The world of classical music has a long way to go when it comes to diversifying its administrations, ensembles, and audiences, but also its repertoire, which is full to the brim with incredible composers that are under-appreciated and under-programmed. Alphabet of Composers is dedicated to telling the stories of 26 composers of diverse backgrounds that have been left out of the traditional western classical 'canon' because of their race, gender, or both. I hope that you enjoy reading these as much as I enjoyed writing them, and that you remember their names.
G is for: Ruth Gipps
In 2018, the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra gave the U.S. premiere of Ruth Gipps’ Symphony No. 2, Op. 30 (1945) 73 years after it was written. About Gipps’ works, music director Adam Stern said “It is music of such stunning quality that one can only ask, ‘Why? Why did we not know this before?”
Watch Antonia and our other horn player, Jack, perform A Taradiddle for Two Horns, Op.56, by Ruth Gipps
Gipps: Orchestral Works, with the BBC National Symphony of Wales, conducted by Rumon Gamba:
Horn Concerto, Op. 58 (1968), performed by David Pyatt with the London Philharmonic, conducted by Nicholas Braithwaite:
H is for: Adolphus Hailstork
Adolphus Hailstork, born in 1941, is the first living composer featured on this blog. He is not only a renowned composer with a vast output of works for choir, orchestra, solo instruments, opera, and everything in between, he is also a dedicated teacher and spokesperson for the value of public music education.
Hailstork was born in Rochester and spent most of his childhood in Albany, both in upstate New York. As a young child he joined the choir of the episcopal cathedral, which was his first experience with music. In public school he took a state aptitude test for music and did so well that they provided him with free instrumental lessons, first on the violin, and then on the piano and organ. When asked about his early leanings towards composition, he said that he used to improvise for hours on the piano instead of practice his scales and arpeggios, so he figured he should take up composition. In his words, “I love making stuff up!”
In 1959 Hailstork attended Howard University, a historically Black university in Washington D.C., to study composition with Mark Fax and Warner Lawson, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Music in 1963. He went on to study with Vittorio Giannini and David Diamond at Manhattan School of Music, and earned a Master of Music in 1966. After serving in the U.S. Army in Germany for two years, he attended Michigan State University, where he graduated with a Ph.D in 1971.
Hailstork’s compositions blend many “eclectic” influences, including European and African American musical styles. When asked about his compositional style and rejection of post-modernism, he said “I decided I didn’t want to go that way. I’ve spent most of my career trying to be honest with myself. I call it 'authenticism' — that’s my 'ism.'” He also uses composition as a way to connect with Black culture and history, and a number of his works are about or dedicated to Black heroes and icons like Zora Neale Hurston, Martin Luther King Jr., William Grant Still, and John J. Parker.
One of the most moving works by Hailstork is Epitaph for a Man who Dreamed, In Memoriam: Martin Luther King Jr (1979) which was premiered by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 1980. Written in a very romantic sounding idiom, with soaring strings and choral brass, it is a stunning tribute to the civil rights leader. Hailstork said that the piece “represents the graveside service of a great man. The mourners gather and sing a spiritual, the music gradually swelling as more people arrive and join in the singing. After reflecting on the hopes and dreams inspired by this leader, they lift their bowed heads and move to carry on the work he began."
Hailstork also draws on his African heritage for some of his compositions. Symphony No. 2 (1999) was inspired by his trip to Ghana a few years previously. He said “There I visited the forts along the coast of Ghana, and saw the dungeons where the slaves were held before being shipped overseas. I put my reaction to that sad scene in movement two of this symphony. In movement four I sought to reflect the determination of a people who had arrived in America as slaves, but struggled, with courage and faith, against numerous odds.”
Hailstork is currently writing a requiem cantata called A Knee on the Neck for Mezzo-soprano, Tenor, Baritone, Chorus, and Orchestra, dedicated to George Floyd. The text is written by Dr. Herbert Martin, who completed it within a week of Floyd’s murder. About the work, Hailstork said “It captures a lot of things that should be mentioned and are universal. That’s why the whole world is upset over watching that murder.”
Along with a full schedule of premieres and commissions, Hailstork is also Professor of Music at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. When asked in an interview about increasing Black representation in classical concerts, Hailstork said “There are lots [of Black composers] out there, they just don’t get the chance to be performed … We need artistic administrators and conductors and performers to be interested … They have to care.”
