Six Important Female Composers You Should Know About

ByQuyen Anne

Dec 28, 2023

Every student of music, regardless of their gender, needs someone to look up to. One of these people they look up to may be you, the music teacher, and one of these other people may be Beethoven (or even today’s biggest pop star!). However, these four women—Amy Beach, Cécile Chaminade, Emilia Giuliani, and Ethel Barns—have all made notable contributions to the world of music, and their names are worthy of knowing and teaching.

Although they were written off in their time period, female composers’ contributions in the late 19th century cannot go undiscussed and have not gone unnoticed. Not only were they exceedingly talented and prolific performers and composers, but they also managed to make waves in a world that, at that point in time, was dominated by men. We can thank these composers for writing timeless pieces and dedicating themselves to the cause of advancing women in music.

If you are looking for sheet music for your students, we have that! We are currently offering a collection of sheet music from these four composers, available to download now—did we mention it was free?


1. Amy Beach (1867 – 1944)


Career Highlights

  • Beach was the first successful American female composer of large-scale art music.
  • She was known as the dean of American women composers.
  • She wrote the first symphony to ever be composed and published by an American woman (Gaelic Symphony).
  • Dedicated to advancing the cause of American women composers, she was associated with the Music Teachers National Association and the Music Educators National Conference. In 1925, she founded and became the first president of the Society of American Women Composers.


Amy Beach was born Amy Marcey Cheney in New Hampshire in 1867. Her mother was an excellent pianist and singer, which foretold Beach being a child prodigy. By the age of one, Beach was able to sing forty songs accurately; by the age of two, she was improvising counter-melody; by the age of three, she had taught herself to read; finally, by the age of four, she had composed three waltzes for piano. By all means, Beach was destined to be a legend.

The extent of Beach’s formal training was when she received local training in Boston at the age of fourteen. On her own, however, she read every book she could find on counterpoint and harmony. At sixteen, Beach made her concert debut at Boston’s Music Hall, to overwhelmingly positive acclaim.

Her Mass in E-flat major was Beach’s first major compositional success. Performed by the Handel and Haydn Society orchestra in 1892, the piece was the first piece composed by a woman to be played by that orchestra. In 1896, Beach composed and published her Gaelic Symphony, which was also the first symphony composed and published by an American woman. Although the symphony was largely a success, she still received negative reviews geared towards Beach’s womanhood, rather than her work.

With composers George Whitefield Chadwick, Horatio Parker, John Knowles Paine, Arthur Foote, and Edward MacDowell, Beach became part of the Boston Six. Beach was the youngest of the group and the only woman.

In 1900, Beach composed and performed her Piano Concerto with the Boston Symphony. This concerto has been suggested to be about Beach’s struggles with her mother and husband attempting to control her musical endeavors.

However, in 1910, both Beach’s husband and mother passed away. Beach then decided to move to Europe in hopes of recovering—this is where she changed her name to “Amy Beach.” Four years later, Beach returned to America to concertize in the winter months and compose in the summer months.

An extremely prolific composer, Beach wrote symphonic works, choral works, solo piano music, and chamber music. She was especially known, however, for her songs, of which she wrote around 150. She also wrote for newspapers and journals, advising new musicians, particularly young female composers. One of the first American composers to succeed without European professional training, Amy Beach was a force to be reckoned with.


2. Cécile Chaminade (1857 – 1944)


Career Highlights

  • In 1913, Chaminade was the first female composer to be awarded the Légion d’Honneur.
  • Her music has been described as accessible, mildly chromatic, elegant, and tuneful. It features stylings similar to that of late-Romantic French music.
  • She wrote over 29 songs for piano.


Born Cécile Louise Stéphanie Chaminade in Paris, she studied music first with her mother, then with other famous musicians on piano, violin, and music composition. Although her father disapproved of her musical education, she started experimenting in composition when she was around eight years old. At eighteen, she gave her first concert. As a composer, she typically wrote character pieces for piano and salon songs, nearly all of which were published.

After touring in France several times, Chaminade made her debut in England in 1892. During the 1890s, she kept going back to England, where her work was extremely popular. The head of the Paris Conservatory’s piano department was one of the many champions of her works.

In 1901, Chaminade married Louis-Mathieu Carbonel, an elderly music publisher from Marseilles. Six years later, he passed away, and Chaminade did not remarry. Later in 1901, she made gramophone recordings of seven of her compositions, which are now among the most sought-after piano recordings by collectors.

In 1908, Chaminade received a warm welcome into the United States, where her compositions, such as the Scarf Dance and Ballet No. 1, were a favorite among the American public. While in America, she composed a Konzerstück for piano and orchestra, her only ballet, Callirhoé, and other orchestral works. Five years later, in 1913, she was made a Chevalier de la Légion d’ honneur, the highest French order of merit for military and civil merits. She was the first-ever female composer to do so.

