Review: Dr. Cora Cooper's "Violin Music By Women" and "Viola Music By Women"
Dr. Cora Cooper (Professor of Violin, Viola, and String Chamber Music at Kansas State University) has been editing and publishing string music by women composers for many years. An enthusiastic supporter of equal rights in the music industry, Cooper has previously edited and published string quartets by Maddalena Lombardini-Sirmen (1745-1818) and duets by Josephine Trott (1875-1950). These publications are highly accessible to pre-college and early collegiate string players and are a welcome relief to teachers looking for chamber repertoire beyond Haydn, Mozart, and Pleyel.
Cooper's more recent publications offer violinists a wealth of new solo material. Her Violin Music By Women: A Graded Anthology is a hefty four volume set and can be used by beginning, intermediate, and advanced violinists. The first volume, "Beginning", includes technical requirements comparable to ASTA string levels 1 and 2. It is also suitable for Suzuki students in books 1 and 2. The second volume, "Intermediate I", includes music in the first three positions, corresponding roughly to ASTA string level 3 and Suzuki books 3-5. The third volume, "Intermediate II", covers the first five positions, and corresponds to ASTA string level 4 and Suzuki volumes 6-8. Advanced players will be thrilled with the material in Cooper's fourth volume, "Advanced." College violin majors, professional violinists, and solo recitalists will find unique compositions to enrich their public performances. Many of the pieces in the fourth volume are suitable for encores and contain intricate and interesting accompaniments. Violinists looking for equal collaborative opportunities with their pianists would be well advised to explore these works.
I can personally attest to the public appeal for the compositions in Cooper's anthology. Along with Kansas City pianist Jessica Koebbe, I performed one of these works for a Midwest Chamber Ensemble Mother's Day concert (http://www.midwestchamberensemble.org/). In a review of the performance, Lee Hartman of the KCMetropolis (Kansas City's online journal) referred to Gena Branscombe’s An Old Love Tale, Op. 21, No. 1, as "an unabashedly melodic work with a tinge of Eastern European folk-like melancholy." (http://kcmetropolis.org/issue-printer/may-14-2014). Many audience members expressed their enjoyment at hearing the work and I have successfully performed other pieces from the four volumes.
For violists, Cooper recently created a corresponding viola anthology, entitled Viola Music By Women: A Graded Anthology. At the time of this review, three volumes for viola and piano have been released. While some of the pieces have been transcribed from the violin books, new works and additional composers have also been included. A particularly interesting piece in the first viola volume was written by living composer Wendy Ireland (b. 1958). The work, "Giocoso Gattino," requires the performer to ring a small bell hung on the c peg of the viola. Young students playing this piece may acquire an increased ability to move around the instrument while having fun.
Most importantly, these books can be used to introduce previously forgotten or neglected female composers. The books decisively prove that pieces by women are as interesting, useful, and pedagogically valuable as those written by men. Adding these works to recitals may spark public dialogue and wider interest in the musical community.
Those interested in purchasing the books or in hearing sound files, should check out Cooper's website at http://www.violinmusicbywomen.com/. In coordination with violinist Claire Allen, Cooper is also offering a Teacher Training Workshop about these books at the Potomac Arts Academy in Fairfax, VA on August 15, 2017. Registration information can be found at http://potomacacademy.gmu.edu/teacher-training/violin-teacher-workshop/.