One of the most poignant thoughts brought about by Infusion Baroque’s Virtuosa Project exploration is that, had I been born during the time that the music on this album was composed, I would not have been allowed to play the flute. I would likely have been encouraged to study the keyboard—and based on the year of piano lessons I had as a young child, that would have led to a very disappointing career indeed. How many brilliant voices of women flute players were never found over the centuries? I have a profound admiration for those women who insisted on playing and composing for the flute despite the social taboos. I am also inspired by the many ways other than public performance in which women kept their musical presence alive: teaching, arranging, hosting salons, employing other women, and collecting scores. I am grateful to all of those strong women, and I strive to incorporate a fraction of their perseverance and passion into my own career.
-Alexa Raine-Wright, Baroque flute and recorder
Exploring and discovering historical virtuosas has been for me a wonderful contrast of frustration and inspiration; frustration at the scarcity of research, and at the disregard of potential and lack of opportunity these women faced, but inspiration at their ability to succeed, learn, excel and be published, tour and perform when it was considered immodest and unwomanly, and create a name for themselves, even if it was later forgotten. While part of me mourns the works and performances that never got to be created, I celebrate that there is still so much more to be found. Of course, I do wonder how these women felt as they created and practised their art. Back in modern times, the words of composer Linda Catlin Smith strongly resonate with me: “I never thought of myself as a girl player … a girl runner … a girl dancer … I simply was.” So thank you to the many women, past and present, who continue to “be” and to create even when society attempts to convince them that they should not.
-Andrea Stewart, Baroque cello
In thinking back over the direction my artistic work has taken in recent years, I realize that time and again I have been drawn to women creatives from centuries past as role models. As I write these words, it occurs to me that this inclination has not been entirely conscious, for the most part. Not until my work on Virtuosa, and in reflecting upon this project, did I even come to see how much this had been the case. It would not be an exaggeration to say that thoughts like “I wonder how Clara (Schumann) would have sat at her piano” or “I wonder how Clara would have juggled the sometimes conflicting demands of establishing a career as a performing artist while nurturing a private life” cross my mind on most days. The life stories of these women offer us an inspiring and empowering exemplar for how it is possible to build for oneself a meaningful and fulfilling life in the arts.
-Gili Loftus, Harpsichord
“Nevertheless, she persisted.” Many of us might recall this phrase that was immortalized on the internet back in 2017. While the story behind those words is for another discussion, I’ve often thought about those words while researching the historical women of The Virtuosa Project. Women musicians were not recognized as professionals, despite their education and capabilities surpassing many of their male colleagues, brothers, and husbands. Critics’ comments were disproportionately focused on a female performer’s dress, mainly about how distracting, unattractive (or overly attractive?) and inappropriate it seemed to them. Women were not allowed to perform in public; doing so meant risking punishment or death. These statements applied hundreds of years ago, and they still apply today. It is an unfortunate, timeless truth that women have to fight back against what society deems is acceptable for them, but it is also a testament to human resilience. This album is dedicated to all the women, past, present, and future, who dare to persist.
-Sallynee Amawat, Baroque Violin
Throughout this project, I’ve learned a great deal about the lives and careers of musical women of the past. In contrast to what can be a more impersonal attitude toward the black-and-white names of male composers in standard music history textbooks, I am struck by the compulsion to flesh out these women’s stories with texture and colour. Where did they grow up? Who were their teachers? Were they encouraged or discouraged in their musical ambitions? In what drawing rooms, salons, convents, palaces, concert halls did they perform? Did they continue to perform and compose after marriage? After having children? How did their performing careers affect their personal relationships? How did they reconcile societal notions of femininity and womanhood with their professional and artistic activities? No doubt we are drawn to ask these questions because they hit close to home. As modern women, we continue to balance the demands of family and work; of domesticity and professional ambition; the practical demands of life with artistic satisfaction. I do feel a special sense of kinship when performing this music that was composed and played by women of the past—an enhanced ability to imagine myself in their shoes, in their bodies, in their minds as they made music. This sense of connection, imagined though it may be, has been a great source of inspiration for all of our Virtuosa-related activities, including this recording.
-Rona Nadler, Harpsichord