Dame Ethel Mary Smyth, DBE (23 April 1858 – 8 May 1944) was an English composer and a leader of the women's suffrage movement.
She was born in London
and studied music in Leipzig
with Carl Reinecke
, amongst others, and then, after leaving the conservatoire, privately with Heinrich von Herzogenberg
. Her works included chamber pieces, symphonies, choral works and operas (most famously The Wreckers
In 1910 Smyth joined the Women's Social and Political Union, a militant suffrage organization, giving up music for two years to devote herself to the cause. Her "The March of the Women" (1911) became the anthem of the women's suffrage movement, though suffragists most often shouted the words, by Cicely Hamilton, rather than actually singing Smyth's tune. When the W.S.P.U.'s leader, Emmeline Pankhurst, called on members to break the windows of anti-suffrage politicians as a protest, Smyth - along with 108 others – did so. She served two months in Holloway Prison. When Thomas Beecham went to visit her there, he found suffragettes marching in the quadrangle and singing, as Smyth leaned out a window conducting the song with a toothbrush.
In 1922 she was created a DBE.
She was later a model for the fictional Dame Hilda Tablet in the 1950s radio plays of Henry Reed.
Smyth lived at Frimhurst, near Frimley Green
Smyth was prone to grand romantic passions, most of them with women. She wrote to Harry Brewster
, who may have been her only male lover, that it was "easier for me to love my own sex passionately, rather than yours", calling this an "everlasting puzzle". At age 71 she fell in love with Virginia Woolf
, who, both alarmed and amused, said it was "like being caught by a giant crab", but the two became friends.
Her hearing deteriorated in her later years, and she wrote little music. She died in Woking
at the age of 86 and was cremated at the nearby crematorium.
See also: List of her works
- Violin Sonata A minor op.7, Cello Sonata A minor op.5, String Quintet E major op.1, String Quartet E minor (1912): Renate Eggebrecht, violin, Friedemann Kupsa cello, Céline Dutilly piano, fanny mendelssohn quartet, TRO-CD 01403 (2-CD-Set).
- Double Concerto in A for violin, horn and piano (1926): Renate Eggebrecht violin, Franz Draxinger horn, Céline Dutilly piano; Four Songs for mezzosoprano and chamber ensemble (1907): Melinda Paulsen mezzo, Ethel Smyth ensemble; Three songs for mezzosoprano and piano (1913): Melinda Paulsen mezzo, Angela Gassenhuber piano, TRO-CD 01405.
- Cello sonata C minor (1880): Friedemann Kupsa cello, Anna Silova piano; Lieder und Balladen opp. 3 & 4, Three moods of the Sea (1913): Maarten Koningsberger baritone, Kelvin Grout piano, TRO-CD 01417.
- Collis, Louise Impetuous Heart: Story of Ethel Smyth William Kimber & Co Ltd, 1984, ISBN-10: 0718305434 ISBN-13: 978-0718305437
- Crichton, Ronald The Memoirs of Ethel Smyth Viking, 1987
- Smyth, Ethel Impressions That Remained - Memoirs of Ethel Smyth 2007 ISBN-10: 1406711381 ISBN-13: 978-1406711387
- Smyth, Ethel Streaks Of Life Read Books, 2006, ISBN-10: 140673554X ISBN-13: 978-1406735543 / Best Books, 2001, ISBN-10: 072225525X ISBN-13: 978-0722255254
- Smyth, Ethel As Time Went On LONGMANS, GREEN AND CO, 1936
- St. John, Christopher Ethel Smyth Longmans