Songs of Suffrage

Lost score by suffrage composer to be performed for first time in nearly 100 years  

WEDNESDAY 24 OCTOBER 2018, LONDON: The missing score of a string quartet by the Suffrage Composer Dorothy Howell (1898-1982) dubbed ‘the English Strauss’— last performed at the Wigmore Hall in 1920, and thought lost for nearly 100 years—has recently been discovered and will be played at a special concert on 1 November.

A manuscript version of the score was found this summer by Dr Kate Kennedy, an Oxford historian and broadcaster on BBC Radio 3 and BBC television, while going through Dorothy Howell’s archives with Dorothy’s niece and nephew, Merryn and Columb Howell, at their home. The manuscript score, which was found hidden away under the stairs in a crocodile-skin suitcase, was incomplete. However, to continue Dorothy’s legacy, Kate Kennedy and members of the Berkeley Ensemble have worked on the score to recreate the missing violin part so that it can be played for the first time in nearly 100 years.

It will be performed at a concert hosted by Senate House Library and the Institute of Historical Research on 1 November 2018, to celebrate the life and work of three female composers active in the suffrage movement, and to mark the centenary of the first British election (December 1918) in which women aged 30 and over were able to vote.

The composers featured in the concert are Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) and Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979), who were prominent suffragists and members of the Society of Women Musicians, as well as Dorothy Howell (1898-1982), whose work was regularly premièred at the Proms from 1919, but is now rarely heard. 

The concert will include music from all three composers, played by members of the Berkeley Ensemble along with readings from the composers’ and fellow suffrage campaigners’ diaries and letters, narrated by Kate Kennedy. 

Merryn and Columb Howell, Dorothy Howell’s niece and nephew, said: “We’re delighted that our talented aunt Dorothy is being honoured by Senate House Library and the Institute of Historical Research in this way. We’ve been to concerts where some of Dorothy’s work has been played before but this one is special. We’ve never heard Dorothy’s Quartet Movement and we’ll have the honour of hearing it for the first time on 1 November, alongside readings from her letters, giving her story and musical talent the credit it deserves.” 

The concert will be accompanied by an exhibition of the diaries and letters written by these composers from the period, as well as scores and historic concert posters—including an original concert programme for the unveiling of the Emmeline Pankhurst statue in 1930 featuring Ethel Smyth and Dorothy Howell—drawn from the Senate House Library collection and Dorothy Howell’s archive, with kind permission from Merryn and Columb Howell, who will be attending the concert.

The concert forms part of Senate House Library’s Rights for Women: London Pioneers in their Own Words exhibitionand events season & IHR’s Suffrage Season, 1918-2018.