Symphony No. 2 (1999) and Symphony No. 3 (2002), with the Grand Rapids Symphony, conducted by David Lockington:
I is for: Jean Eichelberger Ivey
Jean Eichelberger Ivey (1923-2010) was one of the earliest and most consequential pioneers of electronic music in the United States. A sharp, quick-witted, creative force throughout her long career, she wrote in a vast number of styles and for diverse instrumentation, but is most remembered for her works involving electronics and for founding the Peabody Electronic Music Studio in 1967.
Ivey was born into a conservative family in Washington D.C., where her father was the editor of an anti-feminist magazine called the Woman Patriot: a National Newspaper for Home and National Defense Against Woman Suffrage, Feminism and Socialism. Nevertheless, Ivey went to Trinity College (D.C.) on a full scholarship and graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree in 1944. She earned two Master’s degrees, one in Piano from Peabody Institute (of the Johns Hopkins University) in 1946, and one in composition from the Eastman School of Music.
Throughout her twenties Ivey had a successful performance career as a pianist and often programmed her own works on recitals. She performed across the United States and Europe, as well as on a tour of Mexico sponsored by the US embassy. After several years of touring she returned to school and received a Doctorate of Music in composition from the University of Toronto in 1972. In Toronto she studied with Claudio Arrau, Pasquale Tallarico, and Katherine Bacon, and discovered a love and aptitude for electronic music.
In 1967, Ivey founded Peabody’s Electronic Music Studio, where she was on the composition faculty from 1982 to 1997. For the first few years she hosted summer music workshops for school teachers as well as electronic music programs open to the general public. In 1969, the Electronic Music Studio opened for the first time year-round with classes for conservatory students. It was not only the first electronic music studio in the state of Maryland, it was the first in the United States within a conservatory.
Although she is most remembered for her electronic compositions, Ivey’s favorite medium of composition was for voice, and she was wary of being over-associated with electronic music. She once said “If I wrote a good deal of electronic music in the early days of our studio, it was for the same reason that Bach wrote a lot of church music while he was in Leipzig: it went with the job!”
One of Ivey's vocal works Testament of Eve (1976) was premiered by the Baltimore Symphony. It is a monodrama, meaning an operatic or theatrical piece sung by only one person/character, and is scored for mezzo-soprano, orchestra, and tape. Ivey wrote the text for Testament herself, which tells the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden from Eve’s perspective. About the story, Ivey said “To me as a woman, it is of special interest that in this myth, a woman makes the choice.” “I feel that Eve has had a very bad press all these years; that we should think of her as heroic. She chooses knowledge and courage and all those good things, and she chooses them not only for herself but for all of her children of the human race. She chooses to give up being a pampered pet in the Garden of Eden in order to explore the possibility of being greater than she has been.”
One of Ivey’s most imaginative pieces for electronics, and one of my personal favorites, is Pinball (1963). Originally written for a short art film by Emmy Award winning filmmaker Wayne Sourbeer called Montage V: How to Play Pinball, the music is entirely based on pinball machine sounds that have been electronically modified with filters and tape techniques.
Unlike Pinball, most of Ivey’s works included a mix of electronic music and live performers. Three Works of Night (1973) was composed for the Peabody Conservatory Contemporary Music Ensemble, for soprano, instruments, and tape. The tape is turned on and off where directed in the score, which “frees the ensemble … from the rigidity which a continuous tape part might impose, and places most of the burden of coordination in performance on the shoulders of the conductor.” It is a beautiful and evocative setting of three texts, The Astronomer by Walt Whitman, I Dreamed of Sappho by Richard Hovey, and Heraclitus by Callimachus (translated by William Cory), each one getting darker in subject and mood as the piece goes on.
Ivey passed away in Baltimore in 2010. In a journal article about her electronic music workshops for teachers in 1967 and 1968, she said this about creativity and contemporary music: “Genuine creativity involves being open to the new and the untried. The new medium of electronic music, with its vast possibilities and its lack of a long, well-formulated tradition, may call forth, better than an older medium, a sense of what it is to deal with the unfamiliar in an open and original way.”
My thanks and appreciation to Southbank Sinfonia for supporting this project, and Kate Walker for her gracious help in editing. Where I have quoted or used information from other people and publications, those sources can be found in the references.
Find out more about Antonia here
Check out a playlist of listening recommendations here:
Blevins, Pamela. “Ruth Gipps and Sir Arthur Bliss.” Music Web International, 2004, www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2005/feb05/Gipps_Bliss.htm.
