Composers Datebook

The indomitable Dame Ethel

Ethyl Smyth (1858 - 1944) The Wreckers Soloists and BBC Philharmonic; Odaline de la Martinez , cond. Conifer 51250

Composers Datebook for November 11, 2020


November 11, 2020


In his autobiographical sketch, “A Mingled Chime,” the late British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham offered this assessment of the British composer Dame Ethel Smyth: “Ethel Smyth is without question the most remarkable of her sex that I have been privileged to know,” and wrote he admired her “fiery energy and unrelenting fixity of purpose.”

Born in 1858, Smyth became a composer against her family’s wishes, and it took dogged determination to get her large-scale choral and operatic works performed in an era when most in the music business did not take female composers seriously. That was before they met Dame Ethel, who convinced legendary conductors like Arthur Nikisch, Bruno Walter, and Sir Thomas, who realized her music had merit.

Smyth’s opera “The Wreckers” had its premiere performance in Leipzig on today’s date in 1906, and was championed in England by Sir Thomas Beecham, who thought it her masterpiece. “It remains,” wrote Beecham in 1944, the year of Smyth’s death, “one of the three or four English operas of real musical merit and vitality written in the past forty years.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Ethyl Smyth (1858 - 1944) The Wreckers Soloists and BBC Philharmonic; Odaline de la Martinez , cond. Conifer 51250

On This Day


  • 1872 - German-born American conductor of the Chicago Symphony (and occasional composer) Frederick Stock, in Jülich;


  • 1936 - English composer Sir Edward German, age 74, in London;

  • 1945 - American songwriter, Jerome Kern, age 60, in New York City;

  • 1979 - Ukranian-born American film music composer Dimitri Tiomkin, age 85, in London;


  • 1727 - Handel: opera “Riccardo Primo, re d’Inghilterra” (Richard the First, King of England), in London at the King’s Theater in the Haymarket (Gregorian date: Nov. 22);

  • 1866 - Brahms: String Sextet in G, Op. 36, in Boston, at a concert by the Mendelssohn Quintet Club; The European premiere occurred in Zürich, Swizterland, a few days later, on November 20;

  • 1889 - R. Strauss: tone-poem "Don Juan," in Weimar, with the composer conducting;

  • 1890 - Brahms: String Quintet No. 2 in G, Op. 111, in Vienna, by the Rosé Quintet;

  • 1898 - Coleridge-Taylor: oratorio "Hiawatha's Wedding Feast," in London;

  • 1899 - Leslie Stuart: operetta "Floradora" in London; This operetta was tremendously popular in England and America for many seasons, but is seldom heard today;

  • 1906 - Ethel Smyth: opera "The Wreckers" (under its German title "Strandrecht") in Leipzig;

  • 1923 - Bloch: Piano Quintet, in New York, with Harold Bauer piano, at the first concert of the League of Composers;

  • 1952 - Stravinsky: "Cantata," by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra conducted by the composer;

  • 1999 - Corigliano: "Vocalise," for soprano, electronics and orchestra, by Sylvia McNair, with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Kurt Masur;

  • 2004 - Augusta Read Thomas: “Dancing Galaxy” for wind ensemble, in Boston, Ma. by the New England Conservatory Wind Ensemble.


  • 1898 - Shortly after it was finished, the painting “Nevermore” by Gaugin is purchased by the English composer Frederick Delius; The painting was inspired by Poe’s famous poem and is now in the collection of London’s Cortland Gallery;

  • 1922 - The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) begins daily radio transmissions; The BBC had been formed on Oct. 18, 1922, broadcast its first orchestral concert on Dec. 23, 1922, and on Dec. 24 its first radio play, “The Truth About Father Christmas.”