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A series of articles celebrates historical Finnish women who wrote music

by Susanna Välimäki, Nuppu Koivisto-Kaasik

How many Finnish women composers can you name from the early 20th century? What about the 19th century? Thirty? Three? This article series in FMQ will help you expand your knowledge about historical women composers in Finland.

In approaching the 2020s, we can no longer tolerate gender discrimination in concert programming, pedagogical practices or the writing of history.

The series of articles for FMQ by Susanna Välimäki and Nuppu Koivisto, derived from their book project titled Sävelten tyttäret: Säveltävät naiset Suomen historiassa 1700-luvun lopulta 1900-luvun alkuun [Daughters of music: Finnish Women Composers, from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries], discusses the lives and music of historical women composers in Finland.

The first article is an introduction and also showcases a concert series given by violinist Mirka Malmi to give voice to forgotten music. The following articles in the series will shed light on the life and music of selected composers.

Here we present briefly some of the composers and interesting projects on women, music and equality. 

Jenny Elfving
Jenny Elfving, composer of piano pieces and solo songs, in 1908. The original photo has this text on the reverse: “Elfving is just about to travel to St Petersburg.” In addition to her musical activities, Elfving was a promoter of horticulture, a teacher, a school headmistress, a women’s rights advocate and a pioneer in women’s education.

Selected composers from the history of Finnish music

These women born in the late 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries are known to have composed music and are being researched by Susanna Välimäki and Nuppu Koivisto for their book project. The project is in its early days, and the list is only a rough draft.

Charlotte Lithander-Carlbom (1784–1858)

Henriette Nyberg (1830–1911)

Lilli (Hilma Rosaura) Thuneberg (Leinberg) (1836–1922)

Fanny Mannsén (1834–1856)

Laura Netzel (1839–1927)

Anna Catharina Blomqvist (1840–1925)

Ida Basilier (1846–1928)

Minna von Knorring (1846–1918)

Sofie Lithenius (1847–1926)

Maria Josefine Woldstedt (1848–1913)

Vendla Forsström (1858–?)

Agnes Tschetschulin (1859–1942)

Ida Moberg (1859–1947)

Betzy Holmberg (1860–1900)

Aina Korhonen (?–?)

Hanna Hällström (1864–1942)

Hulda Kronqvist (1864–1934)

Alexandra Zheleznova-Armfelt (1866–1933)

Edith Sohlström (1870–1934)

Alma Wikeström (1870–1952)

Jenny (Erlevi) Elfving (1871–1932)

Alice Hornborg (Helsingius) (1875–1963)

Lullu (Julia) Woldstedt-Buch (1883–1965)

Lilly Kajanus-Blenner (1885–1963)

Greta Dahlström (1887–1978)

Ruth Forsström (Vaaranen) (1889–1974)

Gertrud (Marau) Ollus (1890–1951)

Anne-Marie Mechelin (1892–1929)

Elisabeth von Tiesenhausen-Forstén (1896-1963)

Helvi Leiviskä (1902–1982)

Aili Auer (1902–1968)

Heidi Sundblad-Halme (1903–1973)

Maili Välisalo-Wright (1908–?)

Maija Korkeakoski-Haupt (1909–1983)

Betzy Kansi
Betzy Holmberg studied in Copenhagen and Leipzig. She lived in Norway for most of her life and was, according to Finland’s Official Journal, a “musical genius”. Her works include a Symphony (1884). The Preludi ja fuuga pictured here is one of her most frequently performed piano works.

Composing, women and equality - projects and materials 

Mirka Malmi’s Women and Violin Concert Series Web Page

Kokonainen Music Festival 
Promoting Women in Music.

Theses for promoting equality and diversity in the music sector in Finland

The Research Association Suoni ry 
Promoting Societally Activist Music Research.

Equity in Composing Project (Yhdenvertaisesti säveltäen)
The purpose of this research and development project, being launched in spring 2019, is to alleviate gender bias in occupational selection in the field and to dismantle stereotypical notions about composing music. (website in Finnish)

Keychange Project 
Encouraging festivals to sign up to a 50:50 gender balance pledge by 2022.

The Association of Swedish Women Composers (Kvinnlig Anhopning av Svenska Tonsättare – KVAST): The Reperoire Bank

Illuminate Women’s Music Project

Sophie Drinker Institute für Musikwissenschaftliche Frauen- und Geshlechterforschung

Forschungszentrum Musik und Gender (Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien Hannover)

International Women and/in Musical Leadership Conference

Edith Sohlstrom C Uno Rosendahl Sibelius Museum Turku
Edith Sohlström (1870–1934) was a composer, an author and a teacher specialising in music and movement. Her popular Elegia (1900) for piano or for piano and cello has remained in the repertoire to this day and exists in many arrangements. Photo: Uno Rosendahl / Sibelius Museum, Turku.

Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi

Featured photo: The Helsinki Women’s Orchestra in the 1950s. The conductor is the founder of the orchestra, composer Heidi Sundblad-Halme (1903–1973) (front row, sixth from the left).