Ethel Smyth Collection, 1910-1962 (majority within 1917-1942)
Using These Materials
- The collection is open for research.
- Smyth, Ethel, 1858-1944
- The Ethel Smyth collection contains correspondence with members of the musical community and members of the women's suffrage movement, drafts of autobiographical work, performance programs and pamphlets, and extensive diaries by Smyth commenting on personal matters, national and regional politics, composition and performance, and the lives of her friends. Also contains two sketches of Smyth by an unknown artist and two books of research notes by Christopher Marie St. John for the definitive biography of Smyth.
- 1 Linear Foot (2 manuscript boxes)
- Amy Cooper Cary
- Scope and Content:
The Ethel Smyth collection is comprised of five series. The series, Manuscripts, Print, Research Notes, Artwork, and Diaries, are arranged in two boxes. The bulk of the Manuscripts series consists of outgoing correspondence dated from 1910 to 1937, primarily addressed to recipients who were involved in the music community of the time. Most of the outgoing correspondence is addressed to Professor Donald Tovey, a Scottish composer and conductor and one of Smyth's mentors. This correspondence consists of 16 letters spanning more than 14 years and addresses various musical topics. Also represented in the outgoing correspondence are letters to composer and conductor Gordon Bryan; to Philip Heseltine (a.k.a. Peter Warlock) a composer and founder of the music serial The Sackbut regarding an article she wrote for the publication; and letters to Lady Constance Lytton, who was a friend of Smyth's in the Women's Suffrage Movement. Correspondence also includes a letter to Scottish conductor and student of Donald Tovey, Dr. Mary Grierson, remarking on the glorious first performance of Smyth's work, The Prison in February of 1931. Other correspondence consists of a letter from Lindsay Venn to Ethel Davidson regarding the disposition of Smyth's papers after her death. Also included in the Manuscripts series is the typescript of Lyrics to Smyth's composition, The Prison, based on the writing of Henry Brewster, who was strongly connected to Smyth. Finally, there is a fragment of several bars of music from the Concerto for Violin, Horn and Orchestra penned and autographed by Smyth. A fragment of a composition by Smyth's contemporary, Frederic H. Cowen is on the verso of this item. The Writings sub-series is made up of drafts of two typescripts. The first contains the first three chapters of A Fresh Start, Smyth's last autobiographical work, which was probably begun in 1941 but was never published. The second contains three drafts of An Eightieth Birthday, a speech given on BBC radio in 1938. These are heavily corrected in Smyth's hand. Finally, there is a single holograph sheet entitled Notes on "Mass in D" which seems to be jottings for program notes. The Print series consists of a program from the 1921 Queen's Hall Symphony performance of Smyth's "Love Duet" from her opera, The Wreckers. It also includes a pamphlet containing the lyrics of March of the Women, a piece Smyth wrote in support of the Women's Suffrage Movement. There are three newspaper clippings which discuss Smyth as a conductor, especially at the Bournemouth Music Festival, held in April of 1924. The Research Notes series contain two books of notes taken by Christopher Marie St. John for the definitive biography of Smyth. Both contain research notes and possibly notes from interviews with Smyth and members of her circle. The second of the notebooks is entitled "Wood on her Conducting / Beecham on Criticism" and contain commentary from two of Smyth's close acquaintances, Henry Wood and Thomas Beecham. The Artwork series consists of two pencil sketches of stage sets for Smyth's opera, "The Prison." The artist of these sketches is unidentified. Perhaps the most significant portion of this collection is the Diaries. These six volumes are in fragile condition and begin in 1917, continuing almost uninterrupted through 1942. The diaries are heavily annotated by Smyth herself, and she obviously used them in writing her autobiographical works. The dated entries present an excellent description of Smyth's life and include commentary on composition and performance of her music; her literary works; her health (in particular, her failing hearing) and travels; her beloved old English sheep dogs; World Wars I and II; the political climate of Ireland in the early 20th century; British royalty; and the lives of her many friends, including Empress Eugénie, Edith Somerville, Lady Ponsonby, Maurice Baring, Betty Balfour and Virgina Woolf. Throughout the diaries, Smyth has pasted in newspaper clippings, photography, pamphlets and other memorabilia. It is possible that Volume VI, which consists of family photographs, poetry by Ethel and her sister Mary, and other notes, is written in a hand which is not Smyth's.
