Bach’s town erects plaque to Ethel Smyth

Bach’s town erects plaque to Ethel Smyth


norman lebrecht

July 26, 2022

The mayor of Leipzig will unveil a plaque this Thursday on the site of the house where the English composer lived from 1877 to 1881.

‘The memory of the work of an important woman who spent important years in Leipzig is now present in the public space,’ said Mayor Skadi Jennicke.

Smyth, who left a scabrous reminiscence of Mahler from about that time, had her violini sonata premiered in Leipzig by the Gewandhaus concertmaster Adolph Brodsky with pianist Fanny Davies.

She returned in 1906 for the premiere of her opera, The Wreckers.

Glyndebourne’s brave revival of the opera this summer must have jogged Leipzig’s memory.


  • Robert Holmén says:

    Where can we find her comments on Mahler?

  • william osborne says:

    Der Wald was premiered in Leipzig in 1906 where Smyth had studied. Large cuts were made by conductor Richard Hagel which Smyth objected to. The opening night was well received by the public and critics, but when Hagel refused to restore the cut material Smyth refused to allow further performances and even went into the orchestra pit and took all the parts. A bit of an odd memory for Leipzig, but great that they are acknowledging her. I suspect that this was the work of women’s advocacy groups that found sympathetic ears in the Rathaus. Good for Leipzig.

    In 1907 Mahler was considering the opera for a production at the Vienna State Opera which would have been a dream venue of Smyth. She wrote that, Mahler “was far and away the finest conductor I ever knew, with the most all-embracing musical instinct, and it is one of the small tragedies of my life that just when he was considering The Wreckers at Vienna they drove him from office.”

    Perhaps most important is that Smyth brought a woman’s perspective to her operas, women characters who had some autonomy and agency instead of damsels saved or betrayed by heroes, and the usual witches, bitches, and breeches stuff. She is, of course, sneered at and ridiculed for it by some to this day.

  • PG Vienna says:

    Who is Ethel Smyth ?