Chaminade’s piano salon music and songs were what garnered her widespread popularity. She was especially known for her songs, such as The Silver Ring and Ritournelle. Her more serious works, such as an opera, a ballet, and orchestral suites, were unfortunately less successful among critics. Regardless, her compositions typically sold well, and she was financially successful.

Although Chaminade was relatively forgotten in the second half of the 20th century, many of her piano compositions received positive reviews from critics. Although some of her works were sometimes less favorably received, this may have been based on gender prejudices, especially considering the period.


3. Emilia Giuliani-Guglielmi (1813-1850)


Career Highlights

  • Giuliani was one of the few famous female guitarists from the 19th century.
  • Among Giuliani’s better-known works are the four variations: Opus 1, 3, 5, and 9.
  • She also composed six fantasies.


The daughter of famous guitarist and composer Mauro Giuliani, Emilia Giuliani-Guglielmi, was an extremely prolific composer. She came from a musical family: she was the sister of Michele Guiliani, a guitarist, composer, and singing teacher at the Paris Conservatory, and was the niece of Nicolas Giuliani, a choirmaster in Saint Petersburg.

Giuliani was born in Vienna in 1813. She spent many years in Rome, Italy, moved to Naples in 1829, and performed at her first public concerts. At the age of fifteen, she performance debut with her father and began publishing six years later. Unfortunately, her father passed away in 1829 when she was only sixteen. Her mother had died when she was only four years old.

In 1831, the Austrian composer performed at the Teatro del Fondo. One year later, she performed at Foggia, a city in Italy. At twenty-one years old, in Milan at Giovanni Ricordi, she published Five Variations on a Theme of Bellini Opus, dedicated to fellow composer Antonio Padiglione. In 1835, also in Milan, she published five of the six fantasies on Bellini’s themes. Two years later, she published the Variations on a Theme of Mercadante opus 9.

Sometime between 1837 and 1839, Giuliani was married. In 1840 she performed two songs during the intermission of the “Commedia” at Teatro San Benedetto in Venice to extremely positive critical acclaim. Later, near the end of 1840, she published Six Préludes opus 46 (sometimes thought to be 48) by Artaria. Not only was she talented at the piano—she also gave a recital at the Vienna Musikverein, where she displayed her prowess and abilities on the guitar. In fact, all her compositions known to date are for guitar.

Giuliani had a prolific career and performed for over twenty years, from the age of fourteen until 1949, less than a year before her death.


4. Ethel Barns (1873 – 1948)


Career Highlights

  • Barns was a violinist at The Crystal Palace in London and toured England and the United States.
  • She was a member of the Society of Women Musicians, founded in 1911.
  • She was also a professor at the Royal Academy of Music.
  • She can boast over 120 compositions and 72 published works.


A versatile English violinist, pianist, and composer, Ethel Barns was born in London in 1873. She joined the Royal Academy of Music when she was just thirteen, and studied violin, composition, and piano. After her graduation in 1895, Barns became a substitute teacher at the Royal Academy of Music.

One of her earliest public concerts was in 1890, at the Royal Academy’s St. James’s Hall, and featured her playing two movements from Louis Spohr’s violin concerto. A year later, at Cadogan Gardens, she performed violin and sang. Later in 1891, Barns published an earlier piece entitled Romance, a work for violin and piano.

Having performed pieces by Gabriel Fauré and Martin Sarasaten, as well as Beethoven piano concertos, Barns proved herself a talented and skillful musician early on in her career.

In 1899, Barns married performing baritone Charles Phillips. Together, they founded the Barns-Phillips Chamber Concert Series at Bechstein Hall, which they created to promote Barns’ compositions.

Compared to Edvard Grieg, Anton Rubinstein, and Johannes Brahms, Barns never failed to impress everyone around her and was highly sought after. In 1904, her Violin Concerto in A Major was published after she premiered it at a Barns-Phillips concert.

Barns expert Sophie Fuller describes her compositions as “typically tempestuous and lyrical work with rich, sonorous piano harmonies and a difficult but always violinistic solo part.” She was not the only one who performed her work—many other performers took her compositions to the stage, including Joseph Joachim and Emile Sauret, her former violin teacher at the Royal Academy of Music.

As part of the Barns-Phillips series, other performed pieces were her Piano Trio in F Minor and her Third Violin Sonata, both in 1908. The third Violin Sonata was significant in her career, as it marked her return to the stage after recovering from a serious illness.

In 1909, Concertuck, Barns’s piece for violin and orchestra, premiered at the Queen’s Hall Promenade Concerts; a year later, this work was published as a piano arrangement. Within only twenty-one years, 35 of Barns’ compositions were published, most notably among them Chant Elegiaque (1907), Idylle Pastorale (1909), and Hindoo Lament (1907). In 1907, on behalf of the Musician’s Company, W. W. Cobbett commissioned Barns, which resulted in Fantasy Trio for Two Violins and Piano, which Barnes performed alongside Sauret (her teacher!).

