Caccini was one of the most recognized Italian composers, singers, poets, and music teachers during the Baroque era, often referred to by the nickname “La Cecchina.”

Throughout her childhood, Caccini performed with her family in an ensemble until the Medici court hired her as a teacher, composer, chamber vocalist, and rehearsal coach.

Her phenomenal musical ability allowed her the opportunity to tour across Italy, perform in court and liturgical settings, and play for royal families.

In fact, she even sang at Henry IV and Maria de Medici’s wedding, which impressed Henry so much that he asked her to be their hired musician.

Overall, Caccini composed thirty-two songs and sixteen stage works. Although most of her music was lost, her surviving piece, La liberazione di Ruggiero, is considered the oldest opera written by a female composer.

In addition, she also composed a collection of short vocal songs, Il primo libro, which is the most extensive collection of solos written by one composer.

In the 1620s, Caccini was the highest-paid musician in the court, which was completely unheard of during that period of unequal female representation.

Overall, she was one of the most famous composers during the end of the Renaissance period who is responsible for making Baroque-style music more popular.

 

3. Barbara Strozzi

Barbara Strozzi was an esteemed Italian composer and virtuoso singer who gained popularity in the early to mid-1600s for her dramatic vocal music, flamboyance, and phenomenal vocal power.

By age twelve, she demonstrated an incredible singing ability and could play the lute. At fifteen, she began studying composition with one of the leading male composers of that time, Francesco Cavalli.

When she turned sixteen, she began performing regularly through the Accademia degli Unisoni, a musical society established by her father. Here, she continued to compose and perform for a wide variety of audiences.

She published eight volumes of her own work throughout her lifetime, including pieces like Arie a voce sola, Il primo libro di madrigali, and Cantate, ariette e duetti.

Strozzi published more secular music than anyone else in the Baroque era and was considered the most prolific composer in Italy during the middle of the 17th century.

She was also one of very few women who published their own compositions during this time period.

 

2. Clara Schumann

Clara Josephine Schumann was one of the most respected German composers, pianists, and teachers in the Romantic era during the mid to late-1800s.

Born into a musical family, Schumann’s father taught her how to play piano at a young age. She made her concert debut at nine and began touring in Paris, Vienna, and other major cities when she was eleven.

At eighteen, she married Robert Schumann, one of the greatest German male composers of that period, and started a family. Although this somewhat hindered her musical career, she continued to frequently tour throughout Europe.

Other popular composers raved about Schumann and attended her concerts, including Franz Liszt and Frédéric Chopin. Some of her works include Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Op.22, Piano Trio in G Minor, and Scherzo, Op. 10.

There are also multiple films that tell the story of Schumann’s life, including Träumerei in 1944 and Geliebte Clara in 2008.

She was elected to be part of the Society of the Friends of Music in Vienna and was named Royal and Imperial Austrian Chamber Virtuoso in 1838, which was Austria’s highest musical honor.

 

1. Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen takes the #1 spot on our list of the greatest female composers due to her exceptional composition skills and musicality, which took the classical music world by storm in the 11th century.

Bingen was a popular German composer, medical writer, practitioner, and Benedictine abbess, among other things, during the High Middle Ages.

She is one of very few composers who wrote both the music and words in her works, making her stand out from the crowd.

She is credited with creating the oldest musical morality play, Ordo Virtutum, and has written over sixty-nine compositions.

Her most popular works include A Feather on the Breath of God and her liturgical song collection, Symphonia armoniae celestium revelationum.

She is the subject of the 1994 documentary Hildegard of Bingen and the 2009 film Vision and also has a minor planet named after her (planet 898).

 

Summary

We hope you’re better acquainted with the world’s best female composers and that you check out some of their works.

These incredible women have significantly impacted music history, gifting us with beautiful sonatas, operas, concertos, and symphonies.

Hildegard of Bingen earns our top spot because she is the most recorded sacred composer in history.

These gifted women have certainly changed music for the better!

Who’s the best female composer of all time, in your opinion? Leave a comment below. 

Emily is a singer-songwriter, guitarist, and ukulelist who has graced the stage at countless venues across the Midwest and Southern U.S. Throughout her career, she’s opened for artists including Eric Paslay, Stars Go Dim, Love & The Outcome, and Sierra Hull. She writes relatable, original music in various genres, from country and folk to cinematic pop, hoping to inspire and uplift her listeners. Outside of music, Emily enjoys hiking with her husband and playing with her comical cat, Olive.

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