Evolution of the Sonatas of Dame Ethel Smyth

Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Katharina Uhde


Arts and Sciences



Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 5-3-2019


My research investigates stylistic evolution in a range of instrumental sonatas by Ethel Smyth, one of the most important women composers of the 19th century. Smyth was born in England but spent a significant amount of her early adult years in Germany, where she was immersed in a network of musicians close of Brahms. Observing Smyth's time as a student in Leipzig provides insight as to how her style emerged. Between 1877 and 1887, Smyth composed six sonatas. She composed three piano sonatas in 1877, a sonata for piano and cello in 1880, and two sonatas in 1887: a sonata for cello and piano and a sonata for violin and piano. Using established musicological approaches to sonata form analysis, including Hepokoski &Darcy's theory proposed in Elements of Sonata Theory (2006), my research investigates how Smyth's sonatas respond to traditional formal "events," including specific details found within most sonata form expositions (for example, primary theme; caesura before the secondary theme; and others). By providing a close reading of these events and comparing them with earlier classical and late-Romantic norms, Smyth's sonata style crystallizes in more detail, showcasing her mastery at the old but right classical form.

Biographical Information about Author(s)

Julie Howe is a senior music major at Valparaiso University. As a woman cellist, she has always been passionate about women in music. Her aspiration is to shed light on "forgotten women" in music history and recognize the talents of women musicians. Julie started studying the music of Ethel Smyth, a 19th century woman composer, in fall 2018. She completed a paper in December 2018 titled Beyond Brahmsian Fog-Ethel Smyth's Sonata for Cello and Piano Op. 5 which investigated the influence of Johannes Brahms in Smyth's Sonata for Cello and Piano Op. 5, which was composed in 1887. Julie will be continuing her musical education at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music this fall for a Master of Arts in Musicology. After completing her Master's degree, Julie plans on earning a PhD in musicology.

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