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A “Woman for the New Era”? Johanna Kinkel — an overlooked composer, conductor and educator

Plenary Speaker
24 August 2023
10:30 - 11:15 hrs (GMT+7)

Despite the recent upsurge in the study of female musicians, the pioneering achievements of the German composer, pianist, conductor, teacher and writer, Johanna Kinkel (1810-1858) have received relatively little attention.


Kinkel fled to London in 1849 as a political refugee. Eager to establish herself in the British capital, she founded a singing school, gave private lessons, and reported on the English musical world for German newspapers. Her studies of music history in the new reading room of the British Museum resulted in a series of lecture-recitals on Romantic composers and on harmony, offered at around the same time as William Sterndale Bennett’s better known, but not necessarily better, experiments of a similar type. A projected “History of Music” remained unfinished, but her magnum opus as a writer was the partly autobiographical posthumously published (1860) novel Hans Ibeles in London, which depicts the experiences of German exiles attempting to create a new life in the English capital.


This presentation investigates Kinkel’s reawakened interest in composition towards the end of her life – as evidenced in an interesting but unpublished “Liederbuch” that she created in 1856/57 after a creative hiatus of more than one and a half decades—and asks the question whether she really was “a woman for the new era“, as one of her contemporaries described her, or rather a familiar product of the old society that she had so wished to transform. Moreover, do her professional struggles as a Victorian musician have anything to teach us today?


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