A Composer and a Pioneer of Gender Equality

Andante. © Charles Thibo

I must praise my fellow blogger Leah Broad to have drawn my attention to one more female composer I did not know yet: Elfrida Andrée (1841-1929) from Sweden. The Swedish pianist Oskar Ekberg, who has recorded Andrée’s piano works, has done some research and so I will let him assess Andrée’s relevance: “[She] is without question one of the most important figures in Swedish music during the second half of the 19th century and at the turn of the century, not only as long-time organist of Göteborg (Gothenburg) Cathedral and a composer of vocal, symphonic, chamber and organ music, but also as a well-known, indefatigable champion of women’s professional standing. She was a true pioneer of the still-ongoing campaign for gender equality in music.”

The piece I would like to present today is the Piano Trio in G Minor that Elfrida Andrée composed in 1887. It is written in the late Romantic style. Her teacher Gade had been much influenced by Felix Mendelssohn and Richard Wagner, and Andrée’s musical language follows Felix Mendelssohn’s and Robert Schumann’s path. It is written in three movements. The first movement and the finale are marked by dynamic introductions, while the middle movement is a lovely, gentle, melancholic andante that makes me revel. Andrée is no Schumann or Mendelssohn, the trio is not exceptionally innovative or brilliant. It is excellent music inspired by the taste of the time, full stop.

What I deem more important is the fact that Andrée lived her dream and did not let society deter her from her musical ambitions. By the time she wrote the trio, she was already an established figure in Sweden’s music scene. She had studied with Ludvig Norman and Niels Gade, two solid references. By the time she wrote the trio she had worked for six years as an organist in Stockholm and for 20 years as an organist at. Her path to success was full of obstacles, a sign of the time, a time when gender equality was often equated with militant and hysteric woman trying to rob man of their “natural” position in society.

The Swedish king had to act

The German musicologist Freia Hoffmann has researched a few noteworthy details about the gender issue showing. The Swedish king had to enact a specific law allowing Andrée to apply for an appointment as an organist despite the fact she had passed all the necessary exams. It was simply prohibited to employ a woman in that function. Andrée also applied to a post as a telegraph operator, another area reserved to men, and here too she was successful. This said, she never worked as telegraph operator, and I am glad she spent her time and talent on music.

For the recognition she got in Sweden, giving concerts abroad was another matter. Three times Andrée travelled to Germany. Her first journey went back to 1872; she was supposed to play the organ at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. The performance was cancelled at short notice as the board “had the feeling that a woman was not suited to perform in a church. [I] would have been alone at the organ with the choir! That was impossible!”, she wrote in a letter to her father and she quoted the board members: “We have never heard here in Germany of a female organist and this cannot happen in German. It is contrary to German traditions.”

For a second concert in 1887/88 in Berlin, she had to pay a performance fee and in 1904, ahead of a concert in Dresden, she had to pay for the tickets booked by Swedish citizen in Germany and for the rehearsals. According to newspapers of the time however Andrée could note with satisfaction that her performance was met with “thundering applause” and that the critic of the “Dresdener Nachrichten” was amazed by the organist and composer. All well that ends well!

The Iceland-based Trio Nordica and Thorunn Osk Marinosdottir have recorded Elfrida Andrée’s Piano Trio in G minor.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

Writer, photographer, piano student, music enthusiast. And a lot more. You are welcome to follow my blog.