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Political Alliances

Duration:
1 hour
First broadcast:
Thursday 07 November 2013

Ethel Smyth and her association with the suffragettes, featuring music from The Boatswain's Mate and The Wreckers.

Accounts of Dame Ethel Smyth cast her as a doughty figure, unafraid to flout convention. Born into an upper class Victorian family, the fact that Smyth wanted a professional career in music is exceptional in itself. Two major choral works, several orchestral works, six operas and a significant body of chamber music, attest to her seriousness of purpose as a composer. However, the sheer gusto and number of other activities the ebullient Smyth pursued have tended to obscure her artistic reception. A keen traveller, she was a successful author, producing nine largely autobiographical books. A life-long champion of women's rights, among the causes she supported was Mrs. Pankhurst's "right to vote" campaign. Her competitive nature found a perfect partner in sport; she was often to be found riding to hounds, playing tennis matches or striding over the golf course. As one rather bemused contemporary musician remarked when he met her, she is "the most remarkable and original woman composer in the history of music".

Donald Macleod charts Ethel Smyth's involvement in women's suffrage. Inspired by meeting Emmeline Pankhurst, head of the Women's Social and Political Union, Smyth decided to take two years off her musical career to help support the fight for women's rights. Her activism famously led to her imprisonment for throwing stones through a suffrage opponent's window. In 1912, having resumed her music career, she began work on what's probably her most feminist influenced work, the comic opera, the Boatswain's Mate.

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