Ethel Smyth is one of the best-known names of female composers of the late-19th and 20th century. But it often seems like her larger-than-life personality overshadows her actual music. It is true that she was articulate and outspoken. Today it often seems easier to laugh at her as a caricature rather than to take up the performance of her monumental works.
Thus we applaud with great eagerness that the Cecilia Chorus of New York City will perform Smyth’s monumental Mass in D Major on April 14, in Carnegie Hall. Also, on Tuesday, April 2, there will be a lecture by the distinguished scholar Elizabeth Wood.
Mark Shapiro, the Conductor of the Cecilia Chorus of New York, feels that it is an outrage that “Mass in D” has never been performed in New York. After its premiere in 1893, none other than George Bernard Shaw wrote to the composer “Your Mass will stand up in the biggest company! Magnificent!”
Shaw also observed “It was your music that cured me forever of the old delusion that women could not do man’s work in art and all other things.” Yet the persistence of that “delusion” can be observed in the endless struggle that Smyth faced to get her works performed, even after complete successes, such as the premiere of the Mass.
Smyth, after all, wrote six operas, as well as a wide range of orchestral and vocal works, chamber music and solo pieces. Many of them have been recorded, yet, they remain too little known — and some completely unknown. We hope this high profile performance of the Mass will do much to bring this piece, and others, more recognition.