In my practice, I often work with storytelling and look at how concepts or life stories can be seen from different perspectives. Fitting to the ethos of Illuminate Women Music, the stories I have been drawn to in recent years are those of women composers. When exploring these stories, I like to see how music can hold the space for contradictions and ambiguity. This can be seen in my choral work Clara,written on Making Music’s Adopt A Composer 2018/19 in partnership with choir Ex Urbe, in which I drew on the composer-pianist Clara Schumann’s diaries. I was particularly struck by her own description of the composition process in which ‘one wins hours of forgetfulness’, that was a stark contrast to her internalised misogyny which believed ‘A woman must not desire to compose’. I was intrigued by this unresolved ambivalence Clara expressed, which led to the composition of the first movement: ‘Composing gives me great pleasure’. Using a double choir to demonstrate Clara’s internal conflict regarding her own identity as a composer, the work gives an insight into what it may have been like for Clara to navigate the C19th gendered ideologies surrounding female creativity. Below is a recording by the choir Ex Urbe and harpist Angelina Egerton, conducted by Benjamin Hamilton:
For more information about the project, please see the interview to hear reflections from members of Ex Urbe and myself:
Following this project, I began to think about how and why the stories and works of women composers are not acknowledged in mainstream classical music. Often the assumption remains that there were very few active women composers in the history of classical music, despite there being a vast array of evidence to the contrary. As part of a Jerwood Arts Bursary in 2019, I was able to work with Elizabeth de Brito from the Daffodil Perspective to identify three C19th women composers all active in the Parisian music scene – Augusta Holmès, Marie Jaëll and Clémence de Grandval. The research period allowed an understanding of the key obstacles each of the selected women composers had faced – self doubt, pseudonyms, emphasis on beauty - and an insight into how this may have impacted how their compositional output was considered beyond their lifetimes (see more here: https://www.chloeknibbs.com/projects/ruinsi). Using the metaphors of ruins and erosion, I considered these obstacles to each be ‘erosion factors’ that eroded the narratives and works of the three selected women composers. This led to the composition of the electroacoustic work, Ruins, in which ‘erosion factors’ were placed in juxtaposition with recorded extracts of the composers’ works:
Due to the nature of Ruins, I wanted to see if the work could exist in another form and how a visual element could enhance the experience of the work. Earlier this year I was able to undertake a mentoring period with sound artist and lecturer Linda O’Keefe, which allowed me to learn a range of techniques including granular synthesis. These techniques allowed me to return to the first iteration of Ruinsand develop the way sonic disintegration was used, and how this could develop the concept of a ‘sonic ruin’ of the works and life stories of Augusta Holmès, Marie Jaëll and Clémence de Grandval. Alongside this process, I collaborated with designer Denitsa Toneva to explore how C19th aesthetics could be paired with the audio elements of the work, leading to the creation of an online audio-visual installation. A fitting example of these pairings can be seen in how the sketch of the glove is paired with a recording of pseudonyms, looking at the connection between shame and societal expectations. The Ruinsinstallation can be explored below:
With Ravelled, written for Illuminate Women Music’s Season II,I decided to explore my own experience of grief. The work considers the definition of the word ‘ravelled’ (to tangle; to disentangle; to tease out; to fray) and the contradictions of seeking emotional resolution but becoming further entangled by oneself. This manifests in the work through lyrical and vulnerable cello melodies accompanied by shifting harmonies, arpeggiation and extended pedal sustain, portraying a sense of dissociation and lack of resolution.
It has been a real pleasure to work with our performers Ivana Peranic and Rachel Fryer for this series of concerts, and to get to know work by Amy Beach and Rebecca Clarke along the way. Please see details of all upcoming concerts of Season I and II here: https://www.illuminatewomensmusic.co.uk/whats-on-2021-season-i-and-ii.html