In total, Barns has composed at least two orchestra pieces, fourteen Chamber pieces, 53 piano, and violin pieces, nineteen short piano pieces, 37 songs, and eleven vocal pieces. Similar to Chaminade, Barns was influenced by late-Romantic styles. She was an accomplished violin virtuoso and composer and thoroughly deserves to be recognized today.


5. Ángela Peralta (1845 – 1883)


Career Highlights

  • She made her debut at La Scala in Milan, Italy in 1862
  • She performed before King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy around 1863
  • The Second Mexican Empire invited her to perform in the National Imperial Theatre in Mexico in 1865
  • In 1866, she sang before Maximilian I of Mexico and Charlotte of Belgium and was named “Chamber singer of the Empire.”


Ángela Peralta was born in Mexico City, Mexico on July 6th, 1845 and showed her talent for singing and music at an early age. By the age of 8, she was able to sing a cavatina from Belisario by Gaetano Donizetti with ease and continued her journey with music at the Conservatorio Nacional de Música (National Conservatory of Music) in Mexico City.

She made her operatic debut when she was only 15 as Leonora in Verdi’s II trovatore at the Teatro Nacional (National Theater) in Mexico City and continued to study voice in Italy with Leopardi. She went on to make her Italian debut at La Scala (The Ladder) in Milan with her highly praised performance of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Peralta continued her success in Italy when she performed Bellini’s La sonnambula for King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy and she received 32 curtain calls!

By the age of the 22, she sang at opera houses in Rome, Florence, Genoa, and Naples, Italy, Lisbon, Portugal, Madrid and Barcelona, Spain, St. Petersburg, Russia, and Alexandria and Cairo, Egypt, New York City, USA, Havana, Cuba, and the National Imperial Theatre in Mexico per personal invitation.

After Peralta got married, she took a break from singing and continued focusing on composing songs as well as piano pieces and her most famous work is Álbum Musical de Ángela Peralta. She then established her own touring opera company and performed throughout Mexico with various Italian opera singers. Her last performance was in La Paz where she sang the title role in Maria di Rohan before she died on August 30th in 1883.


6. Chiquinha Gonzaga (1847-1935)


Career Highlights

  • Her first successful composition was the polka, Atraente, composed in 1877
  • Her greatest success in the theater was the operetta, Forrobodó, reaching 1500 shows
  • She performed multiple times at Catete Palace, the presidential palace in Brazil
  • She also composed the famous operetta partition, Juriti, with Viriato Corrêa in 1919


Chiquinha Gonzaga was born on October 17, 1847 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and was the first woman conductor in Brazil. She learned to play the piano at a young age, and by 11 years old, she had composed her first musical work, Canção dos Pastores (Song of the Shepherds). After getting married at the age of 16 and then eventually leaving her husband due to psychological and physical abuse, she moved to Minas Gerais in 1870. However, due to infidelity, Gonzaga found herself leaving that marriage as well and living in Rio De Janeiro as an independent musician at 29 years old. This is when her successful career as a pianist and composer began.

During this time, she was fully devoted to her music and composed many famous polkas, waltzes, tangos, and ditties. She participated in balls and chorōes reunions that typically were only for men. This is where she met flautist, Joaquim Antônio da Silva Callado and became a part of his group, O Choro de Calado as the first woman in the group.

She composed her first very successful polka in 1877 called Atraente and composed one of her most beautiful waltzes, Walkyria, in 1884. After these successes, she went on to do vaudeville and revue as she composed the operetta, A Corte na Roça in 1885 and Forrobodó, in 1911 which was her greatest success reaching 1500 straight shows and is considered the best show of its kind in Brazil to this day.

Gonzaga began to compose music for various authors and befriended future first lady of Brazil, Nair de Tefé. As first lady, she invited Gonzaga to the palace, even despite the opinions of Nair’s family as she was considered controversial due to how she challenged the Brazilian masculine society. It was also controversial for her to perform Brazilian popular music in the palace of the Brazilian Government as it was considered a violation of protocol.

She wrote her last composition, Maria, at age 87 in 1934, adding to her collection of 77 theater plays and 2,000 compositions in different genres such as waltzes, polkas, tangos, lundus, maxixes, Fado, quadrilles, mazurkas, Choros, and serenades.

Final Words

Hopefully, these four women will show you and your students that you can do or create anything if you dedicate yourself to it, no matter your gender.

If you are looking for beginning and intermediate sheet music for sheet music from these composers to broaden your student’s repertoire, You’ve come to the right place! We are excited to offer a collection of pieces for piano, violin, guitar, and voice from these outstanding composers to download for free.

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