The Curtain Rises: Discovered and Rediscovered Women Composers

The surnames Mozart, Schumann and Mendelssohn bring to mind Wolfgang, Robert and Felix. Their respective siblings, Nannerl, Clara and Fanny, all gifted musicians and composers, have been unfairly overlooked. A majority of the most influential women composers throughout history reached professional achievement by successfully navigating societal and familial restraints. We will consider a select, relatively unknown group from the incredible women who have made extraordinary contributions to music across the centuries. These women contributed tremendously to the musical societies in which they lived and, in many cases, even found the artistic freedom to write daring and unconventional pieces.

A $50 discount will be applied automatically for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

Schedule clarification: This is a four-week online course. It runs from Monday, October 11 to Friday, November 5. Each week, all week, you can study that week’s material, post and respond to discussion board topics, and engage in course activities. You will participate in Zoom Meetings sessions each Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Pacific Time.

Learning objectives

By the end of the course, you should be able to do the following:

  • Give examples of women composers of classical music and their compositions across the centuries
  • Describe aspects of cultural history that kept women composers from emerging
  • Explain why they are finally being discovered
  • Describe the diversity of styles and works of various composers

Learning methods

Your online learning will include the following methods:

  • Reading academic and non-academic articles
  • Listening to music
  • Participation in written discussions with other students
  • Participation in videoconference seminars

For Liberal Arts for 55+ Certificate students: you will write a reflective essay.


Week 1: 1179 to the 16th century

We meet some early composers, then leap to the 16th century, where we find music to sample. We continue to the end of the 17th century to consider important composers at the birth of the baroque epoch. We begin to explore the contrasting conditions, limited opportunities and restrictive social conditions that obstructed women composers well into the 20th century.

Week 2: Late 15th century to mid-19th century

Some well-known family names emerge, including Mozart, Mendelssohn and Schumann. We look at the role wealth, family circumstances, the courts and patronage played in the limited opportunities women found for their works. We discover some firsts, including publications and performances in male-dominated music spheres.

Week 3: Mid-19th century to mid-20th century

We look at the beginnings of serious opportunities for study and the opening of important performance venues for women composers. We ask why women composers were often known in their own circles or local musical cultures, but fell into obscurity soon after they died. We will discover outright prejudice in critics’ writings and, on the other hand, early, enthusiastic rediscoveries.

Week 4: 20th century to the present

We consider the modern “double standard of sexual aesthetics” and how the world is beginning to recognize the unfair treatment women composers have suffered. We discuss implications of the realignment of bygone processes and values regarding inclusivity. We revisit issues of “quality” and discuss how it is measured across time.

Books, materials and resources

You will access course resources using SFU's online course management system, Canvas.

Technical requirements

This course is delivered using SFU's online learning system, Canvas. You can check if your browser is compatible with Canvas here.  

To get the most out of this online course, you should be comfortable doing the following:

  • Using everyday software such as browsers, email and social media
  • Navigating a website by clicking on links and finding pages in a menu
  • Downloading and opening PDF documents
  • Posting, replying and uploading images to a discussion board
  • Participating in videoconferencing sessions

You will be participating in videoconferencing using Zoom Meetings. For this, your computer needs to have a camera, microphone and speakers or headphones. Your computer software should be up to date with the latest available operating system and browser versions.

Accessing your course

  • A few days before the course starts, we will email you more information about the course and how you'll access it. You will also receive an email inviting you to access the Canvas learning platform (click on the link in the invitation to join the course). Once you’ve accessed Canvas, you can begin exploring the platform on your own. The full course will be accessible on its start date.
  • We’ll also host a virtual drop-in time on Zoom Meetings a few days before the course starts. This will give you a chance to check that you can access Zoom Meetings, and that your computer’s camera and microphone and speakers are working properly.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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