Leah Broad, "Quartet: How Four Women Changed the Musical World" (Faber & Faber, 2023)


This is a story of four composers whose careers, lives and loves as women working in 20th century Britain have since been largely forgotten.

Dr Leah Broad’s 2023 debut Quartet: How Four Women Changed the Musical World (Faber & Faber, 2023), reveals the life and music of some of Britain’s most exciting 20th-century composers. A musicologist who gravitates towards figures at the margins of Western Art Music, the four subjects of Broad’s biography (Ethel Smyth, Rebecca Clarke, Doreen Carwithen and Dorothy Howell) experience success, even fame, before being pushed to the periphery. They compose operas, film music, songs and sonatas, encounter the Second Viennese School and fashion early freelance instrumental careers. Broad’s narrative begins in 1858 with the birth of Ethel Smyth. She charts two world wars, the development of post-war British institutions such as the BBC and the Arts Council of Great Britain, and brings us all the way to Doreen Carwithen’s death in 2003. In this time, the four composers take on the diverse politics of suffragette militancy, 60’s American liberalism and a staunch British-Catholic conservatism. Through grouping such diverse personalities, Broad refuses the tendency to isolate women as historical anomalies or singular figures. Her fluent prose expertly interweaves their lives, whilst revealing a true diversity of music, thought and experience.

Joseph Edwards is a writer and violinist based in London. His current research looks at the importance of sound in chronic illness experience. Contact him via email at joseph8edwards@gmail.com or through Twitter @joseph8edwards.

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Joseph Edwards

Writer, violinist and recent MA graduate from SOAS, University of London. Contact him via email at joseph8edwards@gmail.com, through Twitter @joseph8edwards, or on Linkedin at www.linkedin.com/in/joseph8edwards.
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