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Ethel Smyth

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Ethel Smyth


Ethel Smyth (22 April 1858, London, England – 9 May 1944, Woking, England) was a British composer.

Smyth was born in Sidcup, Kent, which is now in the London Borough of Bexley, as the fourth of a family of eight children. Her father, John Hall Smyth, who was a major general in the Royal Artillery, was very much opposed to her making a career in music. Undeterred, Smyth was determined to become a composer, studied privately with Heinrich von Herzogenberg in Berlin, and then attended the Leipzig Conservatory, where she met many composers of the day.

From 1913 onwards, she began gradually to lose her hearing and managed to complete only four major works before deafness brought her composing career to an end. However, she found a new interest in literature and, between 1919 and 1940, she published ten highly successful, mostly autobiographical, books.

In recognition of her work as a composer and writer, Smyth was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1922, becoming the first female composer to be awarded a damehood. Smyth received honorary doctorates in music from the Universities of Durham and Oxford.

Regarded as one of the earliest significant British women composers, Smyth wrote six operas, a large number of vocal works, music for orchestra, and pieces for chamber and instrumental groups. Up until 2016, she was the only woman composer to have an opera staged by The Met.

Smyth was also active in the suffrage movement in England.

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