- Biographical / Historical:
Composer, writer, and feminist Ethel Smyth was born in 1858 in Sidcup, England to a middle-class family of six girls and two boys. Her father, John Hall Smyth, was a General in the military, and her mother, Emma (Struth) was educated in Paris. Smyth began to study music in her teens and became so interested that she fought strong opposition from her father for the opportunity to study abroad. Her father finally consented and sent her to Leipzig in 1877 where she studied at the Leipzig Conservatorium first with Reinecke and then with Heinrich von Herzogenberg. There, she was accepted as a serious young composer by such musicians as Johannes Brahms, Edward Grieg, Joseph Joachim and Clara Schumann. In 1883, she met Henry Brewster who would become a long time friend and would eventually write the libretto for The Wreckers, Smyth's best known opera. Though her work was first put before English audiences in 1890 with a Serenade for Orchestra, her first recognition as a serious composer came with the performance of her Mass in D for Chorus and Orchestra in 1893 in London's Albert Hall. Smyth, however, did not immediately find English audiences and her first opera, Fantasio, was produced in Weimar in 1898. This was followed by productions of Der Wald in Berlin in 1902, and The Wreckers in Leipzig in 1906. Thomas Beecham conducted The Wreckers in Convent Garden in 1909, and Smyth began to be more well known in her home land. Smyth wrote in many different musical forms, including chamber music and orchestral works. She wrote The Boatswain's Mate (1916), Fete Galante (1923), Entente Cordiale (1925), a Concerto for Violin, Horn and Orchestra (1927), and The Prison (1930) before her failing hearing (of which she writes in her diaries and correspondences) made composition and conducting difficult. Smyth became deeply involved in the Women's Suffrage Movement, devoting two years of her life to the cause and writing what became the theme for the movement, March of the Women, in 1911. During this time, Smyth was strongly tied to Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst, a main campaigner for the suffrage movement. Smyth and a number of women were imprisoned in Holloway Prison for two months after throwing stones at the window of an anti-suffrage cabinet minister. In addition to her musical oeuvre, Smyth produced ten books, mostly autobiographical works. Her Impressions that Remained (1919) is the first two volume installment of autobiographical works. She continued with Streaks of Life (1921), A Three-Legged Tour in Greece (1927), A Final Burning of Boats (1928), Female Pipings in Eden (1933), As Time Went On (1936), Inordinate (?) Affection (1936) and What Happened Next (1940). She also wrote works on Thomas Beecham (1935) and Maurice Baring (1938). Much of her productivity between 1933 and 1940 came because of the encouragement of Virginia Woolf, with whom she had a passionate friendship beginning in the early 1930s. She began an eleventh volume, A Fresh Start, which was not finished before her death in 1944. Smyth is recognized as the first woman to compose music in the large forms of opera, oratorio and concerto as well as being the first woman to be recognized for her work. She received an honorary doctorate of Music from University of Durham in 1910, from Manchester University in 1930 and from Oxford in 1926. She was appointed Dame of the British Empire (D.B.E.) in 1922.
- Acquisition Information:
- Items were purchased from various sources between 1981 and 1988.
- Processing information:
Processed by Amy Cooper in 1999.
The Ethel Smyth collection is comprised of five series: Manuscripts, Print, Research Notes, Artwork, and Diaries.
- Rules or Conventions:
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Using These Materials
The collection is open for research.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
Copyright has not been transferred to the Regents of the University of Michigan. Permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s).
- PREFERRED CITATION:
Ethel Smyth Collection, University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Research Center)