A noted contrarian declares war on women composers

A noted contrarian declares war on women composers


norman lebrecht

September 16, 2015

Like all skilled polemicists, Damian Thompson sprinkles his arguments with elements of truth and doubt. Picking up a Slipped Disc story about the inclusion of women composers in the school music syllabus, Damian maintains that women are given being an unfair crack at fame.


Meanwhile, we’re stuck in a situation where the barriers to women becoming composers have been removed but they’re still honoured for being women. Judith Weir (born 1954) is a minor figure whose ‘stark’ scores sound as if crucial instrumental parts have gone missing. Her opera Miss Fortunereceived such a savaging at Covent Garden in 2012 that the Santa Fe Opera dropped its plans to stage it. Last year she was appointed Master of the Queen’s Music. You may not be surprised to learn that she’s all in favour of the new A-level syllabus.

Read full rant here.

Probably better not read the backwoods Spectator readers comments below the line.

miss fortune weir

h/t: Mahan Esfahani, David Conway


  • Alexander says:

    Most shocking was the downright racist comment posted by one person. Interestingly, Slipped Disc hasn’t covered the debut of Chineke, a most thought-provoking event.

  • Pirkko says:

    The Finnish composer Lotta Wennäkoski (b. 1970) admitted recently in an interview that for her as a composer, being a woman is an advantage.

  • Eddie Mars says:

    I see that Thompson’s fogeyish schtick became too much even for the Torygraph – which has given him the elbow.

    • Joe says:

      He does not “declare war on women composers” – just asks why there are so few of them, as contrasted for example with women writers.

      If the Telegraph really dumped him for this, it would be comparable to the hounding of Sir Tim Hunt.

  • John says:

    Damian: Oh. Shut. Up.

  • Max Grimm says:

    “‘stark’ scores [that] sound as if crucial instrumental parts have gone missing.”

    That describes a fair few contemporary pieces, regardless whether they are composed by men or women.

  • william osborne says:

    The irony of the article and the comments that follow, is that they illustrate why advocacy for women in music is still necessary.

    • Joe says:

      “Advocacy for women in music” — more pc nonsense. Women have conquered music in every field of performance. The question is why there has been no great female composer — no female Chopin or Fauré for example in the 19th century.

  • Dennis says:

    He’s actually spot on. The comments are no worse than those on any website, and often a great deal better. Only your own leftist bigotry blinds you to truth.

  • B Bailey says:

    Regardless of the gender of a composer, their music should be judged on it own merits. For my money, Ellen Taafe Zwilich takes a back seat to no living composer, male or female.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I did not know this composer & looked her up:


      This is indeed great music by a great composer. Thank you! I made a discovery.

      Interestingly, she began to write more traditional (i.e. more musical) music after her husband died, in an apparent attempt to ‘humanize’ her work. Comparable stories can be told of George Rochberg and Peter Lieberson: real life experience intruding a restricted world view, leading to better music.

  • T. Manor says:

    “Like all skilled polemicists, Damian Thompson sprinkles his arguments with elements of truth and doubt.”

    If anyone would know about ‘skilled polemicists’ in this way, it’s Norman Lebrecht.

  • Russell Platt says:

    I’m not familiar with Judith Weir’s recent music, but the reason she drew early renown was because pieces like “King Harald’s Saga” and “Illuminare, Jerusalem” were brilliant little gems, funny yet oddly discomforting, not only secure in their craftsmanship but utterly original. They’ve lasted, and so will she.

    • Eddie Mars says:

      Thompson is a highly unpleasant individual who boasted – on his former DT comment page, which was shut down by the DT when Thompson was fired – about being described as a ‘rabid ferret’ by C of E sources.An avowed Anglo-Catholic extremist, Thompson is well known as a misogynist. He is certainly not known for any knowledge or views on classical music.

      I strongly doubt that Thompson has ever heard a note of Judith Weir’s music. He is just playing to the gallery of Hooray Henries in the Spectator, with the same Look-At-Me! clownery that cost him his well-paid DT gig.

      I suspect that the whole things is just green-welly woman-hating tosh from a man whose real musical tastes don’t extend beyond the Massed Bands & Drums of the Royal Air Force. He is just piqued because his Catholic chum McMillan wasn’t made Master of Her Majesty’s Music when Max stepped down.

      Personally I’ve followed Weir’s music since the late-lamented Kent Opera tour of A Night At The Chinese Opera – so I can aver with some certainty that Thompson is suffering from chin impact from his own upwardly-jerking knee.

      • Alexander says:

        Actually, Thompson isn’t an Anglo-Catholic. For example, he writes, “As a Catholic, I believe that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church [sic] founded by Peter.” (Damian Thompson, ‘2067: the end of British Christianity’, The Spectator, 13 June 2015).

        • Joe says:

          and dislike of his reliigious views is no basis for ranting against his musical ones, which are in fact well-informed.