Thursday, April 1, 2010

Elinor Remick Warren, 1900-1991

Similar to the fine arts, music has been a field where women have not received the lasting notice deserved. On an impulse, I searched for a California woman composer and came up with this name. During infancy Warren's musical inclinations were evident, and she was composing by age five. Her musical parents nurtured her education in piano, voice, and composition. While still a high school student, Warren published her first work, "A Song of June," with noted publisher G. Schirmer. There followed one year at Mills College to study singing, but her teachers recognized her gifts in composition and convinced her parents to send her to New York. There she continued private studies in composing and accompaniment.

During the early 1920s she toured as an accompanist for the Metropolitan Opera, performed as a soloist with symphony orchestras, and published in her favorite format, the choral work. Moving to Los Angeles, she studied orchestration and wrote her first symphonic work, "The Harp Weaver," set to the poem of Edna Vincent Millay. Critics described the work as "melodious, picturesque, and imbued with appropriate feeling...effective tone-painting" and praised the composer's "genuine creative talent." The premiere of was conducted by Antonia Brico at Carnegie Hall in 1936. Warren found herself set among other neo-romanticists, such as Samuel Barber and Giancarlo Menotti.

Intensely private and comitted to her craft, she continued with numerous songs, choral pieces, and symphonic works, often referring to English poets for inspiration. This accompanied a full family life with a supportive husband, a professional singer, who kept the children away when she was working. Despite the rise of atonal music, she refused to shift her preferred style, and had the satisfaction of seeing her works performed throughout the country. Further evidence of her achievement was the commissioning of works, such as her "Symphony in One Movement."

To understand obstacles what she faced, consider this exchange, and note the recent date:

"I don't think compositions, whether they're large or small, have a gender, as far as the music goes, and I think it makes no difference to state `this is a woman composer,' `this is a man composer,'" Warren commented in a 1987 interview.

"I've had many people say to me `You play like a man,' or `Your music sounds as if it were written by a man.' I think they associate any kind of music that is rather strong or powerful with manliness."

When the interviewer observed, "Because the work is so big and we just don't expect that of a woman," Warren shot back, "I don't know why. Women have thoughts too!"

More than 200 of Warren's works remain available in publication form, and several major works in CD by leading artists. One of these was created when she was 86, when Cambria Records asked her to accompany singers on an album of her works. An organization

On a personal note, I wonder about my own stifled musical career. What if the orchestras I visited in my youth included women? What if my education had included the long line of noted women composers? And why did it require a web search to learn about Warren when I have been in choral groups all my life? After all, the repertoire of my current group includes Samuel Barber. I think I have some education to do with some local conductors....and send them to the Elinor Remick Warren Society.