Bonaventura, Sam Di, and Geoffrey Wright. "Ivey, Jean Eichelberger." Grove Music Online. 2001. Oxford University Press, https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000014003
Brackenborough, Simon. “In Search Of Ruth Gipps.” CORYMBUS, 20 July 2017, corymbus.co.uk/in-search-of-ruth-gipps/.
Campbell, Margaret. “Ruth Gipps - A Woman of Substance - .” The Maud Powell Signature, Women in Music, 1996, pp. 15–34, www.maudpowell.org/signature/Portals/0/pdfs/signature/SignatureWinter96.pdf.
“A Celebration of Female Composers: Ruth Gipps.” Harmony Sinfonia Orchestra, 1 Mar. 2019, www.harmonysinfonia.co.uk/post/a-celebration-of-female-composers-ruth-gipps.
Dettmer, Roger. “Epitaph for a Man Who Dreamed: In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr., for Orchestra.” AllMusic, www.allmusic.com/composition/epitaph-for-a-man-who-dreamed-in-memoriam-martin-luther-king-jr-for-orchestra-mc0002444000.
Duffie, Bruce. “Composer Jean Eichelberger Ivey, A Conversation with Bruce Duffie.” Jean Eichelberger Ivey Interview with Bruce Duffie, Bruce Duffie, 1987, www.bruceduffie.com/ivey.html.
Foreman, Lewis. “Obituary: Ruth Gipps.” Independent, 3 Mar. 1999, www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/obituary-ruth-gipps-1077990.html.
Hailstork, Adolphus, and Gene Brooks. “An Interview with Adolphus Hailstork.” The Choral Journal, vol. 39, no. 7, 1999, pp. 29–34. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23552825. Accessed 3 Dec. 2020.
“HAILSTORK: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3.” Naxos Records, Jan. 2007, www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=8.559295.
“History.” Peabody Computer Music, Johns Hopkins, Peabody Conservatory, pcm.peabody.jhu.edu/wordpress/?page_id=402.
Ivey, Jean Eichelberger. “Electronic Music Workshop for Teachers.” Music Educators Journal, vol. 55, no. 3, 1968, pp. 91–93. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3392386.
Ivey, Jean Eichelberger, et al. “Women in Music.” Music Educators Journal, vol. 66, no. 1, 1979, pp. 7–8. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3395708.
“Ivey, Jean Eichelberger.” Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia.com, 31 Nov. 2020, www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ivey-jean-eichelberger-1923.
“Jean Eichelberger Ivey.” Peabody Computer Music, Johns Hopkins, Peabody Conservatory, pcm.peabody.jhu.edu/wordpress/?page_id=1798.
Music by Jean Eichelberger Ivey for voices, instruments, and tape. Composed by Jean Eichelberger Ivey, Folkways Records and Service Corp., 1973. Liner Notes, https://folkways-media.si.edu/liner_notes/folkways/FW33439.pdf.
“Legendary Women.” Performance by Adam Stern, Youtube, Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra, 30 Nov. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZCw4NCrIGc&feature=youtu.be.
McDougall, Heather. “Classical Album of the Week: Discover Music by English Composer Ruth Gipps.” WRTI, 23 Mar. 2020, www.wrti.org/post/classical-album-week-discover-music-english-composer-ruth-gipps.
“Ruth Gipps MBE.” British Music Collection, 8 July 2019, britishmusiccollection.org.uk/composer/ruth-gipps-mbe?page=2.
Stuber, Irene. “Women of Achievement and Herstory.” Women of Achievement, www.thelizlibrary.org/collections/woa/woa01-07.html.
“The Woman Patriot: a National Newspaper for Home and National Defense against Woman Suffrage, Feminism and Socialism. (Washington, D.C.) 1921-1927.” Ann Lewis Women's Suffrage Collection, lewissuffragecollection.omeka.net/items/show/1138.
Zick, William J. “ Adolphus C. Hailstork (b. 1941).” Aldophus C. Hailstork, African American Composer & Professor, 16 Feb. 2020, chevalierdesaintgeorges.homestead.com/Hailstork.html.
Zick, William J. “Composer Adolphus C. Hailstork.” Africlassical, 16 Apr. 2010, africlassical.blogspot.com/2010/04/composer-adolphus-c-hailstork-eminent.html.
Zwiebach, Michael. “Adolphus Hailstork: Bridging Two Worlds.” San Francisco Classical Voice, 23 June 2020, www.sfcv.org/events-calendar/artist-spotlight/adolphus-hailstork-bridging-two-worlds.