The photo shows my godmother, Anne Hull (left) and my grandmother, Mary Howe, circa 1920. They were both pianists and composers, and performed together as a piano duo from 1912 until 1935. They met at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore in 1905, when my grandmother was studying piano with Ernest Hutchinson. She later returned to the Peabody (with the full support of her husband) to study composition with Gustav Strube, gaining her diploma with high marks in 1922. She was active musically until the early 1960s, an internationally recognized composer, and a founder of the National Symphony.
Anne was studying for an Artist’s Diploma and Teaching Certificate. She had a rich musical life, never married, teaching first at The Institute of Musical Art in New York, and later The Juilliard Graduate School, retiring in 1968 at the age of 80.
Friends for the rest of their lives, they did extraordinary things in a world that sometimes considered them dilettantes, and not to be taken seriously.
My grandmother’s unequivocal take on being a woman composer, circa 1950:
“Women composers should be played more than they are. I don’t think conductors have a prejudice against women composers now. But no one puts women writers or women painters in a class any more and they still do with women composers. I know I considered it a handicap to be a woman when I started composing. I’m not a feminist. But I think I would have gotten along faster if I’d been a man.”
I generally admire her pieces, and think her art songs were her strongest. She knew many poets, and read poetry voraciously. Her friendship with the poet Elinor Wylie, whom she met during an early stay at the MacDowell Colony, is a story in itself. A particular favorite of mine is her setting of Wylie’s poem “When I Died in Berners Street”. I have been working on it with my voice teacher, and like to think she would appreciate the effort, if not the result!